The Doctrine of Hell

By Douglas Groothuis

apologetics - doctrine of hellIs the doctrine of hell a hindrance or a help in witnessing? Many evangelicals are ashamed of this biblical doctrine, viewing it as a blemish to be covered up by the cosmetic of divine love. But this dishonors God’s Word. Jesus warned His hearers of the eternal punishment awaiting those who reject Him (Matt. 13:40-42; 25:46). If we clearly and compassionately expound the truth about hell, we may be surprised to find people responding to it in faith.

The doctrine of hell does not stand alone as a kind of ancient Christian horror story. Rather, hell is inseparable from three other interrelated biblical truths: human sin, God’s holiness, and the cross of Christ.

In a relativistic culture, the very concept of sin must be elucidated and defended vigorously. If morality is relative to each person, then there is no higher moral standard one can meet or break. But as C. S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man, the idea of an objective moral law is inescapable. When we are snubbed or exploited, we call out for justice. When we encounter people of grit and grace, we praise them as moral examples. Our conscience is more than mere instinct or social conditioning. Yet because there is often a great gap between our ideals and actions, we suffer guilt and regret. Despite our denials and excuses, our consciences dog us throughout our days.

Christianity explains the global stain of human guilt by placing it in a theological framework that both sharpens its sting and makes relief possible. Sin is a moral condition that offends the holy God and removes us from His approval.

While much modern psychology assures us that guilt can be gutted through humanistic methods, the Gospel faces the problem head-on. Guilt is real because we have violated the standards of goodness. Left to ourselves, we can do nothing to undo our wrongs. Forgiving ourselves is never sufficient because we are in no position to exonerate the guilty party — anymore than a murderer can grant himself or herself a stay of execution…

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