When I began preaching, I heard older preachers say that many preachers didn’t preach on hell anymore. All they wanted to talk about was heaven. After a while I understood why they were upset. Everything was about love and eternal glory but little if anything was said about the justice of God and everlasting damnation.
Now many preachers don’t even talk about heaven. In the words of a book by one megachurch pastor, the message today is “Your Best Life Now.” A typical sermon is about having a better life on earth. It is about a satisfying career. It is about financial success. It is about relation- ships. It is about God giving you what you dream of—on earth. It is about winning games, finding love, and enjoying good health.
Do preachers believe in heaven these days? Most of them probably do. Some have bought into the idea that heaven will be a restored earth, but most still believe in a reward beyond this world. If this is true, then why are there fewer sermons on heaven?
We live in a spoiled age. We love our comforts and entertainment. When anything makes us feel bad, we want it fixed immediately. We want sermons full of “smooth things” (Isa. 30:10), not the cross-bearing challenge of the gospel (Luke 9:23). Our shoulders are not as big as our forefathers’. They had to learn to live with pain and disappointment. They did without. They didn’t expect preachers to solve all their problems and promise them their dreams. They were interested in a place that is far better. Our generation lives in a fantasy world.
It is true that we must not be insensitive to the pain people suffer. It is true that people are hurting. But as preachers and as Christians we must not lose sight of the real goal. The salvation that we need most is not deliverance from debt, sickness, or bad relationships. It is salvation from sin.
Can you name a problem today that people in the New Testament didn’t experience? Yes, Jesus healed sick people, but He also told Paul that he would have to live with his health issue (II Cor. 12:7-10). Jesus showed mercy to the poor and so should we, but the greatest thing we can do for a poor man is teach him how to be rich in Christ who can give an inheritance in heaven worth more than billions (Matt. 6:19-21). Jesus and the apostles saw people in worse conditions than we see, but they never lost sight of their mission.
There is another shift that has occurred in many Protestant pulpits. Generations ago preachers in general warned about eternal damnation in hell. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards was a common theme of sermons in the 1700s. “Hell fire and damnation” preaching was customary in the South during the 1800s and 1900s. But today things have changed. A growing number of theologians deny the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Even among preachers who believe in hell there is not much preaching on it. Why? Again, the emphasis is on saving people from bad circumstances in this life.
But there is another reason. Many churches preach constantly about the “rapture,” “Antichrist,” “Armageddon,” “the great tribulation,” and a “one- world government” but say little about hell. They are so busy scaring people with unbiblical prophecies that they have little time to preach about anything else. Obsessed with the thought of catastrophes on earth, they forget about the worst tragedy possible.
Jesus said the destruction of Jerusalem was the worst human calamity that ever had happened or ever would occur (Matt. 24:1-35). He and the apostles warned about it. But Jesus was far more concerned about damnation in hell. He said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Modern apocalyptic preachers have this in reverse.
Even with good intentions, we can get earthly needs out of proportion to eternal concerns. Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin that damns our soul to hell. We need to remember that.
-Kerry Duke