A few months ago my Facebook account was erupting with controversy over a book by Rob Bell, Love Wins. I asked myself, how could a book entitled, “Love Wins”, create this much rage and anger? The answer is because in this book, Rob Bell questions the traditional doctrine of hell that conservative Christians have purported for centuries. I believe Bell addressed this issue because the doctrine of hell affects our view of God, the gospel message and specifically evangelism in a postmodern culture. Unfortunately, Rob Bell does not cite or reference the many previous theologians, academics and fathers of the faith who have similarly questioned the traditional doctrine of hell before him. Because of this, many uninformed readers came to the conclusion that Rob Bell came up with alternative views of hell on his own, and therefore cast him out as a “heretic”, all the while unknowingly simultaneously condemning many other faithful believers before Rob Bell, to heresy as well. While Bell’s book is an important piece of writing for our current culture, I will review the historical views of the doctrine of hell and their proponents. It is my contention that the traditional doctrine of hell, which purports that the unsaved are eternally tormented in hell, is a specific doctrine that affects Christian evangelism and has very negative perceptions among the current postmodern culture. The traditional doctrine of hell of eternal torment and damnation promotes evangelism which focuses solely on saving individual souls from eternal torment, and has a limited view of the gospel message, which neglects the physical and social aspect of the gospel and Kingdom of God. Furthermore, a hard-lined traditional doctrine of hell, and evangelism which focuses only on saving souls from eternal damnation, does not address the cultural needs of our current postmodern society which rejects traditional evangelical views of hell and finds “evangelism” offensive and manipulative. A more open view of eternity and a more full view of the gospel message will promote evangelism that is hopeful, holistic, transformational and seeks to address the complete needs of individual and community. This view would not only demonstrate a fuller understanding of God’s love through the gospel message, but will also be much more effectual in loving and reaching our current postmodern society.
The Tradition Doctrine of Hell
The traditional doctrine of hell purports that God ordained some to be saved to eternal life and others to eternal damnation. This eternal damnation is typically viewed as never ending, conscious torment. An unspoken pre-supposition of this view is that the physical body will die, for those saved to eternal life and eternal damnation, but the soul of those ordained for eternal damnation will remain forever in hell, and will experience seemingly painful, conscious, unending punishment and torment. The question of who conducts the punishment and torment in hell is debated, but most traditionalists hold that the painful, conscious torment is the judgment and punishment of God which leads to the logical conclusion that God is the administer of the never ending torment.
Supporters of the traditionalist view typically cite ten biblical references as the foundation for this view. Isaiah 66:22-24; Daniel 12:1-2; Matthew 18:6-9; Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 9:42-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Jude 7; Jude 13; Revelation 14:9-11; Revelation 20:10, 14-15 (Peterson, 129 – 169). I will not seek to explain or interpret each argument from these ten scriptures for it is not within the scope of this paper, I will however seek to summarize the main themes found in these passages which traditionalists use to build their argument for a never ending hell of torment. First and foremost is the use of the word “eternal” in these passages, in either referring to “eternal fire”, “everlasting contempt”, “eternal punishment”, or “everlasting destruction”. Traditionalist proponents read the word “eternal” and “everlasting” to literally mean unrelenting or continual, rather than with a sense of finality, permanence or irrevocability. One reason for this reading and interpretation of “eternal” could very possibly be the influence of Greek platonic philosophy. Before Plato’s influence, it was not widely held that the human “soul” would live on forever in indestructible immortality after death. However, “the pagan philosopher Plato taught that souls are immortal and cannot be destroyed. Many Christians have reasoned about hell from that same point of error” (Fudge, 43). It is not hard to see that the traditional view of hell primarily comes from Tertullian, and was furthered by Augustine, was rooted in a Greek platonic understanding of the immortal soul.
Tertullian writes, and “the immortality of the soul is held by many. . . . I may use, therefore, the opinion of a Plato when he declares, ‘Every soul is immortal.’” The soul does not even need saving, Tertullian argues, for it is “‘safe’ already in its own nature by reason of its immortality.” Because the soul is immortal, he concludes, it cannot be destroyed. Therefore, when Jesus warns that God is able to “destroy” both body and soul in hell, we should not think he means that God will actually destroy the soul, says Tertullian, but rather that God will torment it forever. “We, however, so understand the soul’s immortality as to believe it ‘lost,’ not in the sense of destruction, but of punishment, that is, in hell” (Fudge, 187).
It seems that this platonic understanding of the soul was the foundation, or the lens through which Tertuillian read and understood scripture regarding hell; the presupposition which influenced the interpretation of scripture. When we are considering the doctrine of hell it would be wise to keep this history in mind and have a clear understanding of the presuppositions and influences that impact our reading of scripture, sometimes unknowingly.
Evangelism and the Traditional View of Hell
The traditional view of hell focuses on an immortal soul which is unceasingly tormented. In this view it is the soul that is important because it is the soul that either lives on in eternity with God in heaven, or lives on in never ending torment and damnation. This view also has a foundation in fear. In past centuries, and even still today, there are preachers or street evangelizers, known as “fire and brimstone” preachers. This name comes directly from the fear invoking evangelistic strategy which preaches repent or suffer eternal torment of God’s “fire and brimstone”. The tactic of these preachers is to implant deep fear and trepidation of an angry and vengeful God, who takes out his anger and judgment on wicked humanity by torturing with ceaseless pain and punishment. The strategy and hope of this tactic is that this fear will invoke people to repent and turn to God out of fear and avoidance of his wrath.
A “fire and brimstone” or “turn or burn” evangelistic strategy typically does not show much care or concern about individual’s personal life or struggles, and typically does not invest much time into the person. This is widely due to the fact that this evangelistic strategy is focused primarily on the soul, not the whole person. If a soul is immortal and cannot be destroyed, than this life is not very important, therefore we do not need to worry about people’s health, well being or current struggles. This type of evangelism is primarily concerned with saving as many souls as possible from eternal damnation, not about caring for and loving as many people as possible. In Kinnaman and Lyons book “UnChristian”, one of the common perceptions non-Christians have of Christians is that Christians are “insincere and concerned only with converting others” (Kinnaman, 67). This general perception likely stems from the method of evangelism experienced by unbelievers. It seems obvious that a traditionalist view of hell impacts the traditionalists’ method of evangelism and demonstrates to the unbeliever that the Christian is not concerned with them as a person, but ultimately only the final destination of their soul. It is not at all surprising that this would come across as insincere, disingenuous and even manipulative.
Alternative Views of the Doctrine of Hell
Although they are not as widely known, there are a number of alternative views of hell and many proponents of these alternative views. Among these alternative views is inclusivism, universalism, annihilationism, divine perseverance and varying levels or combinations of these views. I will give a brief summary of these different views, interpret how the view affects evangelism and analyze a commonality that exists between these views that oppose the traditional doctrine of hell.
Annihilationism is typically thought of as the primary view that directly opposes traditionalism. Annihilationism is the view that those who do not receive the salvation of Christ will be annihilated or destroyed after death, not eternally tormented. Many annihilionists believe that the wicked will receive punishment equal to their sins and their ultimate punishment and just, wrath of God will be their ultimate, final and everlasting destruction. Overall, annihilationists build their understanding of hell on a very literal and straight forward reading of scripture such as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that who ever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”. Similarly, annihilationists read a literal interpretation of death and destruction as the consequence for sin in Genesis 2:17, Ezekiel 3:18, Ezekiel 18:4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10. Furthermore, annihilationists dispute the idea that the human soul is immortal and cannot be destroyed, thus giving reason for God to punish the immortal soul through never ending torture. Therefore, they reject the traditional reading of scriptures that purport never ending torture in the “eternal fire of hell” and propose an understanding of “eternal” meaning ultimate, final, irreversible and definitive. One of the key scriptures cited to support this view is Matthew 10:28 which states, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of he One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.
Annihilationists read the traditionalist passages mentioning “eternal fire”, “everlasting contempt”, “eternal punishment”, “everlasting destruction” in a very literal way to indicate ultimate death and destruction that would inevitably result from fire and destruction. These punishments or destinies are understood as eternal for two reasons. First, because they will take place in the future age or Greek, aion (often interpreted “eternal” in modern translations), and second, because they are final and irreversible. Well known proponent of annihilationism, William Fudge, explains, “Because God’s fire is irresistible and cannot be quenched, it keeps burning and consuming until nothing is left. Anything that is put into unquenchable fire is finally burned up. We have seen the image of unquenchable fire throughout the Old Testament prophets, always describing fire that cannot be resisted or put out. Not surprisingly, such a fire consumes, reduces to nothing and burns up whatever is put in it (Ezek 20:47-48; Amos 5:6; Mt 3:12)” (Fudge, 38).
Fudge also contends that the traditionalist reading of Isaiah 66 has been misunderstood and misconstrued to indicate an everlasting, conscious torment. He suggests, through careful reading and contextual understanding, the “worm that will not die” and “unquenched fire” signifies disgrace and shame, not, never ending pain and suffering.
To the Hebrew mind, both worms and fire signify disgrace and shame (Jer 25:33; Amos 2:1). Worms and fire also indicate complete destruction, for the maggot in this picture does not die but continues to feed so long as there is anything to eat. The fire, which is not “quenched” or extinguished, burns until nothing is left of what it is burning. According to God’s prophet Isaiah, this is a “loathsome” scene, which evokes disgust rather than pity (Is 66:24; see the same word in Dan 12:2). This scene portrays shame and not pain. This passage of Scripture says nothing about conscious suffering and certainly nothing about suffering forever (Fudge, 32-33).
Annihilationism and traditionalism represent two very opposing view points, however both agree that hell is a very real, and irreversible destiny. Now, we must explore those view points which take a different stance on hell altogether, purporting that hell may not be a final and irreversible destiny.
Universalism and Inclusivism
Universalists contend that God’s grace is sufficient to bring all humanity to restored and redemptive relationship with their creator. Some also purport that salvation, through Christ was intended for all humanity and will eventually, effectually reach and save all humanity. Universalists build there foundation on a number of scriptures claiming God’s mercy and redemption of “all” – 1 Corinthians 15:22; Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:18-19; Romans 11:32 and Hebrews 2:9. Some universalists may hold a divine perseverance view of hell, in which hell exists only to bring the corrective punishment of God, which eventually brings all into restorative relationship, or they may disregard the existence of hell altogether.
Inclusivism is a form of universalism in that it purports that Christ’s sacrifice and atonement is sufficient for all humanity, was meant for all humanity and reaches all humanity but, differs from universalism, upholding that it may not be effectual for all. Inclusivits reject the notion that the Christian church is the only means by which people can know and experience the truth of God’s saving grace. They contend that God, through the Holy Spirit is working in and through many different avenues, even other religions, to reveal the truth of his saving grace. Clark Pinnock, a strong proponent of inclusivism, explains, “Inclusivism believes that, because God is present in the whole world (premise), God’s grace is also at work in some way among all people, possibly even in the sphere of religious life (inference)”(Pinnok, 98). Inclusivism does not hold a specific tenant regarding hell, but is more concerned with a broader possibility for many to be saved by genuine faith in God and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Inclusivists do agree to the existence of hell, and the genuine freedom of people to reject God and his salvation. The destiny of these people is hell, in the inclusivist view, but exactly what hell entails is not an important aspect of their view. Inclusivists promote a wider reaching and availability of salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, for all people holding a genuine faith, even if that faith is not understood in Christological terms. Pinnock explains,
I believe the Bible supports inclusivism. It declares Jesus to be the fundamental way to salvation as God’s eternal Son and sacrifice but does not confine the saving impact of God’s saving work to one segment of history. God has been at work saving human beings before Jesus was born and does so where Jesus has not been named (Pinnock, 109-110).
Inclusivists like Pinnock do not necessarily hold to post-mortem evangelism and salvation, but believe in what Pinnock calls “believers awaiting messianic salvation”. These are people that through the previenent grace of God and presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the world revealing truth, have demonstrated genuine faith in God without a specific understanding or confession of salvation through Jesus Christ. In regards to these people Pinnock suggests, “I contend that those who have had faith in God during their earthly lives, as Hebrews 11:6 indicates, are “believers,” even if they are not Christians; and I hold that after death, these people encounter the reality of God’s grace in Christ for which they had longed” (148). To support this view, Inclusivists look to Galatians 3:23 and 4:1, Hebrews 11, and pre-messianic fathers of the faith like Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Noah, Job to name a few. Inclusivits do not hold to a universal salvation of all humanity, but believe that God is working in ways greater than we limit Him, through the work of the Holy Spirit revealing truth and prevenient grace. Inclusivists contend that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, but Christ’s sacrifice has been made for all humanity, and those who express genuine faith in God but not expressly Jesus Christ, will be given the opportunity to receive Christ’s effectual salvation after death. In this way, hell is partially open and the gospel message has a more hopeful and far-reaching theme than the traditionalist view.
Divine perseverance is the view that God continues to pursue and love all of his creation even into the depths of hell. Proponents of divine perseverance believe that God reigns over hell and hell is a place of corrective judgment in which God is lovingly trying to bring all to loving relationship with himself. Donald Bloesch, a strong proponent of divine perseverance explains that this view “holds that God in his love does not abandon any of his people to perdition but pursues them into the darkness of Sheol or hell, thereby keeping open the opportunity for salvation” (Bloesch, 40). Most proponents of divine perseverance believe that salvation is possible after death, but do not purport a universal salvation. They contend that God will save those in hell that through his loving, corrective punishment and enduring mercy, profess him as Lord and desire to enter the Kingdom. However, they uphold free will in that not all will come to profess Jesus as Lord, even when confronted with this truth in hell. Proponents of divine perseverance hold to a universal reach of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice, but do not contend that all will accept the invitation of Christ’s loving sacrifice.
The important thing is that God will be glorified everywhere. All people will come to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord (Phil. 2:10-11), even if some do it unwillingly. All people will be made to serve Jesus Christ whether in fear or in love. Evil has been vanquished; darkness has been dispelled. The light of Jesus Christ shall penetrate all things (Eph. 1:10). We must therefore never give up on anyone or consign anyone to damnation. God is flexible in his judgments but inflexible in his grace (James Daane) (Bloesch, 235).
In Bloesch’s view, Satan does not reign in hell, but God is Lord over both heaven and hell, where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, whether in heaven or hell. Hell is viewed in Bloesh’s terms as “a sanatorium for sick, incurable souls”; a just and loving, corrective punishment intended to reveal the truth of the Lordship of Christ and the love of God which is balanced by God’s ever enduring love and mercy.
From my perspective hell as the outer darkness, eternal perdition has been destroyed by the cross and resurrection victory of Christ, since he died for all and his gracious election goes out to all. The possibility of ontological separation from God has been cancelled by Jesus Christ through his universal atoning sacrifice. This kind of hell has been excluded from God’s purposes. Yet an inner darkness remains as a sign and shadow of what has been overcome. To the rejected it appears to include the horror of eternal separation from God. The truth of the matter is that the pain of hell is due to the presence of God rather than to his absence, to his unfathomable love rather than to any abysmal hatred, or what is worse, gross indifference (Bloesch, 217).
Those who promote divine perseverance believe that the only sin that is not forgivable and atoned through Christ’s sacrifice is the “unforgivable sin” which is the rejection of the Holy Spirit and his invitation to enter the Kingdom of God (Mt. 12:31-32; Mk. 3:28-29; Lk. 12:10). In this view, that is the only sin that will hold people in hell, and even here, they are not tormented by Satan or God, but by the presence of God’s ever enduring love and mercy which they refuse to accept.
Bloesch, in representing the divine perseverance view upholds what I believe to be a very balanced perspective and understanding of scripture. He explains, “It is incumbent on us to recognize that there are two strands in the Bible – one universalistic and the other particularistic. It is my firm conviction that we are closer to the truth when we read the particularistic texts in light of the more comprehensive or universalistic texts” (Bloesch, 240). Proponents of divine perseverance look to many passages of scripture to build their foundation. A foundation is built from scripture that emphasizes Christ’s desire and action to restore all things to himself: Ephesians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:19-20; Revelation 21:5. They also cite scripture that notes God’s desire for the salvation and restoration of all, and his reign over all: Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 45:23, 66:23; Habakuk 2:14; Numbers 14: 21; Psalm 97:6; Philippians 2:9-11; Romans 14:11; 1 Corinthians 15:28 and Ephesians 1:10. Futhermore, Divine perseverance proponents also look to scripture that proclaims the ultimate and overarching mercy of God in comparison to anger: Micah 7:18; Lamentations 3:22; James 2:13; Romans 11:32. This doctrine also upholds that God is present even in Sheol: Psalm 139:12; Nahum 1:8. Lastly, divine perseverance builds a foundation on scripture that proclaims Christ’s rule over heaven and hell and the eternal “open” gates of heaven: Revelation 1:18; Isaiah 60:11 and Revelation 21:25.
Observations Regarding the Alternative Views of Hell
In reviewing all these differing views of hell the first observation I would like to make is that the issue of hell should never be understood or proclaimed to be an clear cut doctrine or black and white issue. There are clearly God fearing, intelligent, academic and pastoral believers who strongly disagree about the doctrine of hell and have for centuries. It is usually my stance, that these types of issues are not “hills” that we should be willing to die on. In my analytical opinion, after reviewing the main viewpoints side by side, I believe that William Fudge makes the most logical argument and explanation of scripture in his annihilationist viewpoint. At the same time, I see extreme validity and understanding of scripture in the inclusivist view point and ultimately, my heart hopes and prays for the validity of the doctrine of divine perseverance. I long for this view point to be true and believe it treats scripture in a very balanced perspective, allowing scripture to interpret scripture. Additionally, I believe it aligns most with what we know to be the heart of God throughout all scripture: a God who forgives, loves mercy and ultimately is love and desires all to be restored to perfect relationship with Him. I do not believe we have enough clear scripture or understanding to make hard and fast judgments regarding what exactly hell entails, and certainly not who is going to be present in hell. I believe that these alternative views of hell, allow us to hold a more hopeful outlook for the future and demonstrate the overarching love of God which significantly affects how we evangelize.
Evangelism and The Alternative Views of the Doctrine of Hell
I mentioned earlier, that all of the alternative views of the doctrine of hell had a few foundational similarities that affect how believers evangelize. By now I hope readers have already begun to notice those similar themes, but let us discuss them in more detail here. First, in contrast to the traditional doctrine of hell, all of the alternative view points tend to have a greater focus on the overarching love and mercy of God as opposed to a focus on God’s anger, wrath and judgment – and what I would deem, un-biblically founded torment. Second, these alternative views tend to focus not solely on converting individual souls from eternal punishment, but on present and future hope, as God is revealing his love and restoring humanity to himself. Because these alternative view points are not overly preoccupied with saving souls from eternal torment and they have hope in God’s plan for salvation, enduring love and mercy, proponents of these views are given the freedom to care for and love entire persons, rather than just converting “damned” souls.
In my view, a proper understanding of heaven, hell and the Kingdom of God sees that God is ultimately in control, loves his creation, desires his creation to be restored to proper relationship with him and creation, and is already working in and through the Holy Spirit and believers exemplifying his love and truth. When we view the future with hope, in light of God’s love and mercy, with trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit working throughout the nations, we are free to love people and join in God’s work of restoring and transforming humanity. A traditionalist view of hell contends that our job is to declare the wrath, judgment and torment of God and save people from God, rather than join in God’s existing work to save people and bring them to himself in the Kingdom of God.
Some might argue that without a hard-lined doctrine of hell demonstrating God’s wrath, vengeance and punishment, people will not fear God. My response to that is a question: Has fear ever driven you to love and desire a relationship with another person? Is fear of God what drew you into deep and lasting relationship with Him? I am not talking about an Old Testament understanding of the fear of God as reverence and respect for the power and might of God, but a fear of God as eternal tormentor and vengeful punisher. Fear is typically what drives people away or causes disingenuous obedience, not loving devotion and adoration. The beloved disciple John declares this clearly, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:19). My guess is that for the majority of believers, it is the unconditional love, grace and mercy of the Lord that continually draws them to their savior and fuels obedience, devotion and service to him. Additionally, from one sinner to another, heaping eternal punishment, vengeance and torment on another person does not sit well with me. As one who has been shown God’s great and unfathomable mercy and forgiveness, I cannot hope anything less than God’s restorative mercy and forgiveness even for the worst of sinners. While God’s righteous anger and holy justice are surely Biblically grounded and a part of his eternal character, I believe we must balance these with his overarching love and mercy and leave the judgment to the only righteous judge, the Lord himself. On this topic I tend to agree with Boesch and Pinnock in their understanding God’s righteous judgment being carried out in the universal sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the world through Christ, and Boesch’s explanation of the unforgivable sin as the only sin that can hold someone in hell.
Holistic, Hopeful Evangelism for a Postmodern Culture
Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” that received so much criticism was an attempt to reach out to a postmodern culture, Christian or non-Christian, that wrestles with or rejects Christianity because of hard-lined doctrines like the traditional doctrine of hell. Kinnaman and Lyons in their review of how Christians are perceived in current younger, post-modern culture found that within this group, Christians are primarily viewed as hypocritical and judgmental (Kinnaman, 34). As we already noted earlier, this postmodern generation also views most Christian evangelism as “insincere and concerned only with converting others” (Kinnaman, 67). From my experience, I would also add to this manipulative. I have even known followers of Christ that, in part, turned and away from the faith because they felt the evangelism that the Christian church commanded them to practice was disingenuous, hypocritical and manipulative.
Today, the modern notion of certainty and complete objective evaluation are considered ignorant. The postmodern generation sees the failures of the modern age to adequately answer all the questions of the universe through the scientific method. Postmoderns therefore, doubt institutions and authorities who claim to have all the answers or a completely objective point of view. Conversely, postmoderns accept uncertainty and the lack of easy answers and are therefore, much more likely to accept the possibility of mythological explanations because they doubt everything can be explained through natural means (Kinnaman, 121-140). Proponents of the traditional doctrine of hell claim to have an objective and exacting understanding of hell and salvation and use this “ultimate truth” to declare the ultimate and certain destiny of those who do not agree with them. This kind of hard-lined opinion, especially in an area that is not lucidly explicit, is exactly what drives a postmodern culture away from Christianity. Let us consider what evangelism could look like influenced by alternative views of hell and I believe we will see that it is much more fitting and effectual in the current postmodern culture.
Alternative views of hell promote first and foremost a loving and merciful God who desperately desires all to be saved and experience the fullness of life and restoration. This restoration is understood to be in the future coming of Christ and on this earth through the current and coming Kingdom of God, therefore the impact of these views is evangelism that does not focus simply on the soul of the convert, but the entire person. Additionally, alternative views of hell allow for a hopefulness for the future, in which God is ultimately in control and is the one left to be the final just and loving judge, not us. Alternative views of hell do not claim to have all the answers or objective truth regarding hell, but readily admit that heaven and hell are somewhat mysterious and because of this we hope in what we know to be God’s unchanging character of perfect love, justice and mercy, exemplified in the incarnational life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Changing these outlooks on hell allows for an evangelism that focuses on grand, merciful, redemptive love, not anger, wrath and torment. These views allow for evangelism that focuses on loving an entire person, not just in converting a soul, for evangelism that is not forceful and manipulative, but believes God is already at work in the world through the Holy Spirit and simply joins Him in his work. They allow for an evangelism that leaves the fate of humanity to the hands of God and does not seek to make a judgment other than hope and pray for God’s gracious, merciful redemption.
As I conclude I would like to discuss holistic evangelism. Departing from the traditional doctrine of hell allows believers to genuinely love people and not simply be concerned about converting souls. Alternative views of hell and salvation contend that God is already at work in the Universe, bringing about his Kingdom through the Holy Spirit and his followers. With this foundation, Christians are free then, to love people and allow God to work in their heart, through the Holy Spirit and through the love of the believer in the name of Christ. Holistic evangelism is just that – evangelism that seeks to genuinely love people the way God does, trust and pray for the Holy Spirit to work, and demonstrate God’s love and care for their entire person – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. This view purports that Christians today play a part in ushering in the loving and transformative Kingdom of God, by loving people holistically, striving for justice, mercy and restoration. Proponents of this kind of holistic evangelism believe that there cannot be a separation of social action and evangelism, but they are a part of one, holistic task of the mission of the church. Paul Chilcote explains,
The moment you regard mission as consisting of two separate or separable components - evangelism and social action - you have, in principle, admitted that each of the two components has a life of its own. You are then suggesting that it is possible to have evangelism without a social dimension and Christian social action without an evangelistic dimension (Chilcote, 9).
Conclusion: Lessons From the Global South
Our brothers and sisters in the church of the global South have understood that evangelism and mission of the Church must encompass loving and transformative social action for many years. We learn from them that genuinely loving a whole person means fighting for peace and justice, addressing physical poverty and marginalization, as well as spiritual and relational needs. Evangelism without these actions is not loving, and evangelism should first and foremost be loving. Pastor and academic, C. Rene Padilla, who was born in Ecuador and currently lives and works in Argentina, explains a Latin American view of evangelism:
There is nothing that lies beyond the reach of God’s redemptive purpose. People’s material or economic, physical, psychological, sociopolitical and spiritual needs are all within God’s realm of action; they represent spheres of human life where God calls people, on an individual and community level, to submit to God and experience God’s transforming power (Padilla, 107).
When reviewing a number of holistic community development projects initiated by the church in Latin America, Padilla makes a beautiful reflection,
The projects described represent an ample range of services: from promoting new farming techniques to providing a place for bathing, from child care to developing community gardens, from concretizing about the place of women in society to assisting micro-enterprises. Each form of service becomes a means whereby God’s love becomes historically visible. Each form of service is a sign of God’s kingdom, which became history in Jesus Christ (Padilla, 115).
We can learn much from the Church in the Global South, which readily experiences the realities of poverty, oppression, injustice and marginalization. Because these aspects of life are so clearly at the forefront of the community they desire to reach, it is blatantly obvious that evangelism, to share the gospel message and love of God, must include loving the entire person and addressing their holistic needs. Some of the needs of our community in the postmodern West may be different, many may be the same, but the underlying principle remains the same – God’s love is intended for whole people and therefore our evangelism and our mission must be holistic love. It is my contention that alternative views on hell allow for this type of holistic love, and only this holistic gospel will meet the needs of our current postmodern society.
List of Works Cited
Bloesch, Donald. 2004. The Last Things. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Chilcote, Paul W. 2008. The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons. 2007. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks
about Christianity and Why It Matters. Baker Books. Kindle Edition.
Padilla, Rene C. 1997. Holistic Mission in Theological Perspective. “Serving with the Poor in
Latin America”. Monrovia, CA: MARC Publications.
Pinnock, Clark. 1996. An Inclusivist View. “Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World”.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Peterson, Robert A. and Fudge, Edward W. 2000. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical &
Theological Dialogue. IVP Academic. Kindle Edition