Evangelicals Defend Doctrine of Hell Amid National Geographic’s Challenge

The National Geographic documentary “Map of Hell” describes this history of belief in the afterlife. Screen Capture from NationalGeographic.com.
The National Geographic documentary “Map of Hell” describes this history of belief in the afterlife.
Screen Capture from NationalGeographic.com.

The doctrine of Hell, claims an article in National Geographic, “isn’t as popular as it used to be.”

But evangelist David Stockwell apparently hasn’t received the memo. He has preached on Hell at every single one of his evangelistic meetings through 45 years of fulltime evangelism and told Baptist Press he sees people respond “with conviction and a great desire to get right with God.”

Stockwell, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, is among evangelicals who defend the traditional doctrine of Hell and dispute the notion that individuals who have not received Jesus as their Lord and Savior simply cease to exist when they die — a belief known as annihilationism and defended by some scholars quoted in the National Geographic article.

Other proponents of the traditional view — like California pastor Ben Skaug and Boyce College professor Denny Burk — dispute National Geographic’s suggestions that annihilationism may soon become the dominant perspective and that belief in eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous has not always been the consensus view of Christians.

‘Compelled to preach the truth’

The National Geographic article, published May 13, reports that 58 percent of Americans believe in Hell, down from 71 percent two decades ago. The article quotes seven contemporary and historical Christian figures who have defended annihilationism and four who support the traditional teaching on Hell.

In tandem with the article, the National Geographic Channel aired a documentary titled “Map of Hell,” which explored the history of belief in the afterlife.

In the article, writer Mark Strauss claims “it is difficult to know” where “most evangelicals stand on the issue of hell.” He references “a conundrum that continues to tug at the conscience of some Christians, who find it difficult to reconcile the existence of a just, loving God with a doctrine that dooms billions of people to eternal punishment.”

For Stockwell, the greater “conundrum” is how a holy God can accept sinful humans as His children.

“Eternal judgment in pain, agony and flames of Hell are what we all truly deserve,” Stockwell said. “But God … who is rich in love and mercy, because of His great love for us, so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son” to pay “the penalty for our sin.” Only those who do not receive this gift must suffer judgment in Hell.

The mandate to preach Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, Stockwell said, stems from Scripture passages like Jude 1:22-23 and the fact that “Jesus talked about Hell twice as much as He talked about Heaven.” During Stockwell’s ministry, messages that included discussion of Hell have led people to Christ who went on to become International Mission Board missionaries and leaders at prominent churches among other paths.

“If we really believe God and what He has said in His Word,” Stockwell said in written comments, “then we would be compelled to preach the truth of what God has said: that those who die without Christ in their hearts will spend eternity in Hell, forever and ever! We would realize that our friends and neighbors, members of our own families, people all around us are dying in sin, without Christ, and on their way to Hell.”

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Baptist Press
David Roach