Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Serious Subject Deserves a Serious Presentation.

Driving around town, as I do so much for my job, I see a lot of church signs. Some are pretty plain with worship times or an announcement. Some are quite encouraging and biblical. Many, however, are bad.  And some are really bad.

Now, I am not talking Michael Jackson bad, where "bad" means "good" and "good" means "good" but not as good as "bad" is good, Michael Jackson "bad" that is.  No, I mean bad. Old school, definition number one bad.  There are a couple of categories of bad church signs that we can see.

1. Head-Turners.  These are the signs that need paragraphs and/or a degree in Church Signology to understand. They require an extended time to read and, while driving down a road, this can be a bad(bad "bad") thing.

2. Head-Scratchers. These are signs that make little-to-no sense to anyone other than the person who put it up(if them, even).  Pith has been substituted for clarity and/or the abbreviations/textese is indiscernible to the average person.

But the baddest of the bad are the third.
3. Head-slammers. These are the ones that fill you with an unhealthy desire to slam your head and the author's head into the steering wheel of your car.

I encountered one of these in Denison for a couple of weeks now. It reads "Where will you spend eternity? Smoking or Non-smoking?"  In fairness, this pithy little ditty has made it's way onto numerous cars that I have seen via chain Christian retail stores and their wide assortment of obnoxious bumper stickers. So I do not want to pin this church sign engineer with being the progenitor of this gem. But as I encountered this statement it made me realize how much we say when we say things and how our words are a window into our beliefs. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

What stood out to me about the sign is the lack of gravity and seriousness about hell that the sign conveys. To take a topic and treat it in such a flippant manner conveys one of two things, if not both.

1. We don't believe the Bible about hell.  To be so careless about how we handle such a grave topic may simply indicate we do not believe it to be such a grave topic.

When Rob Bell penned "Love Wins"(his controversial book on the topic of hell in which he affirmed a slight variation of traditional universalism and denied the historical orthodox understanding of hell) Bell separated himself from biblical, orthodox, Christian theology, but I do not believe he separated himself very far from the genuine heart beliefs of many who would consider and call themselves evangelical Christians. Putting aside any initial negative reaction due to the aspect of tradition and culture, I believe many would see little issue with Bell's take on eternity.  And even for those who could never mentally affirm a denial of the Bible's teaching on hell, a flippant attitude like the one expressed in the church sign shows that in practice at least, the denial exists.

What makes me believe this to be true?  I have a difficult time thinking we could genuinely believe what the Bible teaches about hell and be so lighthearted about it. The Bible teaches of hell being a place of torment, darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is hell, literally. Chan and Sprinkle do a great job addressing Bell and the topic of hell in their book, but suffice it to say that hell is a place of unimaginable horror. Not necessarily something to treat as if it is nothing.

So what if our theology is correct and we still do not see any need to treat this subject with any gravity. That situation could indicate and even greater issue. If the head is not the issue then it's probably the heart.

2. We don't genuinely care about the eternity of those who are rejecting God.

When Jesus looked over Jerusalem as He was approaching the cross He wept over them.  He lamented the fact that these people had and would reject Him and was deeply saddened that they did not submit themselves to Him as their Shepherd.  When Paul spoke of his kinsmen who were apart from Christ he spoke of how greatly he desired their salvation...to the point where he would sacrifice his own salvation if it meant the salvation of the Jewish people.

If we believe the Bible to be telling the truth about hell and still do not see it as an issue of any import, then probably we just do not care about those who will endure the eternity of judgment.  I am all for humor. I see much benefit to a proper use of humor/sarcasm/lightheartedness. But there are some situations where humor is always inappropriate and where it conveys an apathy towards the subject.

We all would be offended if we knew of a doctor who went to deliver the news of a child's death to worrying parents and he started off with a hand-buzzer and a knock-knock joke. Some events, some issues warrant a seriousness that is contrary to pithy humor, puns and one-liners. And as serious as the death of a child is, the eternal damnation of a person is infinitely more serious.

We need to treat the reality of hell as reality. And we need to treat this grave reality as a grave reality.  This is a situation where Christians need to be heralds, not jesters. We bring the news that through the finished work of Jesus Christ, by taking the wrath of God upon Himself on the cross and rising from the dead, a man can escape the eternal condemnation of God.  This might not have the brevity to fit on a church sign, but it is the message that needs to be heard.