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Home > 2014 > August Online Only > Give 'Em Hell

Thor Ramsey is a man who straddles two very different worlds. He's a comedian, so you might catch him performing in a night club on a Saturday evening. But he's also a teaching pastor at Canyon Lake Community Church in California, so he's equally comfortable filling the pulpit the next morning. And don't let his humorous demeanor fool you. He recently wrote a book about the least funny topic imaginable—hell. In The Most Encouraging Book about Hell Ever (Cruciform Press, 2014), he makes a case for the embattled doctrine. We talked to Ramsey about why he thinks church leaders still need to talk about hell.

What led you to write a book on hell?

For whatever reason, I'm attracted to areas of Christian life and theology that I believe have been compromised in the church. I can't quite shake that Keith Green influence, I guess. But hell is one of those areas of Christian compromise, especially from the pulpit. Nearly a decade ago, a sincere follower of Jesus told me that we should never mention hell to non-Christians, especially when presenting the gospel. This person was a leader in the local church, which happened to be my local church, too. For better or worse, the local church is pulpit-driven. And whatever is lacking in the pulpit will be lacking in the lives of professing Christians. These days we lack conviction about hell.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

I toned down the humor from page one in this book because we are dealing with a very sensitive subject—the damnation of a person's soul. The humor had to be in just the right place. It's always good to have an extra set of consciences in the mix, and this is where the editors really helped out by giving great input. The final product is better because of their input. Everyone involved was good and godly and we were all working from the same theological perspective. So, the short answer: making a book on hell funny without being irreverent.

Why are we reluctant to teach about God's judgment?

There are multiple reasons, but one reason is that we have a low view of God. When God isn't seen in all his biblical glory, we have a lower view of sin. Low views of God lead to low views of sin, which in turn discourage us from speaking with conviction regarding God's judgment against sin. When we have a distorted view of God's character and nature, judgment doesn't seem quite fair anymore.

People like Rob Bell have said the gospel isn't really about avoiding hell. What do you say to that?

The gospel may not be about avoiding hell, but it's highly recommended. In the end, I think he's talking about a different gospel. The doctrine of hell permeates the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is probably why Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. Jesus came to glorify God through salvation, but that salvation is from God's judgment upon our sin. To even begin to consider a gospel ...

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Related Topics:GospelMediaMissionalTrends
Posted: August 11, 2014

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August 22, 2014  12:51pm

Michael Jones question seems to be based on what happened to those who were apparently treated unfairly at the watery judgment in the days of Noah. This raises an important issue, what is man/woman after the Fall, spiritually speaking that is. Answer that and you will understand why the Gospel in Noah's day was ineffective except for 8 people. Perhaps Romans 1:18f and Eph. 2:1-10 would help. (& I Peter 3:1-4:7). Jesus speaks of Noah @ Matthew 24:37-38. Jesus reminds on his Return, it won't be a mere flood-and He won't be meek and mild. Now, if we want to enter the discussion about "those how haven't heard...." I think I have to be satisfied with the mystery of not knowing what God is doing elsewhere when the mandate for me is so clear-Preach it like it matters in life and in death. I remember a story of a preacher who had an elder resign because this family man wanted to commit adultery - but never would have considered it , "if there were really a Hell...." hmmm.

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Marshall Shelley

August 18, 2014  10:22am

Years ago, as was our habit while on vacation, our family visited a very well-known, large charismatic church. We felt it important that we get outside our “regular church zone” periodically to broaden our understanding of the family of God. On this particular Sunday, the pastor was preaching on the subject of hell … a not-very-often-preached-on subject. This pastor had a reputation for being very loving and paternal and, frankly, I was a bit surprised he had chosen this as the focus of his sermon. During a particularly strong point regarding the condemnation of hell, a member of the congregation voiced a rather loud, “Amen!” The pastor immediately paused in his message and quietly spoke to the inappropriateness of such a response when dealing with such a grim subject. The man who voiced the “amen” surely wished he could have been swallowed up by the ground beneath him. He had been publicly rebuked. But, just as quickly, the pastor turned to this large congregation and explained why we must be forthright and honest, yet loving and compassionate, when dealing with this fearful doctrine. He then asked the congregation to say “amen” if they understood what he was saying. They complied in unison. Suddenly the weight of the moment shifted away from the individual to the larger group. It was masterful. In this article, Thor Ramsey reminds us not only how critical it is that we address the subject of hell in the pulpit, but why … and how. It is also masterful. Comment submitted by Don Byers

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Michael Jones

August 13, 2014  5:42pm

Exactly how is the narrative of Hell intertwined with the story of Noah, the fall of man, Israel in the wilderness, or any of the Old Testament stories? Redemption, sure, but hell? I know about the Hebrew idea of Sheol, a place of the dead, but I don't know of any Old Testament references to Hell in the way we talk about it in the New Testament? I know Paul says Jesus preached the Good News to the captives, presumably those in Hell, but its not really Good News to tell someone in hell that Jesus could have saved you but because you were born 3000 years too early and got killed in the flood, well, sorry you have to stay in hell. Just wondering.....

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Greg Hollifield

August 13, 2014  10:21am

I find the church's ever-growing silence on the subject of Hell deeply disturbing. Last month as a guest preacher at a Mississippi church I delivered a sermon on this subject (followed by a message on Heaven in the evening service). One might assume that if any state in our Union gets a regular dose of perdition in its preaching that it would be Mississippi. Amazingly, even there as people filed out that morning they paused to say they couldn't remember the last time they'd heard a sermon on Hell. It reminded me of Kenneth Kantzer's 1986 lament that he hadn't heard such a sermon in 30 years! If Jesus were to return today for a preaching tour across America, I believe His message would be the same as when He began His ministry 2,000 years ago: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." The implication being: repent or HELLse.

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