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In The News
   
 
 

 

In The News

 
August 1 - Many Americans don't believe in hell, but what about pastors?
 
Article: Misc.
 
Just when it seemed to have cooled off, the topic of hell is back on the front burner at least for pastors learning to preach about a topic most Americans would rather not talk about. Only 59% of Americans believe in hell, compared with 74% who believe in heaven, according to the recent surveys from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"I think it's such a difficult and important biblical topic," said Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School. "There's a big change that's taken place as far as evangelicals not wanting to be as exclusive."

At the recent annual Beeson Pastors School, Selles led two workshops to discuss "Whatever happened to hell?" He asked how many of the pastors had ever preached a sermon on hell. Nobody had, he said.

"It's out of fear we'll not appear relevant," he said. "It's pressure from the culture to not speak anything negative. I think we've begun to deny hell. There's an assumption that everybody's going to make it to heaven somehow."

Pope John Paul II stirred up a debate in 1999 by describing hell as "the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy." Although the pope was reflecting official Roman Catholic teaching, some U.S. evangelicals expressed misgivings about the implication that hell is an abstract separation from God rather than a literal lake of fire as described in the Book of Revelation.

The pope's comments on hell stirred up the ancient debate about whether hell is a real place of burning fire or a state of mind reflecting a dark, cold emptiness and distance from God.

Either way, Selles said, pretending that hell doesn't exist, or trying to preach around it, short-circuits the Bible."This is a doctrine, a teaching, that's being neglected in churches," Selles said. "It needs to be preached. It's part of the Gospel."

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