AMARILLO – Images of darkness, eternal torment and fiery flames usually don’t rank high on the “greatest hits list” for sermons or conversations. But when it comes to evangelism — and the responsibility to stay true to the gospel — the reality of hell is one that fifth generation Texas Baptist leaders must not neglect, according to leaders.
Pastors Howard Batson and Brent Gentzel underscored this position during an extended dialogue of the Oct. 25 G5 conference during the Baptist General Convention of Texas Annual Meeting.
Batson, who serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, specifically addressed the controversy surrounding the claims of author Rob Bell, whose book Love Wins draws the conclusion that a loving God would not sentence his creation to eternal damnation.
While Batson lauded Bell as a “master communicator” with a “passion to reach people with the story of Jesus,” he diverged on Bell’s most talked-about assertion.
“The problem is, when you teach and preach false doctrine, it doesn’t matter how noble your intentions or how eloquent your words,” Batson said. “If our teachings are not based on the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and the writing and preaching of the apostles, they’re a very dangerous theology.”
According to Batson, Bell uses “hermeneutical gymnastics” to mislead his reader. Under a guise of “simply asking questions,” Bell twists passages of scripture to send a new and very alarming message: “That all that you learned about hell might not really be true after all.”
“Bell implies that all people will eventually be saved — even if they reject the Lord’s plan of salvation in this life — because ‘God always gets what God wants,’” Batson explained. “God will not fail in the end, and God doesn’t want anyone to be lost.”
But this falls short of the truth, he said, noting God never desires for people to sin. God failed to get what He wanted in many instances throughout Scripture such as when the Israelites worshipped idols, he reminded.
Secondly, Batson pointed to Bell’s lack of research and absence of any kind of “footnotes or endnotes” throughout the book.
“Bell simply rambles trying to make sense of the evangelical faith in which he was raised and the cultural diversity where he finds himself living,” Batson said.
In an attempt to “rescue God from God’s self,” Bell creates his own image of God that is softer and more appealing to society, Batson said. But his claims fail the ultimate test of truth — the words of Christ.
“You will never turn a page in the gospel of Matthew that Jesus doesn’t say something about hell or eternal punishment,” Batson said. “How could Bell or anyone else seriously take the words of the writers or the evangelist and somehow edit away what the writers had to say, all the way to the end of the gospel of Matthew?”
Gentzel, who serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Kaufman, affirmed Batson’s statement when referring to Jesus’ teachings. Gentzel outlined three points for Texas Baptist leaders to follow when approaching the reality of hell.
First, leaders “should not try to be ‘kinder’ than Jesus.”
Christ’s entire message centered around love — loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Keeping in mind that “love and compassion were His motives,” Gentzel reminded that Jesus taught about hell often.
“Perhaps our desire to avoid speaking of judgment and hell is driven more by our desire to be liked and comfortable than it is by any true love for our neighbor,” Gentzel proposed. “For if it is true that those who don’t by faith acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are going to spend eternity, or even five minutes in hell, they need to know the stakes.”
Love does not ignore that truth, he said.
Secondly, leaders should “not try to be more seeker-sensitive than Paul.” Gentzel pointed to a story in Acts 17, where Paul had the audacity to inform a group of philosophers — the “enlightened” — of their impending judgment. While many rejected his words, one man, Dionysius, trusted Christ as a result and went on to become a pastor.
Gentzel’s third point served as a caution for all evangelistic efforts. “We should not preach ‘cheap grace,’” he said.
The decision to follow Christ is a radical one — drawing vivid imagery to “take up one’s cross.” Yet all across the state, there are millions of people whose lives do not measure up according to that command, Gentzel said.
“If your commitment to following Christ doesn’t lead you to care for the poor, love the unborn, stand against injustice, use your talents for the kingdom of God, seek sexual purity and honor the Sabbath, you might not be a Christian,” he said. “And hell might be your eternal destination.”
For this reason, the necessity to preach the reality of eternal judgment is crucial.
“To leave that part of the story out of the narrative, or to choose to present a second hope that the Bible does not clearly present does no favor to the lost,” Gentzel said.
“Above all things, may the judgment that is coming spur us to greater urgencies in the evangelistic work of our churches.”
By Grace Gaddy
SAN ANTONIO – Hispanic Baptists are well-positioned to focus on what God has laid on their hearts for the convention’s future, said Jesse Rincones, Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas executive director. Full Story »
Sitting on couches overlaid with colorful quilts, university students from Dallas Baptist University and the University of Sao Paulo each sang to the tune of “Amazing Grace” in their own language. Full Story »
Texas Baptists voted to lay aside our normal annual meetings and gather every 5 years. This year – 2013 – marks our first Summer annual meeting. Full Story »