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  • Nick Ashton

    Hello Meghan, eternal torment assumes the immortal soul doctrine. I can show you concisely from scripture that this is wrong, and that after judgement that results in “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who chose their own ways, it is annihilation.

    Salvation is the same as the original, by receiving God’s Spirit evidenced by a miraculous new prayer language, “speaking in tongues”. Until you get this you are “in the flesh” and don’t have the relationship with God that the New Testament describes.

    Let me know if you would like to hear more.

  • Randy

    Very much enjoyed this article. Reminds me in so many ways of my own journey to hell and back. Not literally but certainly from a believe and turmoil perspective. At one time I believed and preached it even though deep down inside my being I was really troubled by the whole notion. Some things are not to be questioned and in the pure evangelical circles this is one thing one dare not debate or question. Long story short I finally made it a real study and have concluded that it is no longer my belief. I have come to the conclusion that it was all finished at the cross, and end to sin as in the sin nature and an end to any kind of literal Hell. This has truly freed me to embrace all of humanity and ultimately see us all in the redemptive love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One day I truly believe that there will be a universal chorus of acknowledgement that He is Lord.
    Thanks again for a great article.

  • KMH Blackford

    Per this:

    “while Jeffrey Dahmer, who supposedly accepted Christ weeks before his execution, is in heaven.” —

    Please note that Dahmer was murdered in prison, he was not executed. Otherwise, fascinating article.

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A couple of years ago, a Chicago-based corporate-identity consultant named Chris Herron gave himself the ultimate challenge: rebrand hell. It was half gag, half self-promotion, but Herron took the project seriously, considering what it would take in the travel market for a place like hell to become a premier destination. The client was the Hell Office of Travel and Tourism (HOTT), which supposedly hired Herron in the wake of a steady decline in visitors caused by “a stale and unfocused brand strategy.” After toying with some playfully sinful logos—the kind you might find on skater/goth products— Herron decided that what the locale needed to stay competitive in the afterlife industry was a complete brand overhaul. The new hell would feature no demons or devils, no tridents or lakes of fire. The brand name was rendered in lower-case, bubbly blue font, a wordmark designed to evoke “instant accessibility and comfort.” The slogan—which had evolved from “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” (1819) to “When You’ve Been Bad, We’ve Got It Good” (1963) to “Give in to Temptation” (2001)—would be “Simply Heavenly.” The joke was posted as a “case study” on Herron’s personal website and quickly went viral in the marketing blogosphere—a testament to the power of effective branding.

I grew up in an evangelical community that wasn’t versed in these kinds of sales-pitch seductions. My family belonged to a dwindling Baptist congregation in southeast Michigan, where Sunday mornings involved listening to our pastor unabashedly preach something akin to the 1819 version of hell—a real diabolical place where sinners suffered for all eternity. In the late 1980s, when most kids my age were performing interpretive dances to “The Greatest Love of All” and receiving enough gold stars to fill a minor galaxy, my peers and I sat in Sunday school each week, memorizing scripture like 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”[1]

I was too young and sheltered to recognize this worldview as anachronistic. Even now as an adult, it’s difficult for me to hear biblical scholars like Elaine Pagels refer to Satan as “an antiquarian relic of a superstitious age,” or to come across an aside, in a magazine or newspaper article, that claims the Western world stopped believing in a literal hell during the Enlightenment. My parents often attributed chronic sins like alcoholism or adultery to “spiritual warfare,” (as in, “Let’s remember to pray for Larry, who’s struggling with spiritual warfare”) and taught me and my siblings that evil was a real force that was in all of us. Our dinner conversations sounded like something out of a Hawthorne novel.

According to Christian doctrine, all human beings, believers included, are sinners by nature. This essentially means that no one can get through life without committing at least one moral transgression. In the eleventh century, Saint Anselm of Canterbury defined original sin as “privation of the righteousness that every man ought to possess.” Although the “saved” are forgiven of their sins, they’re never cured. Even Paul the Apostle wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” According to this view, hell isn’t so much a penitentiary for degenerates as it is humanity’s default destination. But there’s a way out through accepting Christ’s atonement, which, in the Protestant tradition, involves saying the sinner’s prayer. For contemporary evangelicals, it’s solely this act that separates the sheep from the goats. I’ve heard more than one believer argue that Mother Teresa is in hell for not saying this prayer, while Jeffrey Dahmer, who supposedly accepted Christ weeks before his execution, is in heaven.

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    Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I think evangelicals are under the impression that any scriptural passage with an animal reference is kid-friendly. In fact, this verse once inspired my Christian camp counselors to have our second-grade class sing a version of the doo-wop classic “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” as “The Devil Sleeps Tonight,” which we performed for our parents, cheerily snapping our fingers and chanting “awimbawe, awimbawe,” etc.
  2. At one point during my early teens, before I understood the concept of eternal security, it occurred to me that if I could ask Jesus into my heart, I could just as easily ask him to leave. Once this fear lodged itself in my brain, it became impossible not to think the prayer “Jesus, go out of my heart,” the way it’s impossible not to visualize a purple hippopotamus once someone tells you not to. For weeks, I found myself mentally replaying this heresy, then immediately correcting it with the proper salvation prayer, all the while terrified that something would happen to me (a car accident, a brain aneurysm) in the seconds in between, while I was technically unsaved.
  3. There’s a widespread misconception that biblical literalism is facile and mindless, but the doctrine I was introduced to at Moody was every bit as complicated and arcane as Marxist theory or post-structuralism. There were students at the institute who got in fierce debates about infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism (don’t ask) and considered devoting their lives to pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit). In many ways, Christian literalism is even more complicated than liberal brands of theology because it involves the sticky task of reconciling the overlay myththe story of redemptionwith a wildly inconsistent body of scripture.
  4. One day, a student asked about children who died without being saved. Dr. Lightbody gave an answer so tortured and evasive that I had no clue what she was implying until she closed with the caveat “Now, don’t ever say that to a mother who’s lost a baby.” I later found out that Augustine also believed unbaptized infants were sent to hell.
  5. Hybels keeps a poster in his office that reads: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Rick Warren’s Saddleback motto is “Let the target audience determine the approach.”
  • Kindle
  • Nick Ashton

    Hello Meghan, eternal torment assumes the immortal soul doctrine. I can show you concisely from scripture that this is wrong, and that after judgement that results in “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who chose their own ways, it is annihilation.

    Salvation is the same as the original, by receiving God’s Spirit evidenced by a miraculous new prayer language, “speaking in tongues”. Until you get this you are “in the flesh” and don’t have the relationship with God that the New Testament describes.

    Let me know if you would like to hear more.

  • Randy

    Very much enjoyed this article. Reminds me in so many ways of my own journey to hell and back. Not literally but certainly from a believe and turmoil perspective. At one time I believed and preached it even though deep down inside my being I was really troubled by the whole notion. Some things are not to be questioned and in the pure evangelical circles this is one thing one dare not debate or question. Long story short I finally made it a real study and have concluded that it is no longer my belief. I have come to the conclusion that it was all finished at the cross, and end to sin as in the sin nature and an end to any kind of literal Hell. This has truly freed me to embrace all of humanity and ultimately see us all in the redemptive love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One day I truly believe that there will be a universal chorus of acknowledgement that He is Lord.
    Thanks again for a great article.

  • KMH Blackford

    Per this:

    “while Jeffrey Dahmer, who supposedly accepted Christ weeks before his execution, is in heaven.” —

    Please note that Dahmer was murdered in prison, he was not executed. Otherwise, fascinating article.

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