In their book Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs, George Gallup, Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay reported that a Gallup poll taken in May 1997 showed that only 56% of Americans held a firm conviction in the existence of hell (1999, p. 30). One reason that a growing number of Americans disbelieve in the reality of hell is likely due to its virtual disappearance from our vocabulary. Non-Christians basically use it only as a profane expression. Christians rarely address the subject in their discussions. Sermons on the subject of hell have been in decline for years. One denominational “pastor” was quoted in U.S. News & World Report a few years back, saying: “My congregation would be stunned to hear a sermon on hell” (“Revisiting...,” 1991, 110:60). I once heard the late evangelist Wendell Winkler tell about preaching in a meeting in Oklahoma. After preaching a lesson on hell, the local preacher, who had been in that city for 22 years, told Winkler that in those 22 years, the church there had held 44 gospel meetings (two per year). During those meetings, a total of 527 sermons had been preached. Wendell Winkler’s lesson was said to be the first one on the subject of hell that they had ever heard in those meetings.
Preaching about eternal hell appears to be so rare that when a notable religious leader addresses the issue, it draws attention even from many major media outlets. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech delivered outside of Rome, stressed that the impenitent risk “eternal damnation.” Hell “really exists,” he said, “and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more” (as quoted in Owen, 2007). FOX News, the Boston Herald, Times Online, and the Melbourne Herald Sun are only a few of the media elites who carried this story. “The pope really believes in an eternal hell.”
Warning others about the judgment to come is not popular. Teaching in the streets and churches about an eternal hell is as sparse as rain in the Sahara. Although the papacy itself is unscriptural (see Pinedo, 2005), Christians can appreciate the fact that Benedict XVI would address such a politically incorrect subject. Truly, it is high past time for faithful Christians around the world to get back to teaching a truth that Jesus and the Bible writers repeatedly taught: hell is real and eternal (Matthew 5:22; 25:41,46; Mark 9:43; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Gallup, George Jr. and Michael Lindsay (1999), Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing).
Owen, Richard (2007), “The Fires of Hell are Real and Eternal, Pope Warns,” TimesOnline, March 27, [On-line], URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article1572646.ece.
Pinedo, Moises (2005), “The Pope, the Papacy, and the Bible,” Apologetics Press, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2724.
“Revisiting the Abyss,” (1991), U.S. News & World Report, 110:60, March 25.
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