It’s the afternoon of April 17, 2013. You’re a worker at the West Fertilizer Company in central Texas. By some miracle you are given a glimpse into the future. You’re able to see the fire and explosion that will take place later that day. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
At this point you’d have a choice: you could be courageous and warn as many people as possible of the coming destruction. Or you could slip quietly away to save yourself, telling no one of the impending disaster for fear of being seen as a fool.
This scenario illustrates the first dilemma of evangelicalism:
We believe in a fiery destruction known as hell, but we’re often hesitant to warn people about it because we sound so foolish – even to ourselves.
Let’s admit it: we’re embarrassed to believe in hell. Want to stop a great conversation in its tracks? Bring up the subject of eternal judgment. Speaking of hell makes us sound like backward, uneducated yokels. It conjures up images of bearded crazies carrying signs in parks.
But just because we don’t like talking about hell doesn’t mean it’s not real. Hell is not some doctrinal relic tucked away in a musty corner of the Old Testament. The concept of eternal punishment is primarily a New Testament teaching. Jesus speaks of hell far more than anyone else in the Bible. Christ describes it as a real place of damnation, torments, and fire that shall not be quenched.
For Evangelicals, sharing our faith is more than just a way of helping people live better lives. It can literally mean the difference in where a soul spends eternity.
In order to make that transition from death-to-life as easy as possible, we want to make our churches as welcoming as possible. We want to remove every barrier so that everyone has the opportunity to hear Jesus’ extravagant offer of salvation.
Which leads us to the second dilemma of evangelicalism.
Do we lower the bar so many can be saved? Or do we raise the bar to produce more faithful disciples?
Lowering the bar results in more conversions. Yet many of these are false conversions.
How many times have you heard someone say, “The meeting was great! Over 300 people gave their hearts to the Lord!” Yet everyone realizes that many of those 300 will experience very little life change – and most will fall away. Barna research found that more than half of the people who “invite Jesus into their hearts” have no discernible faith within eight weeks of making such a decision.
The second dilemma shows up in the scriptures themselves.
The Bible sets a fairly low bar for salvation. Simply believe in Jesus, and you’ll go to heaven:
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 10:9: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us that God longs for our salvation, and takes no pleasure in our destruction:
2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
John 3:17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
But Jesus sets a very high bar for his disciples, asking for an all-in, total commitment:
Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33: In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Matthew 8:21-22: Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
This leads us to the third dilemma:
Salvation is easy, but discipleship is tough.
At Church for Men, we wrestle with this dilemma all the time. When it comes to reaching men, I advocate a more rigorous approach to discipleship. I look at how demanding Jesus was and how effective he was at mobilizing men. And studies have shown that the most demanding churches produce the most committed disciples.
Yet such an approach will always turn some men away. It did in Jesus’ day (John 6:66) and it will today.
Which leads us to the fourth dilemma:
If I follow Jesus’ tough love example, my actions could end up driving someone away from their best chance to be saved from hell.
If I press too hard on a newcomer, I risk alienating him from God. This did not seem to concern Jesus, yet it greatly concerns me, as I will have to one day give an account for my actions (Rom. 14:12). And if one of my actions led someone away from Christ, even if my motives were pure, I risk bringing judgment upon myself.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s struggled with these four dilemmas. I think this is why we’ve set the bar so low on church membership. Our motives are pure – we want as many people as possible to hear the good news. But in doing so, we fail to stir the hearts of men, who secretly long for a more challenging, rigorous faith.
My next post will examine the reasons hell has gone out of fashion, and what that’s doing to the faith of men. In the meantime, use the comment form below to discuss the ways you’ve struggled with the four dilemmas of evangelicalism:
- We believe in a fiery destruction known as hell, but we’re often hesitant to warn people about it because we sound so foolish – even to ourselves.
- Do we lower the bar so many can be saved? Or do we raise the bar to produce more faithful disciples?
- Salvation is easy, but discipleship is tough.
- If we follow Jesus’ tough love example, our actions could end up driving someone away from their best chance to be saved from hell.