10th Street Plaza, Modesto
July 21. Many Modestans may be familiar with Kevin Borden, Modesto’s hellfire street preacher. This real estate agent went to court (video) for his right to shout hellfire at the patrons of Brenden Theatre while holding up signs which say “TURN TO JESUS OR BURN IN HELL” and “JESUS HATES SIN”.
He is still going strong, “Until the Nets are Full!” he wrote as a closing to a reply via e-mail this morning. “Please know that my heart is that all people would be saved and that God would receive all the glory. Praise the Lord He sent His only begotten Son that we might know Him, the true and living God! WOW!!! Paul charges Timothy in the following verse to preach the Word! This is why I stand out in public places and proclaim the truth.” He asked that some verses from the bible be considered when writing this article, quoting from 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Romans 1:16-18, John 3:16-20, John 3:36, John 14:23-24, Romans 5:8, Hebrews 2:3, James 4:5-10, Matthew 10:27-28, Luke 13:3-5, Jude 1:20-23, Acts 3:19-21 and Acts 3:26. None of these verses prescribe the sort of hellfire-shouting Kevin Borden practices. One includes Jesus saying “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Most of these verses are about proclaiming the Gospel, and confront only those who understand but reject the Gospel—those like the Pharisees, who preferred their idea of moral superiority over God’s free acceptance. Kevin Borden shouts to everyone, indiscriminately.
Though not all Christians take this approach, many do believe in hell, though perhaps not in literal hellfire, which some take to be symbolic (word study). It is important here to acknowledge that no sane person would ever choose eternal hellfire--it is absurd to say that people willfully choose that. But all of that is just a metaphor for complete, eternal separation from God--that is a choice many people do deliberately make when they set something else up in place of God, in place of unconditional acceptance. That isn't to say we don't continue to struggle against conditional love after accepting God's grace, it is saying that people who reject God, never accept grace (if this triggers your "what about irresistible grace?" reflex, read Norman Geisler's "Chosen But Free")**. However, many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, wonder how it is that a loving God can allow people to choose hell, and, likewise, how we who believe in hell can say we love people who we think may be choosing hell.
Every choice requires at least two options, because if there is only one option, there is no choice. Even if you think there is only one option, you really have two options: you can choose the option you are thinking of, or you can choose the option of rejecting it. Love, treating the Other as self, is a choice that requires at least two options, though there are often multiple alternatives. The ultimate alternative to choosing love is choosing hell, beginning in this life. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “Hell begins with a grumbling mood.”
God is love, he is the reason love, treating the Other as self, is moral truth, rather than a made up opinion. He is the loving being who always loves. Though his love is unconditional, a relationship with him can only happen if we choose it. So, while it may seem unloving for him to allow people to choose hell, it is impossible for him to force people into heaven, into a relationship with him. It would not be a real relationship. It would still be hell. No one goes to hell who doesn’t choose it.
When we understand that hell has to be an option in order for a relationship with God to be a choice, then we understand what Jesus’ sacrifice really meant, what it was all for. We understand that he died for his enemies to demonstrate that He loves us, accepts us, no matter what—by taking on (symbolically) the death (separation from life, true living—God) caused by our rejection of love and settling for lesser pleasures. It wasn’t some magical thing—it was a demonstration of acceptance. No greater love (John 15:13). This motivates us to love our friends and enemies likewise, with unconditional acceptance, as long as they will receive it freely. And when we fail—it reassures us that his love is still the same.
Street preacher Kevin Borden chooses to shout about hellfire, rather than emphasizing God’s free acceptance, though he does shout about that, too. The real point of avoiding hell is not fear of fire, though, it is fear of missing out on love, true living through a relationship with God. Jesus didn’t shout hellfire, he bled forgiveness. Hell is the option that makes forgiveness a real choice. So if Kevin is out there shouting when you go see Inception this weekend, remember, that's not how Jesus draws us in (John 12:32). He told street preachers like that to find a closet (Matthew 6:5-6, Luke 18:9-14).
**Thanks to Todd Terzo for suggesting I clarify this part of the article, though he may or may not agree with Geisler on irresistible grace--not sure.
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