It’s no surprise that a pastor who “can’t worship a guy I can beat up” also can’t fathom a God who would have any qualms about tormenting someone for all eternity.
I imagine Driscoll thought he was stating the obvious, something beyond dispute — at least if you’re a legitimate Christian. Sort of a litmus test of orthodoxy in 140 characters or less.
Yet his tweet obscured the fact that Christians have long held diverging views of the Last Judgment and its consequences, and not all of them involve eternal conscious torment. Respected thinkers and theologians — at least some of whose books are likely on Driscoll’s shelf — have explored other possibilities.
Scripture itself is less than abundantly clear on the nature of judgment after death. In the Old Testament, judgment was something you experienced in this life. Ancient Hebrews didn’t have a particularly fleshed out concept of the afterlife.
In the New Testament, hellfire is just one picture of judgment, and it’s hardly the most dominant one. (Nor is it clear that it’s anything more than a picture.) When judgment is mentioned, it’s more commonly portrayed with the language of destruction — that is, ceasing to exist.
But here’s the thing. Mark Driscoll presents himself as “a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.” For him, this tweet about hell was gospel proclamation, plain and simple. Preaching the good news requires you to periodically stoke the fires of hell so you can scare people into the kingdom, right?
So here’s my question for Pastor Mark Driscoll: If hell is so important to the gospel, why is it never mentioned in the book of Acts?
Acts is the record of the first people to follow Jesus and how their message spread across the Roman Empire. If evangelism is your thing — that is, “telling everybody about Somebody” — then you should pay close attention to the book of Acts.
Among other things, Acts contains 14 or 15 of the earliest Christian sermons. (The number varies, depending on what you count as a sermon.) Eight of these are Kerygmatic sermons, which is a fancy term for proclamatory or evangelistic speeches — i.e. someone telling others about Jesus.
In these eight sermons, there is not one mention of hell. In fact, hell is completely absent from the whole book. Judgment is mentioned once or twice, but the nature of judgment? It’s never part of their gospel proclamation.
So why does Mark Driscoll think hell is essential to his gospel proclamation? Why does he feel compelled to say something the first evangelists never needed to say? Isn’t that “adding to the gospel”?
Maybe it’s not unloving to tell someone they’re going to hell. But it’s more than a little presumptuous, both about their standing with God and the nature of judgment. Besides, even if it’s not unloving, the first proclaimers of the gospel evidently felt it was unnecessary.
What’s your take? Do you think hell is essential to the Christian story?