As you know, I have a great appreciation and respect for Russell Moore, so it’s no surprise that I found his latest post one with which I can wholeheartedly agree. He offers a number of reasons why Halloween Judgment Houses often miss the mark. I went to one of these when I was part of a youth group, and it was quite hokey compared to some of the ones going today. It seems that these events are meant literally to try and scare the “Hell” out of people. We all know fear can be a terribly effective motivator and it is a primary weapon in the arsenal of many preachers and ministries. To avoid hell becomes the primary focus of coming to Christ. All that sinners-being-reconciled-to-a-righteous-and-holy-God stuff is just a bonus I guess. I’ve come to see the gospel as much more than NOT going to hell, but the good news that abundant life and reconciliation with God are possible through Christ! My fear is that reducing the gospel and mission of the church to trying to keep people out of hell will produce a fearful lot whose only concern is trying not to anger God and in some way undermining the relationship and communion they can now have with their Father. Or, even worse, will lead the church to neglect the actual opportunities there to serve others in the love of Christ because we just have to save sinners from hell.
Don’t get me wrong–I am sure that some people are genuinely saved from sin at these events and for that God be praised! But it seems as if it’s just another tentacle on the beast that evangelical Christianity has become in order “to win souls” (another concept I have issues with, but more on that in another post). It seems like pastors and other Christian leaders feel like they have to bait sinners into coming to a Christian event so they can share the gospel. “Come and see so-and-so do such-and-such” is all the rage. If we can appeal to some bigger-than-YOUR-life personality or demonstration, they’ll come to church and we can get ’em saved! We’ll ask them, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?” “Well, yeah!” “Ok, this is all you have to do!” and they’re lead in a “sinner’s prayer,” and added to the masses of sheeple already filling churches across the land.
I also wonder if it’s possible that these Judgment Houses/Hell Houses are in fact more entertaining to some than frightful, given the number of teens who are numb to such things. When talking to younger people I have about scary movies they’ve seen, most of them are unperturbed by what they’ve watched. It’s a movie–it’s over in 90 minutes. These judgment houses might be seen in much the same way and they’re over in less than that. It’s like a haunted house–get scared for a bit then you find the exit sign. I would not be surprised if they thought the same about separation from God.
Yes, yes, I know it doesn’t always go this way, but it’s far more common than one might imagine. As you might surmise, I’m not a fan of these kinds of things, whether it’s a judgment house or some other kind of publicity stunt meant to lure in the unsuspecting sinner. Let me say that I am sure that most who put on these events have their hearts in the right place. They genuinely want to see people come to know Christ, but I feel their view of the gospel is reduced to a simple formula, sometimes mystical and magic, that will help them escape hell.
Moore ends his post with this:
But the fact remains that most lost people in your neighborhood are going to be saved the same way people have always been saved, by Christian people loving them enough to build relationships, invite them to church, share the gospel, and witness to Christ. The problem is that for many Christian’s that’s scarier than a haunted house.
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