Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Concerning Hell

The subject of hell has been gaining some attention in recent months—especially because there are increasing numbers of churches who deny its existence or ignore it altogether. Newsweek magazine, August 12, 2002, has a cover feature on “Visions of Heaven,” showing that views of heaven serve to inspire as well as inflame Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There is a follow-up article on hell, written by Kenneth L. Woodward. There are some interesting comments on common views of our day:

The most famous sermon in American history was a graphic evocation of the horrors of the damned in hell. As Jonathan Edwards expanded on his subject, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” so many moans and cries rose from his proper New England congregation that the learned theologian had to pause while his listeners recoiled in fear of their fate in the life to come. That was on July 16, 1741. Such a sermon could not be preached today—not even by Billy Graham, who has eschewed the fire-and-brimstone sermons of his youth. If the modern pulpit is any index, hell has disappeared from the modern religious imagination, and so has Edwards’s angry God.

Historians tell us that hell began to fade, at least among liberal Protestants, during the 19th century. By the end of the millennium, it was a doctrine that most Christians cheerfully ignored. Today, few Roman Catholics line up on Saturday nights to confess their sins, even the “mortal” kind. For born-again Christians, hell functions mainly as a goad for the unconverted. Once saved, the twice born have only to worry, as Graham himself once put it—about how high a place they’ll reach in heaven. On television, celebrity preachers discourage negativity. Robert Schuller says he hasn’t preached on hell in 40 years. Asked which kind of God they believe in, most Christians prefer to think of him as a friend in high places. (Apparently no one reads the Book of Job anymore.) And hell, for those who think about it at all, is a place for other people….

…For most educated believers, such grim imaginings (“hot flames of hell sear the bodies of suicides and other terrible sinners, while their errant souls writhe in a foul pit of snakes”) long ago lost their power to coerce. Images just as grotesque are available at the local multiplex. According to most contemporary theologians, hell is not an eternal torture chamber. Rather—and here the pope and Graham agree—hell means eternal separation from God.

My own hunch is that the prospect of hell never deterred anyone who had not first experienced genuine fear of the Lord. But that traditional religious experience is hard to come by when God is imagined as our Best Buddy. It may well be, as some contemporary theologians argue, that even the worst sinners will eventually be restored to the kingdom of heaven. But this attenuated view of hell tends to rob the evil that we do of its lethal gravitas. “If what we do now is to make no difference in the end,” argued the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “then all the seriousness of life is done away with.”

Ultimately, we become what we love. Hell is not a hot place, but a community of those who remain outside the circle of Divine Embrace. All are called to enter heaven, but it is hubris to suppose that any one of us is worthy of a free ticket.

Amazing that a well-known writer and editorialist writes all of these things. There is obviously some discernment of the historical teachings of the church as that is based on Scripture’s testimony. Surely it is true that there is either a denial or at least ignoring of the subject of hell in the preaching in most churches today. It is true that the gospel must be preached: the proclamation of Christ crucified as set forth in Scripture. But one cannot then ignore what has been called the “antithesis.” Hell is a reality; it is a definite place of punishment where the wicked must endure the wrath of God forever because of their sins. Though Scripture describes it in earthly terms, the reality of that place of suffering must be more terrible than anything which can be described by man today. Scripture presents heaven and hell. Scripture speaks of elect and reprobate. That such antithesis is denied or ignored points out the fact of the rapid apostasy of our day and age. God grant that we remain faithful to the Word—also concerning the place of hell.

A Teenager on Modesty

I was impressed by the reflections of a certain Leslie Cox, evidently a teenager, on the dress of young girls today (though the same might be said concerning young men). The article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, August 14, 2002 and was reprinted in The Christian News, August 26, 2002.

It is a hot Saturday afternoon, and I, along with some of my friends, am headed to a Christian concert. A local Christian radio station is celebrating 20 years of service to the community, and many popular Christian artists are scheduled to perform.

As I walk toward the stadium where the concert is being held, my attention is drawn to other teenage girls around me. What catches my eye is the way the girls are dressed. Their clothes leave little to the imagination.

They must have misunderstood what is happening here, I think. Surely, they wouldn’t come to a “Christian” concert dressed like that.

But I am wrong.

In fact, after finding my seat, I notice that almost every girl in the stadium is dressed in the same manner: scantily, with lots of skin showing. Suddenly, I feel out of place in my knee-length skirt and navel-hiding, button-down shirt.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint myself as super spiritual. But when I see girls dressed like Britney Spears at Christian events, I can’t help but question their reasons for attending altogether. Are they there to praise God? Or are they there to see how many guys’ heads they can turn?

I have discussed this subject with some of my friends, and while some agree with me, others say God only looks at the heart. How a person dresses doesn’t matter to him. Wear whatever, wherever.

But how a person dresses does matter to God. In fact, the Bible gives specific guidelines as to how Christians should dress. According to

I Timothy 2:9,

we are to dress “modestly, with decency and propriety.”

The word “decency” refers to purity. In other words, what a girl wears shouldn’t provoke a guy to think about her in an ungodly fashion. She should dress in a way that is pure—not provocative. She should be seen by her peers as wholesome and clean—not flirtatious and cheap.

Admittedly, dressing virtuously isn’t easy these days. Fashion designers push the moral envelope more and more every season. What once was considered racy—tight clothes, sheer clothes and underwear-looking clothes—now is viewed as the norm.

But just because fashion designers throw modesty to the wind where teen clothes are concerned, God doesn’t. And as Christians, we shouldn’t, either.

Personally, I respect myself too much to wear certain things, but I respect God’s opinion most of all. So whether I am going to a Chris tian concert or to a baseball game, I ask myself the following question: If Christ returned today, would I want to meet him dressed like this?

It is a question that I believe all Christian teenage girls should ask themselves before leaving home.

Somehow, I could almost wish I could have written something like that first. But then—who would listen to an aged grandfather? Her words, I would think, carry more weight because they come from a teenager, a concerned teenager. I do wonder, though, if this Leslie Cox would feel herself comfortable and at home at some of our gatherings—especially young people’s gatherings—and in our schools?

“Making monkeys out of evolutionists”

Cal Thomas, a well-known columnist, presented an article recently with the above title. It’s cute—and appropriate. In his customary style, he makes some very pointed comments about the creation-evolution debate that has been taking place in various parts of our country. I quote from this article appearing in the Grand Rapids Press, September 2, 2002.

It’s back-to-school time. That means school supplies, clothes, packing lunches and the annual battle over what can be taught.

The Cobb County, Ga., School Board voted unanimously Aug. 22 to consider a pluralistic approach to the origin of the human race, rather than the mandated theory of evolution. The board will review a proposal which says the district “believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species.”

Immediately, pro-evolution forces jumped from their trees and started behaving as if someone had stolen their bananas. (Say, Cal, that’s cute!! GVB) Apparently, academic freedom is for other subjects.

What do evolutionists fear? If scientific evidence for creation is academically unsound and outrageously untrue, why not present the evidence and allow students to decide which view makes more sense? At the very least, presenting both sides would allow them to better understand the two views. Pro-evolution forces say (and they are saying it again in Cobb County) that no “reputable scientist” believes in the creation model. That is demonstrably untrue. No less a pro-evolution source than Science Digest noted in 1979 that, “scientists who utterly reject Evolution may be one of our fastest-growing controversial minorities…. Many of the scientists supporting this position hold impressive credentials in science.” (Larry Hatfield, “Educators Against Darwin.”)

In the last 30 years, there’s been a wave of books by scientists who do not hold to a Christian-apologetic view on the origins of humanity but who have examined the underpinnings of evolutionary theory and found them to be increasingly suspect. Those who claim no “reputable scientist” holds to a creation model of the universe must want to strip credentials from such giants as Johann Kepler (1571-1630), the founder of physical astronomy. Kepler wrote, “Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

Werner Von Braun (1912-1977), the father of space science, wrote: “…the vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”

Who would argue that these and many other scientists were ignorant about science because they believed in God? Contemporary evolutionists who do so are practicing intellectual slander….

There are only two models for the origin of humans: evolution and creation. If creation occurred, it did so just once and there will be no “second acts.” If evolution occurs, it does so too slowly to be observed. Both theories are accepted on faith by those who believe in them. Neither theory can be tested scientifically because neither model can be observed or repeated.

Why are believers in one model—evolution—seeking to impose their faith on those who hold that there is scientific evidence which supports the other model? It’s because they fear they will lose their influence and academic power base after a free and open debate. They are like political dictators who oppose democracy, fearing it will rob them of power.

The parallel views should be taught in Cobb County, Ga., and everywhere else, and let the most persuasive evidence win.

Thomas makes some rather pointed and accurate remarks concerning the teaching of evolution and creation. There is, however, a real question whether the “most persuasive evidence” will win. Hebrews 11:3points out that “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God….” Faith is the fruit of regeneration and is seen then in the converted. Such a one does not need the “persuasive evidence” outside of Scripture. The unbeliever will not be convinced of creation no matter the “persuasive evidence” because he lacks that spiritual fruit: faith—true faith. The most that could happen is that increasingly many recognize that a “Higher Power” must have made all things. And that is precisely what Scripture states in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”