12/1/11 Chris, about 30
Does one have to believe in hell to be a Christian? I know for myself there was a time in my Christian walk when I desperately wanted to believe that hell didn't exist. My faith in Christ left me sure of my own salvation but I was upset about the fate of others - as well we should be. What concerned me also was that I didn't want to believe in a God who would use the punishment of hell as a fair or just consequence of our sin. The problem was that I was trivializing the depravity of my own sin and the sins of others and also trivializing the holiness of God. A conversation at the park today with a young father named Chris out taking his toddler out for a stroll has me writing about the issue all over again. Chris is a lifelong Mennonite who attends a church that teaches that there is no hell because God is primarliy interested in reconciliation rather than retribution. An eternal hell would offer no way for the sinner to be reconciled to God, so they view deny that hell could exist. I knew this conversation could open up a whole can of worms which it didn't appear Chris would have time for there in the park, so I kept my comments general. I told him how I had to honestly deal with what Jesus teaches about hell in the Bible, rather than what I wanted Him to teach. I admitted it is a horrible subject to talk about, but pointed out that ignoring it won't make it go away. I left him with a booklet that goes into more detail about the subject, and invited him to call me if he'd like to talk further. He was very positive about the whole conversation. I am in the habit of taking my "witnessing bookbag" with me when I am out intentionally looking for conversations. In it I have a variety of follow-up materials and Bibles in both Spanish and English that allow me to have some helpful literature to offer almost anyone I talk to, whatever they might believe.