Good News: You’re Going to Hell


Belief is not a cognitive activity. Going back to the problem of the a priori we find the basis of belief: it is fundamentally a pre-cognitive process. All metaphysical beliefs that defy falsifiability or verifiability not only cannot be argued about for the very same reason, but they also create the premises on which the rest of discussion is based.

This is what Christian apologetics fails to acknowledge.

Christians find themselves evangelizing to people whose premises are fundamentally different and cannot be argued. When someone believes a priori that there is no hell, no God, no sin not only are they within the same cognitive territory and acting with the same intellectual responsibility as those who believe a priori that there is a hell, a God and sin, their a priori’s cannot be argued away with a system of logic based on wholly different premises.

The church has tended to respond by attempting to first change the premises of the non-believer through argument and through the Bible. In order to spread the good news, the church finds it must first spread the bad news: you ARE a sinner, hell DOES exists and God WILL send you there.

When the church attempts to present the gospel by presenting these premises to the nonbeliever, they have already failed in the task of evangelism: Evangelism is fundamentally being the messenger of good news.

Take for example:

If you called me up to tell me my sister is alive and well, I would say “Did something bad happen? What’s wrong? Is everything OK?” In essence, you have brought me bad news.

If, however, I knew my sister to be alive and well, and I had just spoken with her, and my experience confirmed my belief, your news would be met with a simple “OK…?” Presume you did not find my response satisfying, and thus you proceeded to inform me that my sister was terribly ill or had been in an accident. I would still know my sister to be well and find your insistence that she was not to be cruel and manipulative, even if you followed it by declaring the good news that she is alive and well.

If, instead, I knew my sister to have been in a car accident, and I hadn’t heard anything, your news would bring great rejoicing.

The same news has a very different effect on the hearer, and can be good or bad depending on what their previous knowledge is.

Much of evangelism falls in the second category, though some falls into the first. In both cases the attempt disqualifies itself as evangelism. When the church claims it is evangelizing, it is not.

Do you think evangelism is fundamentally a failure of the church? Or do you think the practice has merit?

4 thoughts on “Good News: You’re Going to Hell

  1. Very well-written article. I enjoyed reading this.

  2. “The same news has a very different effect on the hearer, and can be good or bad depending on what their previous knowledge is.”

    True. But this is the kind of situation that apologetics is intended for.
    One task of apologetics is to try to show that the unbeliever’s set of beliefs fits uncomfortably with what is generally known about the world. Another task is to show unbelievers that their claim that Christians’ beliefs fit uncomfortably with what is generally known about the world can be satisfactorily resolved. Apologetics is worth doing because it hopefully removes objections to xianity by showing that xian beliefs are on the same par as beliefs that the unbeliever accepts as being unproblematic. It also provides an intellectual climate that makes accepting xianity more acceptable to thinking people.
    I’d also note that if the one’s background beliefs cannot be changed, then all argument for anything would be useless (or at the very least undercuts the purpose of offering arguments). But surely this is not the case. People provide arguments all the time for different beliefs, whether over the backyard fence, the café table, or the internet…on blogs no less 🙂

    If evangelism is done poorly and with no humility, though, then I think your concerns have force.

    • I think the examples you give of apologetics are good examples of how sharing the gospel is good. It is important for us to explain and think about and know how our Christian premises function when scrutinized using logic.

      It becomes extremely problematic when we fail to first understand the premises of the people who we rae engaging, and try to share the gospel and make arguments based on premises they disagree with.

      The logic is always worth discussing, I think, but we need to avoid simply setting our premises before people as though they are conclusive proof. Telling someone they will go to hell if they don’t believe is doing exactly that.

      While our a priori premises cannot really be argued, they are still capable of changing; I think a better way to affect people’s premises is to act in a Christlike manner instead of simply pointing at Bible verses. (Good think acting in a Christlike manner is so easy!…oh, wait, no. No it is not. OK, well, I’ll get to work on that…)

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