Are there CHRISTIAN denominations that don’t believe in a literal Hell judgement?
So you get the prize for the most loaded question I’ve ever received.
I’m assuming you mean any of the following: Can a Christian still be a Christian if he doesn’t believe in Hell? Are Universalists still Christians? If not, are they a cult? Does that mean they’re going to Hell? What’s up with Hell anyway? Is there even really a Hell? What the hell?
All right so seriously: let’s clear up a few things. Please forgive my scatterbrained response, but I’m just going to shot-gun spray all over this.
1) The Bible describes a real Hell and there are people going: but not just anyone goes there.
Here’s an uncomfortable thought: but maybe people go to Hell NOT because they didn’t believe in it, but because they hated Jesus Christ. A jail isn’t built for people who don’t believe in jail; it’s built for people who reject the law.
Let’s say I share the Gospel with a five year old and he accepts it, and then he passes away the next day. Do you think his destiny hinges on his belief in Hell? Or is it based on his simple yet profound love for Jesus? An even deeper thought: How much doctrine do we actually need to know in order for Jesus’ grace to somehow become effective?
Is it possible that during the theater shooting in Aurora, some of them cried out for mercy in their vague concept of Jesus at the very last second? The same with natural disasters, deathbed confessions, and sudden car crashes? Does it count? While I wouldn’t bet on a risk like that, I believe God is way more gracious than we could comprehend.
2) You already believe in Hell, whether you think so or not.
I believe that if I were to sit down with a Universalist and ask them point-blank, they would absolutely believe in the concept of Hell. They just choose the wimpy way out in church services, or they have the unfortunate experience of a loved one who hated Jesus and passed away. Deep down they know what’s right. If their kid is raped or their family member is murdered, that facade is crumbling real quick.
You already have an implicit idea of Hell that you’ve suspected all along. If you believe in even the slightest hint of justice, then you already believe in God’s judgment too. No one would say, “I don’t believe in justice for a rapist and dictator and child molester.” Unless it’s you. In the end, we all have a secret hope that no one gets away with anything, and God is a good God who makes sure justice wins.
If you’re asking if I believe Universalists and/or Rob Bell are Christians, I’d have to say: maybe. It’s a case-by-case scenario. I wouldn’t attend their church, but I’d still love them like any other human being. Ultimately it’s not for me to decide if they’re making it to Heaven or not; only God knows who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). That’s between them and the Lord, not between me and them.
3) No one has ever been successfully motivated towards Christ by the threat of Hell.
The topic of Hell is not even anywhere close to the linchpin of Christian faith. The funny thing is that most preachers say, “Jesus talked about hell more than anything!” — but this is some urban myth that gets tossed around as factoid. In total, about 13% of Jesus’ spoken words are about Hell. You can look it up yourself.
If anyone spends an inordinate amount of time on any subject, that says more about them than Jesus. It’s the same deal with predestination, politics, homosexuality, evolution, and government. Anything more than 13% of my focus on that stuff is really all I can stand.
You can never reverse-argue someone into the truth. You know this yourself. No one ever says, “Wow you totally proved my atheism wrong, so tell me how to trust Jesus.”
The thing is, if I tell you about eternal paradise and Jesus’ pure gift of righteousness and how much he loves you, no one ever says, “Okay so what else you got bro?”
Inversely, some people get you off track by saying “If the other option is Hell, then God isn’t fair so screw Him.”
Now think of that statement. It sounds like a legitimate argument until you peel it back and see: it’s an excuse. What they’re really saying is, “I’m afraid to get to know God because He’s going to change my life, and I sort of like my life right now with all the excess and consequences and drama and conformity.”
The argument of God’s unfairness over Hell is just a diversion. If you don’t believe me, then ask them: “If Hell didn’t actually exist, what’s the obstacle really keeping you from God?”
4) Let’s not forget: God already paid for it.
Most people neglect the fact that not only did God make Hell, but He Himself paid the price for it so we wouldn’t have to.
Nearly everyone says, “It’s not fair that God would send people to Hell.” And I immediately think, “So is it fair that Jesus had to go through hell on a cross?” No one really thinks that way.
See: I have never had a single thoughtful conversation about Hell with anyone, ever. We don’t live in a time of slowed-down thoughtfulness; instead we’re all yelling, “I don’t like this part, so now I gotcha!” We’ll do anything we can to avoid the beauty of the Gospel, maybe because we have a self-centered death grip on control. We hate grace.
Christianity is actually the only belief that has a built-in plan for the problem of humanity. Every manmade religion offers its version of condemnation, whether they call it “spiritual impurity” or “material weakness” or “shadow self” — so you pay it off by Karma or religious rituals or the next self-help book or you cut off the whole world. No other religion offers the God who says, “I’m going to humble myself to death on a cross for you.”
You might think, “Well I’m not a religious person.” Sure you are. The worldly idea of success means you better have a certain body image, get big-dollars, know this-many-people, win-the-trophies, or else you fail. So everyone jumps through hoops to get there, and that’s pretty much hell for those people.
Jesus is the only one who says, “I came to seek and save what was lost. Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. It is finished.”
I’m still waiting for the day when someone tells me, “Jesus had to do what? But that’s not fair!” And that’s why it’s grace. Because it isn’t fair, and it never can be. All you can do is receive the gift and thank God for His mercy. He not only saved you from eternal destruction, but He brought you into infinite joy. That’s a pretty good deal.
– Follow-up response–
Sorry but I think it’s quite the other way around. I don’t think anyone believee every person who doesn’t confess Christ on the planet will be E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y T-O-R-M-E-N-T-E-D, doesn’t REALLY believe that. Or else they’d resent God. People say it flippantly, but I doubt they deep down believe that.
See: you’re assuming everyone thinks like you, when really your idea of God’s justice comes from a 21st century, Enlightenment-conditioned, Western-constrained, Pavlovian-trained mind of this era. We are a product of our times, and we tend to think our current culture is superior to what came before. It’s what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” In other words, you don’t speak for everyone, and certainly not all of history.
You can argue that we are an increasingly more intelligent society, but again, that’s a Golden-Age Fallacy. You might think “better technology” means a better world, but we are just as helplessly depraved as we ever were. You can say, “Slavery is gone and we got medicine,” but we have more slaves worldwide today than we did ever before, and an estimated 26,000 children die everyday of preventable causes despite our so-called advances. Yes, we have progressed a lot, but we’ve also escalated in all the wrong ways.
A soft view on God’s justice — that there is no Hell — only came about within the last few decades or so. Think about that. You say that “everyone” doesn’t secretly believe in Hell. But the concept of a loving God is foreign nearly everywhere else except America. People the world over understand punishment, retaliation, and debt. Easterners understand a vengeful God. I’d even propose that most people begin with a concept of Hell before they ever get to a hint of God’s grace. If you think you’re superior to Easterners, you have racist blinders on.
I don’t mean to be so harsh. I understand what you’re saying, and I wish more than anyone that a place called Hell did not exist. But let’s at least be thoughtful about our own opinions and consider that your brain and mine has been trained by the recent zeitgeist. There is a way to think that is timeless and will hold up in light of human history.
When I’m asked about Hell or God’s wrath, I tell them to check out John 3:17. Even Jesus knew that Hell wasn’t a motivation for people to come to God; it’s never been a fuel for sustainable faith. It only underlines the incredible trade we get with Jesus: our pain for healing, our sorrows for joy, our sin for eternal life. We can spread around the myth that Jesus talked about Hell more than anything else (he didn’t, it was only 13% of his words), and we can act like total depravity is the entire essence of man (it’s not, if you stop taking Calvin out of context and read Romans 7 or the dang Bible). Or we can admit: we’re all uncomfortable with God’s grace because it’s just so free, so disturbing, so reckless, so amazing. The second you say, ‘What-about,’ then you’re probably afraid of such an unthinkable grace. Yes, He saves us from Hell — but more alarmingly, He saves us to Himself.
— originally posted here on my Tumblr