After several chapters looking at the doctrine of hell and related issues, our book finishes with an appendix, written by Tim Keller, on preaching these difficult and unpopular truths, and a brief conclusion that summarises the whole book. However, the appendix in itself, I think, brings the content of the rest of the book to a head in a helpful, tangible way.
Appendix: Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age Timothy Keller
Keller’s goal in this paper is to help us - as we commit to faithful submission to God’s authority and revealed truth about hell – move forward in sharing this with others, and particularly people who are not Christians.
His advice and modelling of different ways to faithfully preach the whole gospel, including the truth about hell, demonstrates persistence in faithfulness to God’s word above the demands of our hearers as we share it. While his suggestions are insightful, trying to meet people where they particularly are at, and avoid that cringe-worthy caricature of ‘fire-and-brimstone’ preaching, Keller still insists that the power of God to save and change lives is the whole of the gospel, and we miss out on its riches if we skimp over any bit, including the truth about hell and the judgment of God. It certainly has made me pause to reflect whether I put confidence in the truths of God, or instead hold out the words people want to hear; what they claim will soothe, comfort and heal, the message of the ‘good life’, which in truth brings no life at all.
Are there points where I hesitate?
Are there truths Jesus taught, and died for, that you wouldn’t share with your loved ones?
There is a weighty challenge here! But, as with the rest of this book, we are not to be driven by guilt and fear, but rather compassion, and confident in God’s grace. If you feel weak, hesitant, intimidated – don’t stop there! But knowing the only one who could Himself actually provide our way out of the judgment we deserve has indeed done so, let us look to Him for strength, and trust that the Lord will bring about his purposes if we will just be faithful to his gospel.
Reflecting on this book as a whole, I think there are a couple of difficult things about it. Firstly, in tackling such a big, and deep topic, it feels brief – almost too brief, to really even open up the issues at stake properly, let alone bring clear answers. A lot of the time I thought there could be further evidence provided to support an argument, etc. This is helpful though in that it pushes us to go to the text of the Bible and wrestle with it ourselves (and now with a helpful framework to tackle it!). Secondly, there is always a bit of disconnect when different authors pen different parts of one book – I was often curious how they would respond to each other’s main area of focus, and where agreement or tension would lie.
Nonetheless, it is a great starting point if you’re someone who feels the difficulty of confronting the idea of hell with a non-believer, or if you are trying to figure out with your Christian friends/church family/home group/ Bible study just what exactly God has to say about it all. Let it spur you on to think, investigate and read further about the gospel – and share what you find!