News Articles

No pulpit warnings of hell addressed by Paige Patterson

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The doctrine of eternal punishment is all but ignored in modern evangelical pulpits, and that omission cools the evangelical fervor of many American churches, Paige Patterson said in an Aug. 22 sermon to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s student body in Wake Forest, N.C.

Patterson, the seminary’s president who also holds the title of senior professor of theology, said evangelical pastors sidestep preaching about hell because the very idea of eternal punishment is unpalatable to “modern tastes.” It is a trend Patterson said is antithetical to the teachings of Christ as revealed in Scripture.

“You can traverse the entire United States on any given Sunday morning, and you very probably will not hear a sermon on the judgment of God or eternal punishment from an evangelical pulpit,” Patterson said. “And so evangelicals ostensibly believe in the doctrine, but in effect have voted by the silence of their voices that they either do not believe in it anymore or else no longer have the courage and conviction to stand and say anything about it.”

In his sermon, Patterson laid out biblical, theological and practical truths about eternal punishment from an exposition of Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar.

Along the way, Patterson demonstrated the fallacy of such teachings as annihilationism, the teaching that those who do not have Christ as personal Savior will simply cease to exist after earthly death; universalism, the idea that all people will be saved regardless of their beliefs; and “anonymous Christians,” those who are saved without even knowing it. Such ideas may be popular in a “politically correct” culture, Patterson said, but they fall apart when examined biblically.

Jesus Christ, Patterson said, spoke of hell more often than he spoke of heaven.

“He warned of it continually, and he seemed to be almost consumed with the possibilities associated with it [in] his mission to take people the other way if they would but follow,” Patterson said.

In Luke’s gospel, Christ contrasted the eternal fate of a beggar, named Lazarus, and an unnamed rich man. Upon death, the rich man went to what Jesus called Hades, a place Patterson said was not a waiting area or purgatory but a real place of torment. Lazarus, by contrast, went to heaven, signified in the passage by “Abraham’s bosom.”

The rich man is described as being in torment, and Jesus also indicates that the rich man could see Lazarus in heaven. That fact, Patterson argued, makes clear that those who die without Christ will be completely aware of what is happening, and they will not fade away or vanish.

“The fact of the matter is whether [those in hell] can actually look into heaven or not, it is for certain that there is an awareness in hell forever of what is going on,” he said. “There is no unconsciousness there.”

The second thing Patterson pointed out about Jesus’ teachings on hell is that it is a place of incredible torment, whether it is a physical fire or not.

“I don’t pretend to know the exact chemical makeup of the fires of hell,” he said. “I have not been there to inspect it and I have made arrangements against going there under any circumstances.

“All I can tell you is that our Lord described it as the experience of terrible torment in flame.”

A third characteristic of hell is found in verse 25, when Abraham told the rich man to “remember” the opportunities of his earthly life. An individual’s memory, Patterson said, will not be gone in hell but will remain intact and will, in fact, be part of the torture of eternal punishment.

The final characteristic of hell in Luke 16 is the gulf that separates man from God — and that is what “ultimately makes hell hell … eternal separation from God and all that is good,” Patterson said.

All people, Patterson said, are made in the image of God. That imago Dei is what makes annihilation impossible; all people, he said, will live forever someplace. Hell was not created for those who were made in God’s image, Patterson said. It was created for Satan, but recalcitrant sinners will nonetheless suffer there if they reject God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Patterson then challenged the students to preach the doctrine of eternal punishment with a heart of love for the lost, listing four points of a biblical mandate for preaching the doctrine of hell:

— The testimony of Jesus and Scripture.

“You don’t preach something that makes people feel good, you need to preach the Word of God,” Patterson said.

— The doctrine of eternal punishment is entirely in keeping with the orthodox idea of infinite sin against an infinite God.

“Those who reject and abuse Christ, the ultimate and infinite Savior, justly deserve punishment that is ultimate and infinite,” he said.

— Hell provides an impetus for evangelism and missions.

“Why is it that Southern Baptists can only reach 500,000 people in one year?” Patterson asked. “It is because we no longer take seriously that our neighbors are going to hell.

“It is [God’s] concern for the lost that compels me,” he continued. “We’re serious about doing what Jesus did and saying what Jesus said.”

— Hell is the only thing that adequately explains the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ.

“What kind of a heavenly Father is our God if he allows his own Son to leave the glory of heaven and take upon himself the mantle of a mere servant in the incarnation and be ignominiously and shamefully and nakedly nailed to a Roman cross before a watching world if it is not eternally important that something like that happen?” Patterson said. “If hell is real, it absolutely explains the heart of the heavenly Father.”

In closing, Patterson called eternal punishment a “tragic doctrine.”

“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to preach it,” he said. “But if you have accepted the call of God, you have no choice.”

    About the Author

  • Jason Hall