The Care and Feeding of the Heart: Heaven and Hell… Is One Possible Without the Other?

downloadWelcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing chow, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race?

Today’s feast at The Training Table consists of a reprint of an article by Pastor, author, preacher, teacher, theologian John MacArthur entitled, “The Disappearance of Hell”.

What is Most Personal is Most Universal 

When I first started the journey of writing my book The Weeping the Window, the Way, my only intention was to record an exchange I had between God and myself the night that my father took his life, on Christmas night 2002.

The main goal God put on my heart to begin the book was to offer what I describe in the book as “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” captured in the three parts of my exchange with God in, a) The weeping [freefalls and foundations], b) the window [purifying the heart], and c) the way [moving back into life’s chaos, redeemed to redeem].

But it wasn’t long after I started the project that I realized, in a very specific and poignant way, who the target audience for the book was: “Christians living in a culture of comfort.” Avoiding discomfort of any kind…

It became mind-bendingly obvious to me that the church—as the steward of God’s plan of redeeming a horribly broken and pain-filled world—had become so worldly that, like the world, the people of God had a abject aversion to most everything UN-comfortable.

At the same time—via my organizational effectiveness consultancy to churches—I saw again and again how “the messy” was swept under the rug most of the time. Sure, I had “been there, done that” with most of my secular business clients for 20 years, but the church was supposed to be different. Right?

The implications of this respectfully yet passionately submitted observation became more and more real to me as I began to look at my own personal aversion to all things spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically discomforting. It became more and more obvious that my most personal fears, my own known and unknown avoidance of discomfort, and my inability to speak in to the chaos of this broken world because of my desire to avoid conflict, cover the shame, and side-step any further wounding of any kind… Was the most universal problem of all.

This preface brings me to the menu of our feast of the heart at the training table today: HELL.

There, I said it. HELL. HELL. HELL. Are we all on the same page yet? Please take a deep breath and let’s move on…

This is the most essential start of any open, honest, and the most loving way to begin any conversation about things that are uncomfortable for us to talk about:

Get it out on the table; get it out in the light; get it out from under all of the known and unknown ways that we so adamantly insist on avoiding reality and uncomfortable circumstances; get it out from the place that is owned by this fallen world, the desires of our sinful nature, and the devil’s strategy to keep things hidden from us—while using them so damned*… effectively to defeat us!

This is about one of the main responsibilities we have as spiritually born-again, once-blind-but-now-we-can-see Christians: Making the invisible visible. And until this happens the [wholly inevitable and largely invisible] spiritual warfare we are in the fight for our lives in will prevail against us!

The apparent disappearance—or “invisibility”—of HELL is deadly, my friends in Christ Jesus.

*Satan is damned; misery loves company; and he wants more than anything for us to join him… damned in hell—while on earth as separated from Jesus Christ, lost, lonely, and latched to things that cannot satisfy us; and while in eternity reserved for those who deny the person of God—and don’t realize it until it’s too late that the doors of hell are locked form the inside.

Please consider this topic as stated so well by John MacArthur below. Please consider that the avoidance of anything UN-comfortable should be treated as carefully as a decision a heart surgeon might make: The sword wielded by The Spirit heals; the cuts of a murderous Satan of hell… kills.

The Disappearance of Hell, by John MacArthur

“According to recent polls, some 81 percent of adult Americans believe in heaven, and fully 80 percent expect to go there when they die. By comparison, about 61 percent believe in hell, but less than 1 percent think it’s likely they will go there. In other words, a slight majority of Americans still believe hell exists, but genuine fear of hell is almost nonexistent.

Even the most conservative evangelicals don’t seem to take hell very seriously anymore. For decades, many evangelicals have downplayed inconvenient biblical truths, neglecting any theme that seems to require somber reflection. Doctrines such as human depravity, divine wrath, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the reality of eternal judgment have disappeared from the evangelical message.

The trend has not escaped everyone’s attention. Thirty years ago, for example, Martin Marty, religious historian, professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and critic of all things evangelical, delivered the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality at Harvard Divinity School. The title of his message was “Hell Disappeared. No One Noticed.” Marty’s research had failed to turn up a single scholarly article dealing with the subject of hell in any significant theological journal over the previous century. Citing the dearth of attention being given to so large a topic, Marty suggested that if evangelicals really took seriously what Scripture says about eternal punishment, someone with a voice should notice.

Almost no one did. Eighteen years later, The Los Angeles Times featured a front-page article titled “Hold the Fire and Brimstone,” pointing out that many style-conscious evangelical church leaders were purposely omitting the theme of divine retribution:

In churches across America, hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves increasingly hesitant to sermonize on … a storyline that no longer resonates with churchgoers. [According to] Harvey Cox Jr., an eminent author, religious historian and professor at the Harvard Divinity School, “You can go to a whole lot of churches week after week, and you’d be startled even to hear a mention of hell.”

Hell’s fall from fashion indicates how key portions of Christian theology have been influenced by a secular society that stresses individualism over authority and the human psyche over moral absolutes. The rise of psychology, the philosophy of existentialism, and the consumer culture have all dumped buckets of water on hell.

The article profiled an evangelical pastor who said he believes in hell, but (according to the Times) “you’d never know it listening to him preach… He never mentions the topic; his flock shows little interest in it.” Asked why the doctrine of hell has gone missing, this pastor replied, “It isn’t sexy enough anymore.”

The article also quoted a well-known seminary professor who more or less agreed. Hell, he said, is “just too negative… . Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented. Churches today feel the need to be appealing rather than demanding.”

The article closed with a quote from Martin Marty, almost two decades after his famous lecture on the subject. He agreed that market-driven concerns are the main reason hell is being expunged from the evangelical message:

Once pop evangelism went into market analysis, hell was just dropped. When churches go door to door and conduct a market analysis … they hear, “I want better parking spaces. I want guitars at services. I want to have my car greased while I’m in church.”

Years of indifference finally paved the way for open hostility. In the first decade of the new millennium, certain prominent figures in the “emergent church” declared war on the biblical doctrine of hell. The groundswell seemed to crest a couple of years ago with the publication of Rob Bell’s bestselling book Love Wins. Bell argued that it’s absurd to think a loving God would ever damn anyone to eternal punishment. He portrayed God’s love as a force that clashes with and ultimately eliminates the demands of justice.

In the storyline Bell envisions, God requires no payment or punishment for sin. The divine response to evil is always remedial, never punitive. Furthermore, the wages of sin are mild, temporary, and reserved only for grossly malevolent villains—mass murderers, child rapists, tyrants who engineer genocide, and (one supposes) Christians who tell unbelievers they should fear God. When it’s all over, everyone will be together in paradise.

In such a system, God’s righteousness is compromised, repentance is optional, atonement is unnecessary, and the truth of God’s Word is nullified. In other words, nothing of biblical Christianity is left. Once anyone sets out to tone down or tame the hard truths of Scripture, that’s where the process inevitably leads.

Only a few leading voices in the evangelical movement have lobbied boldly for a more orthodox approach to the doctrine of hell. They seem to be outnumbered by those who think the disappearance of hell is a positive development.

Some have proposed alternative ways to speak of sin and judgment in gentler, toned-down, and more refined and socially acceptable terminology than Scripture uses. Sin is deemed wrong not because it is an offense against the righteousness of God, but because of the hurt it causes others.

Hell is described not as a place of eternal punishment but simply as a realm apart from God. In the re-imagined eschatology of stylish evangelicals, no one is ever “sent” to hell; sinners actually choose to spend eternity apart from God—and the “hell” they suffer is merely an abundance of what they loved and desired the most. Hell is necessary only because God is reluctant to overrule anyone’s free will.

Therefore, with a more or less benign acquiescence, He ultimately defers to the sinner’s choice. God’s righteous indignation has no meaningful place in such a scenario.

It is a serious mistake to imagine that we improve Scripture or enhance its effectiveness by blunting its sharp edges. Scripture is a sword, not a cotton swab, and it needs to be fully unsheathed before it can be put to its intended use. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The gospel is supposed to be an affront to fleshly pride, offensive to human sensibilities, foolishness in the eyes of worldly wisdom, and contrary to all carnal judgments.

No Christian teaching exemplifies those characteristics more powerfully than the doctrine of hell. It is an appalling truth. We rightly recoil at the thought of it. The doctrine of hell thus stands as a warning and a reminder of what a loathsome reality sin is. No reasonable or godly person delights in the reality of eternal damnation. God Himself says, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11).

Yet the severity of God’s wrath and the woes of hell are prominent in Scripture. The New Testament speaks more vividly and more frequently about hell than the Old Testament does. In fact, Jesus Himself had more to say about the subject than any other prophet or biblical writer. Far from smoothing over the difficulties that seem to embarrass so many evangelicals today, Jesus said:

Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4–5)

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matt. 18:8–9)

We do no one any favors by downplaying the truth of God’s wrath or neglecting to mention the severity of His judgment. We certainly don’t eliminate the threat of hell by refusing to speak or think of it. If we truly believe what the Bible teaches about the eternal fate of unbelievers, it is in no sense “loving” to remain silent and refuse to sound the appropriate alarm.

What, after all, is the good news we proclaim in the gospel? It is not an announcement that no one really needs to fear God or fret about the possibility of hell. As a matter of fact, there would be no glad tidings at all if God merely intended to capitulate to the stubborn will of man and forgo the demands of His perfect righteousness.

The good news is even better than most believers understand: God made a way for His righteousness and His love to be fully reconciled. In His incarnation, Christ fulfilled all righteousness (satisfying, not nullifying, the demands of His law). In His death on the cross, He paid the price of His people’s sin in full (assuring the triumph of perfect justice). And in His resurrection from the dead, He put a powerful exclamation mark on His own perfect, finished work of atonement (thus sealing the promise of justification forever for those who trust Him as Lord and Savior).

That is the message we must declare to a worldly culture utterly lacking any real fear of God. We cannot do it faithfully or effectively if from the very outset we have omitted the harsh truth Scripture declares about “the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15).” (John MacArthur, Grace to You)

Bringing Hell AND Heaven Home…

Don’t be babied, snowed, or mollycoddled, Beloved race runners in Christ, there is no one in any seat of authority in the church… in your own personal church—least of all your Pastor, preaching / teaching servant leaders, elders, and followers of Jesus Christ—who would be found to say, “I love my flock in the truth of God, and the truth of God guides my love for them as well”…

WHILE omitting or down-playing or glossing-over the reality of God’s perfect holiness and justice, His wrath at sin-stained sinners, the fact of hell, the necessity of repentance, the Gospel of salvation by grace—SAVED FROM HELL… And sent to serve.

If such an OMISSION exists, please know that this is not Love; this is not Truth; but rather a form worldly selfishness that should be lovingly and truthfully confronted, reconciled, and redirected for redemption to glorify God and bless His people… ASAP (Matthew 18:15-20—see: Resources).

“I do not believe that if filth be allowed to accumulate and sewerage become stagnant and people deprive themselves of fresh air, that a merciful God will let them fall a prey to a deadly fever. The fact is that those who neglect the laws of health are carried away by disease, notwithstanding God’s mercy. Equally true is it that those who neglect the laws of spiritual health shall forever suffer the Second Death in hell.” (The Attributes of God, by A.W. Pink, 14. The Mercy of God)

Given half a chance to see my utter unworthiness and my thoroughgoing State of Sin and habit of sinning, the obvious implausibility that I could stand before the absolutely pure and holy God of the universe is… Obvious. In reality, the appropriate question is certainly NOT how could a an all-loving, all-holy, all-knowing, all-present, all-separate, and altogether self-sufficient God send me to HELL? But rather how could there ever be a place of complete reconciliation and eternal bliss called HEAVEN?!

“When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost,
In wonder, love, and praise.”


The Eternity of Hell Torments, by Jonathan Edwards

The Reality of Hell

Hell and Heaven

“Matthew 18”, Church Discipline

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