Recent polls show that, although 71 percent of adults nationwide believe in hell, they don't want to hear about it. "Mention of hell from pulpits is at an all-time low," writes LA Times staff writers Mike Anton and William Lobdell.
They go on to explain that most pastors seldom preach on hell because it is not the popular thing to do: "Hell's fall from fashion indicates how key portions of Christian theology have been influenced by a secular society that stresses individualism over authority and the human psyche over moral absolutes."
Over the years, the concept of hell has changed in the minds of modern religious leaders. In 1999, the pope came out with the notion that hell was not so much a torment by fire but by separation from God. This concept echoes Billy Graham's statement in 1991 that: "...I believe that hell is essentially separation from God...whether there is actually fire in hell or not, I do not know." To them, hell is no longer a location but a state of the soul.
Yet, are these men forgetting to read the Bible? Jesus spoke frequently of hell with graphic details of torment from flames that never went out. John's vision in Revelation includes a lake of fire.
Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California voices a common sentiment: "I don't ever want people to become Christian to escape hell." Why not? In Luke 15 Jesus said to fear Him who can cast your soul into hell. That sounds like fear is a legitimate motivation to avoid hell.
One seminary professor observes that, "Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer oriented...to be appealing rather than demanding." If they preach on hell and someone doesn't like it, he can simply hop to another church. The Barna Research Group found that one in seven adults changes churches each year; one in six regularly rotates among congregations.
Another reason for this diminished interest in hell could be the wording of the modern versions of the Bible. David Daniels, author of Answers to Your Bible Version Questions, observes that the word "hell" has been changed to a less threatening or more obscure wording in the most popular new translations. In the KJV New Testament, "hell" appears 23 times. In the NIV it appears 14 times with words like "Hades", "the depths" and "the grave" being substituted. Even the New King James uses it only 13 times.
In the Chick tract, Scream, Fred, a fireman, nearly dies in a warehouse fire. Bob Williams uses the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to show Fred that the fire in hell is real and how to avoid it.
Jesus told us in the Great Commission to teach all things that He taught. How can we obey Him if we neglect to warn about hell?