Oh how sad it is when discussions between ardent Evangelical Christians and New Atheists end up with a comment like: ‘Well you’re wrong, and you’re going to find out when you get to Hell’.
Nobody really knows if Hell is real, if anyone will go there, or if it is eternal suffering. But we do know that the prospect of eternal painful punishment for simply not being able to believe in God does seem rather an extreme punishment and doesn’t seem consistent with what Christians claim to be an infinitely loving and faithful God. It seems perverse to develop a theology that insists that those who don’t ‘pray the sinners prayer’ (a relatively recent invention by the way) are not ‘saved’ and will go to Hell. It is perverse if there are other alternative interpretations of the bible which are far more consistent with a loving God.
Yes Jesus refers to Hell, for example:
And if your hand—even your stronger hand —causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
but it seems to me that it is extrapolating a long way to reach the ‘evangelical’ position. Clearly the concept of hell emphasises the importance of what he is saying, but it could easily be taken as a literary device for that purpose alone. In a trivial way we might say ‘that was better than a poke in the eye’.
In one of St Paul’s letters he describes that
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
That seems far more consistent with the character of God; that his love is so great that he wouldn’t even let something as horrific as the concept of hell get between us.
The Minimalist Christian doesn’t have to believe that anyone is going to burn in hell for eternity, but will realise the importance found in a message that needs to be underlined by such a severe concept.