Has the doctrine of hell gone dormant?

JP: a powerful read by Albert Mohler Jr.

Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens

Excerpt:

… the doctrine of hell serves very well as a test case for the slide into theological liberalism. The pattern of this slide looks something like this.

  1. First, a doctrine simply falls from mention. Over time, it is simply never discussed or presented from the pulpit. Most congregants do not even miss the mention of the doctrine. Those who do become fewer over time. The doctrine is not so much denied as ignored and kept at a distance. Yes, it is admitted, that doctrine has been believed by Christians, but it is no longer a necessary matter of emphasis.
  2. Second, a doctrine is revised and retained in reduced form. There must have been some good reason that Christians historically believed in hell. Some theologians and pastors will then affirm that there is a core affirmation of morality to be preserved, perhaps something like what C. S. Lewis affirmed as “The Tao.” The doctrine is reduced.
  3. Third, a doctrine is subjected to a form of ridicule. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, known for his message of “Possibility Thinking,” once described his motivation for theological reformulation in terms of refocusing theology on “generating trust and positive hope.” His method is to point to salvation and the need “to become positive thinkers.”Positive thinking does not emphasize escape from hell, “whatever that means and wherever that is.”That statement ridicules hell by dismissing it in terms of “whatever that means and wherever it is.” Just don’t worry about hell, Schuller suggests. Though few evangelicals are likely to join in the same form of ridicule, many will invent softer forms of marginalizing the doctrine.
  4. Fourth, a doctrine is reformulated in order to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness. Evangelicals have subjected the doctrine of hell to this strategy for many years now. Some deny that hell is everlasting, arguing for a form of annihilationism or conditional immortality. Others will deny hell as a state of actual torment. John Wenham simply states, “Unending torment speaks to me of sadism, not justice.” Some argue that God does not send anyone to hell, and that hell is simply the sum total of human decisions made during earthly lives. God is not really a judge who decides, but a referee who makes certain that rules are followed.

Image source: apuritansmind

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