The term "hellfire preaching" is often used to refer to preaching that focuses on describing the details regarding the pain and displeasures of hell as a method to motivate people to turn to faith in Christ and live a holy life. Hellfire preaching is often used in a negative sense in reference to preaching that is primarily negative and judgmental, rather than focusing on the love and grace of God.
Hellfire preaching – What is it? Is hellfire preaching biblical?
Perhaps the period in which hellfire preaching was most common was in the Puritan era of America and England. The most well-known sermon of this type is "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards. It has been said that he described hell so vividly that hearers could smell the sulfur of hell burning.
Is hellfire preaching a biblical concept? A look at the New Testament shows Jesus did teach about hell and its consequences. For example, in Mark 9:47-48 Jesus taught, "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'" He clearly also spoke about hell and its punishment in other places, including Matthew 3:12, Matthew 25:41, Luke 16:19-31, and on multiple occasions in Revelation.
However, while Jesus certainly spoke about the reality and torment of hell, this was only part of His focus. Jesus clearly spoke frequently regarding the love and grace of God, calling all people to believe in Him as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He taught that every person who believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Should ministers focus on hellfire preaching today? Yes, but they should do so as Jesus did. Just as Jesus spoke of the reality and suffering of hell in combination with the love and grace of God, so today's ministers are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus as the solution to the eternal hell that awaits unbelievers.
In fact, Acts 20:20 offers the example of Paul telling the Ephesian elders, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable." In other words, he taught them the full counsel of God, not holding back the difficult aspects of Christianity. Today's ministers are called to likewise share both the grace of God and warn people of the judgment that awaits those who reject His message.
Is hell real? Is hell really forever?
Is there literally fire and brimstone in hell?
How can I not go to hell?
How can I be saved?
Am I being called to preach?
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