I wasn't offended in the least by these folks' departure from our sanctuary. In fact, I very much understand where they were coming from. For years after becoming a Christian, I searched the Bible for a way around hell (and around other biblical doctrines I wasn't so wild about, too). Even when my searching and researching led me to conclude that to trust the Bible is to trust God that hell exists, I still find myself occasionally avoiding the topic where I can. In my most honest moments with teenagers, I share that one of the hardest parts of the Bible for me to come to grips with is the existence of hell. According to the Bible, hell is awful, hell is eternal, and hell is not empty. And I cannot read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce enough times to assuage my sadness that hell is not empty.
The topic of hell is perhaps the most common subject asked about whenever we have a "questions" day in our youth ministry where students are encouraged to text in their questions. And when I address the topic frankly and welcome dialogue, the room is often very tense. And it should be. Hell is a very weighty topic. If what the Bible says about hell is true, then it is no exaggeration that (humanly speaking) eternity hangs in the balance when someone is considering whether or not to accept Christ and follow him. If there is no such thing as hell (Far Side comics notwithstanding), then to teach that there is such a place as hell simply amounts to a cruel practice.
I do my best not to shy away from the topic of hell in youth ministry. And you shouldn't, either. It doesn't mean that we resort to fear tactics as youth workers. Too much damage has been done by those who preach hell and forget to talk about God's grace. But to avoid the topic altogether would be simply dishonest.
This fall, a documentary is coming out called "Hellbound?" that will (or so it appears from the trailer) interview several pastors and scholars about hell and what they believe. From articles written by the film's director Kevin Miller, my guess is that the movie tries to persuade viewers to entertain a view of hell that doesn't line up with bible-centered theology. From a recent article on the documentary:
Miller, who attends an Anglican church in Canada, also believes that people have to face the consequences for their actions. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be punished forever.
“There has to be a day of reckoning,” he said. “But the consequences can be redemptive, not retributive.”
Of course, only a viewing of the film will let me know for sure, and I'm looking forward to it coming out on DVD (no DVD release date has been giving as of the writing of this post). And if the movie does do a good job presenting most of the popular views on hell, then I just might suggest it to our small groups as a discussion starter. Here's the trailer:
Hellbound? Official Theatrical Trailer HD from Kevin Miller on Vimeo.
What about you? Is hell a topic that comes up in your youth ministry? How do you approach it?