When most people think of hell, they picture unrelenting flames of wrath in some extra-dimensional realm on the outskirts of creation . . . totally without the presence of the Lord.
When it comes to hell, many Christians, including myself, have been accused of watering down the gospel simply because we question the doctrine of Endless Conscious Torment (ECT). Does this make us guilty of watering down the gospel?
Many Christians believe there is only one Christian dictrine of hell. Oh, how many have been deceived! Historically, there has been three accepted doctrines of postmortem judgment. Today, many are ignorant of early church history and prone to accept whatever that are told from the pulpit. This is precisely why another great awakening is on the horizon.
Although I would deny that we who reject ECT water down the gospel, I would not deny that hell needs to be watered down . . . in one sense.
Generally, the phrase “water down” has negative connotations, but, in certain contexts, it is absolutely a positive concept. The question is: Is it wise to water down the prevalent notion of hell?
Honestly, I think this notion of hell needs to be eradicated, rather than watered down, but baby steps are often necessary when it comes to theology. Regardless, some sort of polemic is necessary because most Christians cannot separate their idea of hell from the gospel message.
It is widely known that “gospel” literally means “good news” and that it is for all people. However, according to most Christians, this “good news” is only actually good for a select few: either those God “predestined” to salvation or those who are fortunate enough to “believe in Jesus” before they die.
Tell me, how good is this sort of news for the all people? Could God not have done any better than that? Will Adam and Satan turn out to have been far more destructive than Christ could have been restorative? Although most Christians scoff at that notion, ECT and Conditional Immortality (CI) logically leads to that conclusion. I would even go so far as to assert that those who would support that either of those doctrines are actually the ones who are watering down the gospel because they are fanning a doctrine of fear.
Ironically, the moment anyone asks these sorts of questions or entertains these concepts, they are accused of watering down the gospel. Is there no limit to the depths of absurdity?
We who trust in the absolute love, grace, and justice of God are the ones who are accused of assisting in the damnation of those who hear the really good news of Universal Reconciliation (UR) and, for one reason or another, decide to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait to come to Jesus until, one day, they die before actually getting around to it. If we are wrong about UR, the damnation of those poor souls is somehow on our shoulders. Of course, this is all speculative and dependent on the factuality of a dark theological concept.
Should we cease preaching the unfailing love of God simply because scare tactics are believed to be more persuasive? Are they? They may have been in the past, but threats of ECT run more people away from God, today, more than they ever have before.
The pendulum swings both ways. If we are guilty of the damnation of the lost for giving them a “reason” to wait until it is too late, so too are others guilty of the damnation of the lost for running them away from God by portraying him as someone that they could not have honestly revered and loved.
The prevalent notion of hell doesn’t only need to be watered down; it needs to be extinguished, but that won’t happen without the assistance of we who have actually experienced and felt the beat of our heavenly Father’s heart. It is the love of God that draws us to the cross, rather than selfish fear. The church has to stop using the cross as a whip, because we are not God’s cattle, but his children; either prodigal or at home.
It is only when we see the fire of God in its proper context that the church will begin to multiply daily, as it once did. God is fire, but living water also flows freely from his fiery throne. Encourage others to swim freely in it; take down the signs that keep people away. The gates are open; they always will be.
If you are not yet free from such a fear, I must first ask: Do you want to be free from it? The first hurdle I had to overcome was to realize that I was enslaved to a mindset that impeded a proper understanding of God’s character. This hurdle was the most difficult because it was the first step in the process.
Have you have rigorously studied UR and its scriptural roots or do you believe as you do because that is what your church condones? Are you willing to follow the scriptural command to test all things and to hold onto what is good and true? If so, I challenge you to play devil’s advocate and secretly “become” a believer in UR for a few months just to see whether or not it “fits” with your perception of God and your worship experience.
If it’s not a fit for you, you can always come back to your prior beliefs . . . that is, if you believe that God’s grace is great enough to allow you to do some sincere research and experiments. Take your time and do this right. You may discover far more than you could have ever hoped, but nothing is possible until you take that first step.