Evangelism & The Elephant in the Room

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Why do we want to tell people about Jesus? It’s a somewhat simple question that I recently asked to several college students not too long ago. We were discussing outreach ideas to the campus of Texas Tech and I wanted us to get back to the heart of why we were doing what we were doing. We all had some great ideas about the how, but I wanted to get back to the why. I felt that if we didn’t think about purpose, any plan we had for reaching the campus would end up losing energy.

If you attend church, you most likely hear (or at least I hope you do) how we are called, commissioned, and created to “make disciples” (see Matthew 28:16:20). In fact, I would say that the whole story of the Bible is one in which we as God’s people, created in His image, are the ones who are to make things “on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Paul says it well when he writes that God…through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

So why evangelism? Why should we care if people “get saved?” As I discussed these questions with this group of students, there seemed to be an elephant in the room that no one seemed to acknowledge. It was staring right at us, but we ignored it. It was the issue of Hell. We all agreed that we should share the gospel with others because we want people to have a relationship with God, we want to be obedient to God and see him glorified, and we want to love others. But what about not wanting people to spend eternity in Hell? Is that a solid reason to share the gospel in the politically correct 21st Century?

Now I’m no where near a “fire and brimstone” type guy. I don’t think yelling at people that they are going to Hell is effective. The gospel is good news. It is about forgiveness, hope, and restored relationships. The gospel is life. It’s bigger than just avoiding Hell. In fact, when it comes to the gospel message, we might need to ask if Hell should be included in it? (see Roger Olson article)

But nonetheless, the reality is that the Bible seems to indicate there is a place called Hell. Though it might not be in the foreground of the gospel message, it’s definitely in the background. Just consider the New Testament. The most frequently employed term for hell in the New Testament is the word gehenna. It is used 12 times in the New Testament. It is mostly found in the gospels as Jesus used the word 11 times to refer to the fiery judgment. In addition to gehenna, the term “outer darkness” is also by Jesus 3 times.

Add to these terms the following expressions: pits (dungeons) or chains of darkness (2 Peter 2:4); unquenchable fire (Mt 3:12) fiery furnace (Mt 13:42); eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41) blackest darkness (Jude 13); condemnation (Matt 23:33); destruction (2 Thess. 1:9); second death (Rev 20:11); weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 25:30); a place where the worm does not die (Mark 9:46); self exclusion from Christ’s blessing (Mt 7:23; 25:41); and exposure to God’s fierce wrath (1 Thess 1:10; Heb 10:27:31). Such a quick look through the New Testament seems to indicate that there is a Hell. I know there could be much more said here, but for the sake of space and to not veer too far off topic, this quick survey should suffice. (taken from Redeemed! Eschatological Redemption and the Kingdom of God by Boyd Hunt)

So where does the reality of Hell find itself in our motivation of sharing the gospel with others? Should it be our primary motivation? It’s obviously not the only thing that compels us to evangelize, but where does it fit? Or should it even be considered at all as a driving force for wanting others to become Christ-followers?

Maybe we should also consider God’s heart. What is his desire? Does he not want all to know him and find salvation in him ( consider 1 Timothy 2:4)? After all, why did Jesus come? What does the cross say about God’s commitment to his creation to restore and heal? So therefore, what does God think of Hell? I like what Bob Utley writes: An eternal hell is not only a tragedy for rebellious mankind, but also for God! Hell is an open, bleeding sore in the heart of God that will never be healed. Is God really broken over the results of our rebelliousness? I think the answer has to be “Yes!”

There is way much more that could be and should be said in regards to this matter. And in writing this I have come up with more questions than answers. This is especially true in regards to the doctrine of Hell. Though this quick article is not really addressing Hell per se, but how the reality of it motivates and informs our evangelism, it is understood that a deeper understanding of the doctrine might be helpful.

Bottom line, we must be concerned for the eternal plight of those around us. There is no doubt that God cares about it. So I guess it was okay for us that day to address the elephant in the room and say that we really don’t want people to live apart from God in Hell.

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