Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

20 Feb 2013

On Preaching Hell…and Holiness


Last week a respondent to one of my earlier posts chastised me for addressing matters of sin and sanctification because in doing so, I was ignoring the elephantine issues of “poverty, homelessness, abuse, ignorance, and injustice”—in brief, I was violating the spirit of Luke 6:41–42 by picking at splinters while ignoring logs. I do confess to my shame that I find myself at times far too complacent (or to borrow an archaic term, too displacent) about social concerns, so I accept this rebuke, so far as this reminder has been made, both amicably and with reflection.

At the same time I am reminded, even as I offer this mea culpa, that the great log lodged in the eye of humanity is not the temporal and societal consequence of sin; rather, it is the eternal consequence of sin.

A few years ago, in a forum discussing how a believer might successfully perform deeds of mercy without suppressing or confusing the Gospel, a suggestion was made, among others, to “preach hell.” This suggestion is startling and obnoxious to the unbelieving world, but it is really quite brilliant. By self-consciously placing the center of emphasis on humanity’s greatest need, efforts to meet humanity’s lesser needs are properly subordinated in God’s taxonomy of interests.

Kevin DeYoung, in his recent book The Hole in Our Holiness suggests that preaching holiness likewise occupies a place of prominence in the NT Scriptures. He writes, “If you read through the instructions to the New Testament Churches you will find few explicit commands that tell us to take care of the needy in our communities and no explicit commands to do creation care, but there are dozens and dozens of verses that enjoin us, in one way or another, to be holy as God is holy” (p. 21). Of course counting Bible references is not always the best way of establishing life priorities, but neither can this biblical emphasis be ignored. The NT writers were deeply committed to preaching holiness.

Please note that this is not an “either-or” question. It is not a matter of choosing evangelism/holiness OR neighborliness. A believer must be committed to BOTH the Great Commission AND the Great Commandment. Neither of these ideas can be eliminated by absorbing one into the other; both are necessary disciplines of the Christian life. So yes, please do love your neighbor as yourself. But don’t neglect your neighbor’s greater needs: preach hell…and holiness.

2 Responses

  1. Paul

    In the vernacular of another age, I was saved due to another man who preached a “hellfire and brimstone” message which pierced my armor of pride and made me realize my destiny. I thank God for that man who faithfully preached hell that night.

  2. You very correctly stated “A believer must be committed to BOTH the Great Commission AND the Great Commandment”, a truth that does have it’s own balance. Sadly though, if you take a moment to express thoughts on one side of the coin, somebody always misses the point by directing you to the other.