Where the Hell are All the Real Christians?

repentWe’ve had almost 300 listens to our third episode of Drunk Ex-Pastors  in just a few days (whoa!), but for those of you who haven’t heard it yet, co-host Christian and I debate a religious point that I would be curious to get some feedback on.

He contends that 99.99% of fundamentalist Christians don’t actually believe their own rhetoric about hell, for if they really thought that hell was a place of eternal and conscious torment that an unbeliever, who could die at any moment, is constantly only a heartbeat away from facing, they would spend their time doing nothing but pleading with pagans to repent and avoid the Lake of Fire at all costs.

I have a couple thoughts by way of response. First, while it is true that every person could die in the next minute, it is unlikely that they will. In fact, I would gladly wager a thousand dollars that a random person won’t  die in the next 60 seconds (seriously, I’d play that game all day with all the money I could muster). So for the evangelical, while a sinner potentially getting cast into hell creates a sense of urgency, it’s a hypothetical urgency.

Secondly, because the idea of hell exists in the realm of the supernatural rather than the natural (meaning its existence must be accepted by faith rather than sight), and yet since we human beings exist in the natural realm with no visible access to hell (or heaven), it sort of makes sense that it would be harder to act consistently with a belief in hell then it would be to act consistently with knowing that a bridge is out and that the cars driving this road will surely crash if they don’t change course.

We’re only human, is what I’m saying.

Finally, I would turn the issue around and simply observe that most atheists I know don’t act consistently with their worldview, either (and no, Christian is not an atheist. I’m generalizing here). For every believer who lives as though God doesn’t exist you can easily find an atheist who lives as though he does.

So, like, maybe we’re not that different after all. . . .


  1. ChristianAugust 26, 2014

    Except that atheists aren’t consigning Christians to hell. Christians are consigning atheists to hell. That’s quite a difference.

  2. ChristianAugust 26, 2014

    I also don’t buy your whole “Atheists are living like there is a god” argument. It assumes that the only reason to live with any kind of moral code is if god exists.

  3. TuckerAugust 26, 2014

    Perhaps the real hypocrisy is not that “99.99% of fundamentalist Christians don’t actually believe their own rhetoric about hell.” Rather, it could be that “99.99% of fundamentalist Christians don’t actually desire that all should be saved.” There may be no more common human desire than that one’s enemies go to hell. Fundamentalists have a lot of enemies. Fundamentalism was born as a response to enemies. The enemies of Fundamentalism are a force that gives Fundamentalism meaning. Preaching “hell” may not be so much arise from a desire to save souls as from a deep desire to say “I told you so!”

  4. ChristianAugust 26, 2014

    That’s reasonable. In the circles I ran in, there were a few doctrines you didn’t even think about exploring alternatives to, and one of those was hell. There came a point where I stopped believing in hell as a place of eternal torment as a Christian, and there were decent arguments from scripture for that view, in my opinion. I thought this would be a welcome idea to other evangelicals, but people got really upset at the idea of no hell, and many times it seemed like it was because there would be no punishment for those who didn’t believe like they did.

  5. JasonAugust 26, 2014


    Except that atheists aren’t consigning Christians to hell. Christians are consigning atheists to hell. That’s quite a difference.

    My “not so different” remark was regarding the fact that both theists and atheists ultimately live according to something they can’t ultimately know with scientific certainty, and both often fail to live perfectly consistently with what they claim to believe.

    I also don’t buy your whole “Atheists are living like there is a god” argument. It assumes that the only reason to live with any kind of moral code is if god exists.

    Well, I never made an “argument,” properly speaking, I only made an observation. My reason for making it is not that atheists have only one reason to have a moral code. In fact, I think they have hundreds of reasons for wanting to live morally. I was speaking of the philosophical grounding and basis of that moral code. I just don’t think atheism can provide that, despite their having one and trying to obey it.

  6. JasonAugust 26, 2014

    PS – I don’t want to worship a God who might refuse to torture millions of people for fun.

    PPS – You failed to capitalize the word “God.” You get hell just for that, you know.

  7. badclowneyAugust 26, 2014

    Christians don’t consign people to Hell, God does. Christianity 101.

    Hell as a real place is also Christianity 101.

    You guys are clueless. Christian’s name is ironic.

  8. ChristianAugust 26, 2014

    We weren’t talking about whether or not hell is real. We were talking about whether or not Christians believe that hell is real.

  9. ChristianAugust 26, 2014

    P.S. If we were talking about whether or not hell is real, your argument for it would have totally convinced me that it is.

  10. badclowneyAugust 27, 2014

    The question is a false start. If you’re a Christian, you believe in Hell. If you don’t believe in Hell, then you’re not a Christian. It’s a pointless question. And Hell is should be capitalized as it’s a proper noun.

  11. JasonAugust 27, 2014

    So who made you the arbiter of what does and does not make someone a Christian?

  12. ChristianAugust 27, 2014

    Sorry, King James and I don’t capitalize the word “hell.”

  13. ZrimAugust 28, 2014

    I think hell will be a lot of things but will include the capitalizing of obscure proper nouns, which is just so neo-Puritan.

  14. JasonAugust 28, 2014

    Don’t you mean neo-puritan?

  15. badclowneySeptember 2, 2014

    It’s called proper grammar. Zrim, you joining with Stelly now?

  16. badclowneySeptember 2, 2014

    “So who made you the arbiter of what does and does not make someone a Christian?”

    Because I can read and understand the Bible for myself and I don’t need a supposedly infallible Magisterium to tell me I can’t understand it (and so I need them).

  17. ChristianSeptember 2, 2014

    What about people who read the Bible for themselves and come to the conclusion that you can be a Christian and not believe in hell?

  18. ZrimSeptember 3, 2014

    BadJan, but your own handle lacks any upper casing. Grammarian, heal thyself.

    But I’m with neither the one who makes the Mag infallible nor the one who makes himself infallible. I’m with those who say the Bible alone is infallible (and perspicuous) and sinners in the form of the Mag or rugged individuals are fallible (and muddy). The Bible is clear on the reality of hell. If someone disagrees, it’s hyperbolic to say (as you do) that he isn’t a Christian. He may not be, but the most we can say is that his doctrine isn’t orthodox, and if he is a member of a church that his visible membership is in peril, and since visible membership coincides with eternal membership then he should sweating it.

  19. badclowneySeptember 8, 2014

    Zrim: Whether you say someone’s doctrine isn’t orthodox, doesn’t believe in Hell, doesn’t believe in Heaven, doesn’t believe in Jesus as the God-man, it’s all the same thing, they’re not a Christian. Is a Mormon a Christian even though
    he believes as God is man can become and as man is God once was? I guess you’d just call that unorthodox doctrine but still consider the Mormon a Christian(?) C’mon, I’ve read you all over the place for years, be it on your Conf. Outhouse, Heidelblog or OldLife. You should know better. It’s Christianity 101.

  20. ZrimSeptember 9, 2014

    BadJan, is it not possible for there to be a loose and strict use of the term “Christian,” such that a Mormon loosely speaking is a Christian but strictly speaking not? Still, my point really has more to do with creatures speaking definitively about mysteries that are beyond their comprehension and known only to God alone (i.e. Belgic 13), as in who has eternal membership and who doesn’t. Which also seems like Christianity 101.

  21. badclowneySeptember 9, 2014

    Loosely and strictly? – I just don’t see it. I don’t see the gray; I just see the dividing line(s). But you’re right, it is true that only God knows who is truly saved.

  22. ChristianSeptember 9, 2014

    You don’t see the difference between essentials and non-essentials?

  23. badclowneySeptember 9, 2014

    “You don’t see the difference between essentials and non-essentials?”

    Ya, that’s part of my point. I DO see the difference and the need. And I believe that believing in Hell (as in NOT denying it when one is shown that it’s clearly taught in Scripture) is an essential. Christ spoke of Hell quite a lot as I’m sure ZRIM knows.

  24. ChristianSeptember 9, 2014

    I guess I should clarify. Obviously, according to the Bible, there is a concept called “hell.” What that concept entails ranges extensively throughout Christendom though. Is it eternal? Is it torture? Is it an actual lake of fire or a figurative one? Is it a location or a state of being? Is the soul destroyed there? Is it cleansed there? Is it punished there? For how long?

    Are you saying that your answer to those questions determines whether or not you are a “Christian?”

  25. ZrimSeptember 9, 2014

    BadJan (just because I’ve come to like the very look of that handle), it’s simply a matter of language. When one refers to Mormons as, say, a Christian sect it makes some sense because they draw on certain articles of faith and employ language that looks at least superficially Christian. You have a much harder time dong that with Buddhists who really don’t. Doctrinally (or strictly speaking) we can say that Mormonism isn’t Christian at all since it departs essentially from orthodoxy. (I’d also protest referring to Mormonism as a cult, but if you’ve read me as much as you say you have, you already know why. My guess is that it wads your undies.)

    ps Can we say that Christian (as in the author of this post) is a Christian in name only, which is to say loosely speaking?

  26. ZrimSeptember 9, 2014

    Oh wait, Christian wasn’t the author, JJS was. Still…

  27. ChristianSeptember 9, 2014

    I was born a Christian and will die a Christian.

  28. badclowneySeptember 9, 2014

    Zrim: Surely Mormonism is a cult, sociologically, no?

    Christian: All those questions have been answered regardless of what one may think the concept of Hell entails. If someone is a new Christian and does not yet fully understand the biblical doctrine of Hell, they can be called a Christian. It’s the despising of the knowledge (and truth) of Hell such as its eternality, etc (you?) that calls into question the orthodoxy of someone. But hey what do I know, I’m not named Christian.

  29. JasonSeptember 10, 2014

    All those questions have been answered. . . .

    Answered by whom? Fallible men with their fallible interpretations of the Bible? Insert eye-roll here.

  30. badclowneySeptember 10, 2014

    Well we know Rome hasn’t defined those (clear) doctrines (Salvation) but they sure can make up a whole bunch of garbage about Mary that they bind people’s consciences with. Rome as the immaculate contraption.

    If only we Prots could find infallible men like those murderous popes. Rome doesn’t believe the scriptures are infallible and that they don’t derive their
    doctrine from any text of scripture. Tim Staples said that.

    And that is why, Jason, you as an apostate do not know whether Hell is eternal or not. You’ve been blown around by every wind of doctrine as you’ve gone from Calvary Chapel to the OPC to Rome and eventually to Atheism. Because that’s you in the corner, right? Hims is losing his religion isn’t hims? Hims just needs some more tats and get drunk more and all will be well.

  31. JasonSeptember 10, 2014

    You’re a nice person. I swear, your genuine concern is *almost* enough to woo me back to the Protestant fold.

  32. ZrimSeptember 10, 2014

    BadJan, no. In the post-Jonestown age in which “cult” has come to mean anti-social and where most Mormons are pretty good neighbors, “cult” just doesn’t capture what the local CLDS actually is sociologically.

    Sorry, Walter Martin, your day has come and gone like the flowers of the field.

  33. badclowneySeptember 10, 2014

    You wouldn’t be able to come back.

    Ya, I’m not a Walter Martin devotee so that means nothing to me.

  34. ZrimSeptember 10, 2014

    But without Martin nobody would have thought Mormons (and others) were cultists.

  35. JasonSeptember 10, 2014

    And without trigonometry there’d be no engineering.

  36. ZrimSeptember 10, 2014

    So I’m an effing idiot because I can’t make a lamp?

  37. JasonSeptember 10, 2014

    (Rolls eyes). No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.

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