Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin and J. Howard Pew

George Carlin is in Hell right now, or Jesus is a liar.

Kinda blunt, huh? But we need to be blunt. Analysis released today by Pew Research reveals that 60% of Southern Baptists responded affirmatively to the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life." (HT: New York Times) We're in trouble, and our only hope for a Great Commission Resurgence is a continued shoring up of the theological foundations of our convention.

We don't like the thought that George Carlin is in Hell right now. We don't like the way it makes us sound to say it. We don't like the way it makes us feel to contemplate it. We don't like the way it makes God feel that we did so little about it, now that it is too late.

So, we skirt the reality of damnation. When faced with the funeral of that wandering soul, we grade on a pretty easy curve. Who knows but that he trusted Christ in his final moments? Maybe that walking-of-the-aisle when he was nine, although it produced no visible impact upon his life for the following seventy years, was genuine. Let us not face the ugly likelihood that he will suffer for all eternity. Or we make some too-little-too-late overture to pray for him now that he's gone.

Such speculations seem benign enough at the moment—even noble when they relieve the grief of believing family members left behind. But I wonder whether we have considered the cost of our too-often de facto hem-hawing on the fate of the deceased lost?

  1. We undermine a powerful biblical motivation for receiving the gospel. Part of what was going through my mind when I became a Christian was the love for God that had been cultivated in me since birth. But another part of what was going on was the fact that I did not want to roast in Hell for all of eternity. I'm convinced that the Holy Spirit still uses fear of Hell to motivate people to come to Christ.

  2. We undermine a powerful biblical motivation for sharing the gospel.I'm convinced that not wanting my colleagues, my friends, or my family members to go to Hell—Wait a minute! I don't even want people whom I DISLIKE to go to Hell—is a powerful motivation for evangelism. I'd say that a 60% embrace of universalism might be a noteworthy factor in our lessened faithfulness to witness as Southern Baptists.

    Two uncertainties about that figure in the Pew Research data: One, I wonder whether, when speaking of "many religions," any of those Southern Baptists were thinking about Methodists rather than Muslims? In my mind, there's a difference between a "religion" and a "denomination." Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc., are "religions." The SBC, UMC, PCA, PCUSA, ABC, etc., are "denominations" of the "religion" Christianity. But did all of these respondents have that differentiation in mind? Second, how many people "self-identify" as Southern Baptists who haven't darkened the door of a church in ten years? Nevertheless, those potential statistical problems are very unlikely to account for 60% of Southern Baptists surveyed.

  3. We contribute to a doctrinal confusion among our people. The people in our pews might interpret our timidity in speaking frankly about people bound for Hell as courtesy, but they are likely further to infer a lack of confidence in the doctrine of eternal judgment. Jesus spoke plainly and directly about Hell, and we should do no less. And if we are not confident in Hell, why aren't we?

    The Bible is not equivocal on the existence of Hell nor on what it takes to wind up there. Even if somebody somewhere wants to host an ongoing debate about the fate of some noble savage on an unreached island somewhere, how much doubt can there be regarding a comedian who made his career by sneering at God and ridiculing God's followers? Does the Bible breathe a word of hope anywhere for a person who persists in such an attitude until death? Not that I can find.

    We squirm at the doctrine of damnation for one reason, and only one: We don't like that doctrine very much. And if the message that we send to our brothers and sisters in our congregations is that we can skirt around the Bible doctrines that we don't like, then they're going to take that message and run with it in a thousand different directions. Indeed, there is every indication that a great many of them already are doing so.

The solution is not to go out of our way to tell grieving loved-ones of the torments of Hell. But I perceive a number of temptations that I must avoid having to do with this topic:

  • When directly asked whether someone is in Heaven or Hell, I need to give a clear, unflinching testimony to the gospel without minimizing the fact that denying the gospel means eternity in Hell. I think it is fine to indicate that God will judge, and not me, but I need to make clear also that God has already revealed to all humanity the precise parameters by which He intends to make that judgment.
  • When preaching I need to make certain not to minimize the biblical witness to Hell. If I'm going to talk about the gospel, the escape from Hell provided thereby is an integral part of the gospel, and I ought to be talking regularly about Hell, too.
  • I need to show people pointedly and repeatedly that every other "religion" leads straight to Hell for each and every one of its adherents.
  • Because the effort that I mentioned in my last bullet will not be 100% effective, we need to continue our work to recover regenerate church membership. I suspect with great sadness that the vast number of those 60% who believe that many "religions" lead to eternal life are people who have not yet found eternal life themselves. After all, unless some sort of polling confusion has broken out here, these are people who have just affirmed the "other gospel" of universalism—a damnable heresy. If we cannot, after serious effort to do so, convince them of the truth of the gospel, we ought at least to clarify for them that those who believe thus are not Southern Baptists…for the sake of combatting their own confusion as well as for the sake of clarifying the public witness of the church.
  • In my speaking about Hell, I need to achieve an admixture of the tone of Billy Sunday ("You will not be in Hell five minutes until you believe that there is one.") and the caution of Lee Scarborough ("When we preach on the wrath of God, on the burning doctrines of an eternal Hell, we must do it with heart compassion").

28 comments:

Scott Gordon said...

Bart,

Well said...and sadly so...on so many accounts!

We need more convictional preaching of the absolutely certain truths declared in God's word. We need to speak emphatically and compassionately regarding the truths of sin, judgment, and Hell...and the truths of grace, forgiveness, and Heaven!

SOLA GRATIA!

Todd Benkert said...

Bart,

I have noticed as well that many people say "religion" when they mean denomination. I encounter this confusion ALOT.

Perhaps Lifeway Research should duplicate the survey using a more precise phrase such as "A person can receive eternal life apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ" (or something like that).

Blessings,
Todd

Todd Benkert said...

BTW, I'm sure the number would still be disturbingly high, but I am increasingly annoyed by surveys that don't take into account how the respondents will hear the question.

sbyankee said...

Bart,

I recall two very specific witnessing encounters this past spring where the subject of hell was intentionally raised, and both men stated that it didn't bother them. I think one of them said something to the effect that they had made their peace with that possiblity, he was a Buddhist. I recall the other one being unconcerned about the possiblity. Both of them had young children! There was no getting through to them.

Other conversations I have had with people, give me the impression that there is a lack of belief in hell.

So, I wonder just how much power there is anymore in laying out the possibility that a person will go to hell and it helping them accept the gospel?

I also wonder how much we should be using it to get someone to accept the gospel? The power is in the gospel, it will work despite us or in spite of us. I know for me that the idea of hell was not an issue, I accepted Christ because I realized I needed HIM, not because I was wanting to escape from hell.

Just my thoughts, let me go crawl back into my cubby hole and write my papers.

Blessings,
Trish

Big Daddy Weave said...

"I'd say that a 60% embrace of universalism might be a noteworthy factor in our lessened faithfulness to witness as Southern Baptists."

The Pew Forum study shows that 60 percent of Southern Baptist respondents affirmed the statement: "Many religions can lead to eternal life."

Wouldn't this make 60 percent of those SBC respondents theological pluralists rather than universalists?

A universalist believes that eventually all will be saved or all paths lead to eternal life.

The respondents stated that there are "Many" religions/paths which "Can" leader to eternal life. This view falls short of universalism.

Were you surprised by these results? I'm not too surprised. I wish such a survey was broken down into categories: Pastor&Staff/Laity/Seminary Educated/No Seminary/etc..

I'd be curious to see exactly how much more conservative the clergy are when compared to those in the pews.

Bart Barber said...

Aaron,

A worthwhile clarification. I thought about making it, but nuance was not my goal in writing the post.

Bart Barber said...

Trish,

The doctrine of Hell is part of the gospel. Thus, I do not believe that it detracts from the power of the gospel to acknowledge the influence of the fear of Hell upon conversion, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

That's right Bart! We should use the whole counsel of the Word when sharing Christ. My red-faced hell-fire & brimstone grandpa used to say, "Son ya gotta get 'em lost before ya get 'em saved." Before someone can understand the need for Christ they must understand who they are and where they are headed.

Bubba

volfan007 said...

Bubba,

Do you live down the road from me? You sound very familiar. :)

And, Bubba, your grandpa was right on target.

Bart, another good post. I just got thru preaching thru the book of Malachi at my Church. You'd better believe that they heard alot about judgement and hell from this fiery book. Preach on, Brother....keep preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God. And, maybe if other preachers around the SBC and beyond would preach it all, instead of cowering in fear of what the people in the pew might think, then we'd see that 60% go way down.

David

Tim G said...

As someone once stated:
"How can one get saved, when there is no need of salvation?"

I sure wish we would figure out that the above theological approach sure is sending many to a reality that they did need to be saved.

Great post Bart!

wesmith said...

Bart,

Yes we have a Big Problem here in the Churches in the United States, because we have turned our Backs to God Our Father who has Blessed Us. Love God the Father First and Second Love Your neighbor.

First of all One must Except Jesus Christ to be LORD and SAVIOR and Have A Regenerated HEART

How many in our Churches TRULY LOVE the LORD? If They Truly Loves the Lord they would want to Truly Know the LORD.

LOVE
Love in marriage is strong (Song of Songs 8:6-7)
Love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-44)
Loving God is the most important command (Mark 12:29-30)
Christians must love each other (John 13:34)
We cannot be separated from Jesus’ love (Romans 8:35-39)
Love must be genuine (Romans 12:9)
Love never quits (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
God’s love for us is beyond our understanding (Ephesians 3:18)
Love helps you look past offenses (1 Peter 4:8)
God is love (1 John 4:16)
We must be known for our love (2 John 1:5)

FOR THOSE THAT TRULY DON’T KNOW THE LORD, THEY CAN LOOK FORWORD TO HELL!!! BECAUSE THEIR NAME IS NOT WRITTEN IN THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE. (Ephesians 1:4)

4 Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.

HELL
God will deliver his children from hell (Psalm 86:13)
Hell is a place of weeping (Matthew 8:12)
Hell was prepared for Satan and demons (Matthew 25:41)
Wicked people will receive punishment (Romans 1:18-20)
God will punish those who do not turn from their sin (2 Peter 2:4-9)
Hell is a place of eternal fire (Jude 1:7)
God will send to hell those who do not believe in him (Revelation 21:8)


May the Lord Bless Us and give Us Eyes to See and Ears to Hear.

Wayne Smith

Chuck Bryce said...

Bubba,

"Son ya gotta get 'em lost before ya get 'em saved." Before someone can understand the need for Christ they must understand who they are and where they are headed.

I will never forget coming face to face with a lady in a previous church who was a "lifetime' member of the church, active from Sunbeams through WMU. her statement to me was that she knew she was going to heaven and that Jesus really did not have to die for her because she had always been such a good person. Scary.

wesmith said...

Bart,
We are having the same problem today as A. W. Pink had in his day. You can relate to it here in my post.

http://wesmith.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/this-is-of-problem-for-witnessing-today/

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

If the PEW research is correct concerning Southern Baptist, and I have no data to make me think otherwise, then we have a serious problem. Would you not agree? I mean, if the #'s are correct we do not need a Baptist Identity or a Great Commission Resurgence. We need a Revival of Biblical authority.

Blessings,
Tim

volfan007 said...

Tim,

I believe that you have hit the nail squarely on the head. We have a huge problem across the SBC in people not knowing the Bible. And, sadly, it starts in the pulpit. We have Pastors out there who never teach the Bible. A lot of Pastors preach topical, self help, how-to messages every single service. Too many of our churches would call Joel Osteen and never see a difference, nor understand the seriousness of it. Too many Pastors out there have preached evangelistic messages every time, and neglected the rest of the Bible...and, I'm afraid that we have many people in the pews that are grossly ignorant of the Bible.

We need a revival amongst Pastors that stirs us to preach and teach God's Word again...even if the people in the pews get mad at us for dealing with certain subjects. We need holy courage and gumption again. We need to study and be prepared to preach and teach God's Word to God's people. We need men who will see the importance of getting the whole counsel of God out to God's people.

My prayer is that the Lord will make all of us, especially me, more fired up about His Word, more courageous to preach it...all of it, more committed to teaching it right...to be very careful in handling God's Word. I want the Lord to make me, and the rest of the SBC Pastors, men who boldly, lovingly preach and teach all the Bible.

David

wesmith said...

Tim and David,

We could start by Preaching with the Basics of who God is in all 3 Persons.

"Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee" (Job 22:21). "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth, and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord" (Jer. 9:23-24). A spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature……from The Attributes of God by A. W. Pink.

Wayne Smith

Karen in OK said...

I think that Todd Benkert made a good point. In my completely anecdotal experience, many Southern Baptists say that one can follow another religion and get to Heaven. But they are not engaging in damnable heresy and revealing their unregenerate hearts.

They merely mean that you don't have to be a Baptist to go to Heaven. They mean that there are true Christians among the Presbyterians, Methodists, Wesleyans, Evangelical Free, etc.
They are not saying that sincere, "good" Buddhists are Heaven-bound.

Tim Rogers said...

Sister Karen,

I hear what Brother Todd is saying and I am very reluctant to jump on the band wagon that says 60% of SB are pluralists. However, in my church I can use the terms Presbyterians, Methodists, Wesleyans, Evangelical Free and they will tell me real quick that I am speaking about other Christians, not other religions.

I believe Brother Todd has made a good point, but you fail to see another who has entered the comment stream--Brother BDW. He would label himself a moderate and he has not seen that position as a strong point.

Oh my, I find myself using a moderate to make my point. What will happen to me next? :>)

Blessings,
Tim

Scott Gordon said...

Tim,

You might find yourself carrying an i-Phone, using a Macbook, and wearing shoes with no socks!

SG!

volfan007 said...

and sporting a gotee, and having two tone hair

David

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this problem has slipped in unnoticed. I was shocked recently to hear out of the mouth of Billy Graham that, "there are people who have never heard the name of Jesus, who have turned to the only light the know, and they are part of the body of Christ... yes there is a wideness in God's grace."
We need to be honest and realize that most of our people will base their theology off of what they hear from TV and country music unless we are responsible with the pulpit and make certain they know not only what they believe but why.

Bubba

Anonymous said...

By the way, if you guys haven't seen the clip on youtube where carlin speaks about death... It is one of the most heartbreaking things you could watch knowing that this man has taken those beliefs into eternity.

Bubba

Perry McCall said...

Yes! However, Can we not be equally unequivocal about the certainty of judgement and hell for those who have not placed their trust in Christ alone with out pronouncing the eternal state of a particular person?

Jamie Steele said...

Bart,

Great post. George Carlin by his own admission hated Religion, Christianity and God.

I doubt he would like Heaven very much based on his own words.

Unless, by a sovereign act of God, he had a death bed conversion,- George is in hell. Sad. But True

Bart Barber said...

Anonymous,

Let's keep our comments on-topic with the post.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the offense I didn't realize I had wandered that far.

Bubba

Bart Barber said...

Bubba,

Not you...the anonymous comment I deleted that had absolutely nothing to do with this post.

Todd Benkert said...

Tim and Sarah,

Just to be clear, I think the wording of the question likely artificially inflated the numbers. However, I also believe that some Southern Baptists fall in the "inclusivist" and "pluralist" camp -- and that is something about which we should be concerned.

Blessings,
Todd

BTW, Ed Stetzer at Lifeway has offered what I believe is a helpful analysis at his blog today.