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John Lennon's 1971 song "Imagine" encouraged a generation to imagine there is no heaven or hell, and to instead embrace "living for today." Over 40 years later, many evangelicals are following Lennon's advice.
It's commonly said that the gospel is not really about the afterlife. The gospel answers much bigger questions than a person's eternal state. It's about life today—not so much about tomorrow.
And slowly but surely, we have begun to let the promise of divine judgment that appears in the Apostles' Creed—"He will come again to judge the living and the dead"—slip by unnoticed. Many Christians talk a lot about justice and very little about judgment. Justice here and now is a popular subject. Judgment there and then? Not so much.
But justice and judgment are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have perfect justice without judgment. God cannot make things right without declaring certain things wrong. It's the judgment of God that leads to a perfectly just world. Try to take one without the other, and you lose the Good News.
Why do we feel pressure to downplay the notion of judgment in the first place? What bothers us about this section of the Apostles' Creed?
Maybe we're embarrassed by the idea of eternal hell, and we think that if we remove the obstacle and offense of eternal judgment, we will be able to make Christianity more palatable to a society that has no room for judgment in its understanding of God. Unfortunately, when we downplay or deny judgment, we lose one of the reasons to share our faith in the first place. Our desire to remove the obstacle actually removes the urgency.
Or maybe our neglecting the truth of divine judgment is a way of easing our conscience when we fail to evangelize. Rejecting the traditional Christian understanding of hell may help us deal emotionally with the fact that we have unsaved friends and family members ...