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I'd be quite interested to know how you do hell-fire preaching!


Hi Jason,

I'm a sissy about it. I do put a lot of rhetorical emphasis, with appropriate pauses, on the following words whenever I officiate at a funeral (funerals are very well attended in my neck of the woods; in the upper Midwest, a kiss is still a kiss, a funeral is still a funeral, and the fundamental things apply):

Jesus said, . . . I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,
and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.


I also do quite a bit "you reap what you sow" preaching, and put that in an eschatological perspective, hewing close to OT and NT passages and diction.

Finally, I dream about doing a revised version of the summary (perhaps apocryphal) of a Moody Bible Institute sermon I heard about. Meant to scare your pants off, I'm sure. I like the kinesthesis, but I would mess with the outline big time, with passages like Matthew 28 as points of departure.

The outline: the preacher gets everyone standing, and then runs through a routine in which he concludes each cycle with: "Now everyone who gave their life to Christ x years ago or more, sit down." This segues into something like, "If you are still standing, that means you haven't given your life to Christ. You are going to hell."

I think the altar call is supposed to happen at that point (I do altar calls on occasion, BTW).

I would reword of course quite a bit of the revivalist jargon, give it a theocentric and trinitarian emphasis rather than a pure revivalist conversion to Christ emphasis - I do that already in my preaching. But crucially, I would have all the old timers, those who have known themselves to be Christians since they were knee high to a grasshopper, stand up again, and I would threaten them with hell as well. Nicely but not nicely at the same time, if that makes any sense. Then I would conclude by saying something like, and what about me? I would stand there all alone and say something like, "I really don't know much about hell and hell-fire, but I've experienced a fair bit of hell on earth if you know what I mean. I bet you do." After going on like that for a minute or two, I would say, I feel a need to be down on my knees before God, I don't know about you. Then I would make the altar call.

I think it would be very impressive for someone like my wife, who is also a preacher, to do this. The gendered aspect would make it scarier in a good way if you ask me.

To those who say, terrorism should not be allowed from the pulpit, I agree and disagree. God and the gospel are in the details. Think of the terrifying recent anti-DUI ads. Or the recent anti-smoking ad in France that caused a ruckus. In general, people agree that it's a good thing to shock and traumatize for particular ends. They only disagree, and legitimately, about which ends.

How about you, Jason?

Bob MacDonald

I am reminded of Psalm 6 and Psalm 38
יְהוָה do not in your wrath rebuke me
and do not in anger chastise me

יְהוָה - rebuke me not in your anger
or in heat correct me
for your arrows penetrate into me
and your hand pins me
there is no depth in my flesh
in the face of your indignation
there is no peace in my bones
in the face of my sin

I know what this means - so don't go there. Real forgiveness is of _vital_ importance. So he says - if you by the Spirit do put to death the deeds of the body, you will _live_.

Notice though - whose fire pins you down. His indignation is not for ever - (Lamentations 3:chet) - I have done a translation in acrostic here

John - may your sermons be fruitful



I think you are right to in-fill one's understanding of hell-fire with passages of this kind. Trial by fire is something believers already know about. Quite a bit of biblical eschatology is the expectation, not unlike that of Ivan Karamazov, that, if there is a God, a Judgement Day, and so on, there are others, murderers and slave-traders and such (Revelation has quite the list), not just believers, who can expect a taste of trial by fire. And what will happen if they pray Psalms 6 and 38 de profundis? I don't know the answer to that. The last thing that seems appropriate is to give people who are causing immense suffering to themselves and others false and/or premature comfort.

There is, however, Rev 22:2. "The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." The same nations who, in accordance with Isa 2:1-5, keep flowing in through the gates - gates that are never shut, according to Rev 21:25. This is after Judgment Day, after the destruction of death and hell in the lake of fire (yes; hell is said to be destroyed in Rev 20:14; I'm not sure why people see fit to ignore that). Put that together with the concept of Hades as a debtor's prison from which one can be released (Matthew 5 already quoted), and the standard conceptualization of hell begins to look a bit creeky.

David Ker

I like the subject of hell.

My wife and kids have been reading "Sinners in the Hands..." which I've heard is one or possibly the only sermon by J. Edwards on the subject. Quite delicious.

Who do you think is the best hell fire preacher in the last century? Billy Sunday had to have given some good sermons on the topic.

After a decade in Africa and the suffering I have seen I'm pretty sure that many people won't notice hell as much of a step down.


Your wife and kids are reading "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"? That's pretty amazing. I love to follow how my own children react to horror and evil and death with their moral and eschatological imagination. It is the best of all possible backgrounds against which to hear "good news" from God's side.

I don't think I've ever heard a hell-fire sermon that knocked me out in the way I think such a sermon should.

But I adore Flannery O'Connor's Revelation. Go here for a first introduction:

Loren Rosson III

David Ker asked: "Who do you think is the best hell fire preacher in the last century?"

Only one individual qualifies: Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church. Try the sermon he preached on May 14, 2006, "The Reality of Hell", or the one preached May 18, 2008, "The Horrors of Hell".


The Baptist tradition is not my own, but I'm guessing that sermons like that are a dime a dozen in some subsets thereof. Just as hell-fire sermons of the kind James Joyce has a Roman Catholic priest give in "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" were, once upon a time, a dime a dozen.

I could be wrong, but my suspicion is, they are rhetorically ineffective. Still, they provide the backdrop for Dante's Inferno, an absolute masterpiece, so much so it's worth learning Italian to read it in Dante's own tongue.

How about George MacDonald's Christian horror novels? Maybe that's a better precedent to work from, if this kind of preaching is be reclaimed in a non-stupid way.

If someone knows of an English translation of a Buddhist hell-fire sermon, I would love to get a hold of it. A grad student who grow up in Thailand in a Buddhist family described to me what it felt like as a kid to be harangued by Buddhist monks about twelve (yes twelve) circles of hell to which they were going, unless they did x and y, as she and her family would go annually to a temple on pilgrimage.

Clearly she found the Buddhist preachers over the top.

She asked for a Bible which I gave her. Perhaps she found the Gospels a breath of fresh air even if they sound a number of the same themes.

Shawshank Redemption 1

To anyone who reads the Bible there is one in your face fact: There is a heaven and a hell, and your choices in life will decide on where you go. For Jews a lot of their choices are based on actions and following the laws; for Christians it lies in their choice of accepting the sacrifice of Christ, and their actions. With that said, there is a hell, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the fire will destroy. There is no reason for us to water down the facts of the Bible, and I agree that the destructions that hell holds have been. In my opinion, this is due to the distance and back turning that Americans have done to God. If this understanding of hell was taken as a fact, people would act differently, and not by the desires of their own flesh.

Pulp Fiction 4

The problem I have with Heaven and Hell is that it forces each person into one of only two categories (good or bad), and that’s not how life works at all. There’s so much gray area in between absolute good and absolute evil, and that gray area is where most people would fit in. So do two people who commit different amounts of evil go to the same Hell? That hardly seems fair.

Breaker Morant 1

I understand the idea that PF4 touches base with. But one thing that I would change or add to about the remark about gray area is that I feel that in our lives, we are in a gray area. And heaven and hell are Black and White for us. There are so many different perceptions and views on what is good and bad sin, but that doesn't always mean that there is a hell for each kind of sin.

The Mission 3

I am a little confused as to why Jesus thought purgatory is the same thing as hell. I was raised Catholic and was taught that purgatory was a place one went after dying but before Heaven to receive a certain amount of prayers and once that was fulfilled then he or she would enter into Heaven. Maybe it was a little unclear to me at the time of learning because I’m not exactly sure if that’s what was trying to be taught, but why would purgatory be the same as hell?

True Grit 4

I think Pulp Fiction 4 makes a good point, regarding whether or not there are different levels of hell or heaven. If someone is absolutely evil, you often hear the phrase "the deepest pits of hell" said about them. But for someone who is genuinely "good", do you ever hear someone say "the highest point of heaven"? I agree that there is a gray area between the two extremes of good and evil. If someone is genuinely good, but does something they aren't supposed to, does that banish them to hell? It's a confusing topic and I agree that it forces people into one category or another.

Nell 2

The Bible has two clear stances on after life. Heaven and hell are the only places that the Bible alludes to for an afterlife. The choices one makes will eventually help chose their final destination. The Bible really simplifies heaven as good and hell as bad. For individual denominations what is “required” to gain acceptance into heaven. Almost everyone that I have talked about heaven with wants to be accepted into the gates of heaven. The alternative would be a horrible way to spend eternity, as hell is basically described as the worst place imaginable. However, I don’t feel as though everyone acts the away that they should if they want to get into heaven. I feel having a loving God will help me out as I, personally, do not deserve heaven.

The Mission 2

The question of what gets you to heaven has always been a debate between humans. With every different answer comes a different religion. However, I believe the Bible has the true answer to that question in Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” To me the answer is so clear that many people miss it or don’t want to accept it. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” but because of God’s grace, His underserved love for us, we are saved. We don’t have to build up “good works” to get ourselves into heaven; because if we do that, then we will always be tormented with the question: did I do enough? Instead God tells us that it has been done for us. We did nothing to deserve it. It was a gift, handed out to us. Personally, I know I don’t deserve heaven, but because of God’s immense love and grace, I can say, without a doubt, that one day I will be in heaven with my LORD.

Truman Show 2

A question for most people is how to get to Heaven and how to stay out of Hell. I agree with The Mission 2 that a good answer for what gets you to heaven is Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” God is the only thing that can save us even though we have done such terrible things that He should not save us, but He still does because of the love that He has for us.

True Grit 3

I like the idea of heaven and hell. I think that it gives us all something to strive for. Personally, I work harder and better on something when there is a reward.I think this can be loosely related to the idea to heaven or hell, try to live in the light of the lord and you will be pleasantly rewarded if you blatantly make wrong choices then you are consciously deciding your own fate.

Praying with Lior 3

I think as humans in this society we like the idea of heaven and hell because it seems to give us a definite place we will go in the hereafter. Nobody wants to wonder where they go after they leave this earth. But I tend to believe this IS hell on earth. This place we are at now is full of temptation, hatred, greed, and deception among other things. Every day is a test to who is truly living a Christ-like life and the decisions we make do count. Like PF4, I too believe there is a lot of gray area but that is where how we choose to live our lives comes into play. We all have moral decisions we need to make and we can’t always be thinking that one good deed cancels out a bad one. Hell-Fire preaching maybe wasn’t always a bad thing because it made people fear the thought of living an immoral life because they may burn in the fires of hell. With the complacent views of Christianity in today’s society, people no longer feel the fear of not having faith in Christ and His power. Since none of us knows when the end will come, that way of thinking may not be such a good thing.

True Grit 1

I don't really understand why there is Hell and Heaven. All I know from when I was a little girl and people kept telling me that if you do good things than you will end up in Heaven where God is but if you do bad things than you will never see Heaven but go straight to Hell. I always wonder if that is true. As for now I still kind of believed that is true. But also still dont understand why it is like that. Most people that I know they get baptized to get to be where God is but for real their heart is never there when God wants them to do something for him. Does that mean they are going to Hell or Heaven.

The Truman Show 5

We look at our lives and wonder were in the heck are we going to be after we die. Some think it just ends and nothing happens. Other believe in a heaven and hell. The Bible only speaks of two places for a person to go after they have past from this world, they can either go to heaven or hell. Those who believe in heaven and hell often wonder if they are going to be casted into the depths of hell or if they are going to ascend into heaven. The depths of hell are reserved for the wicked and unjust, heaven is meant for those who have behaved on earth. I am one of those people who wonder just how much evil would a person have to commit in order to be casted into hell. Now I am not a bad person, but their are times when I get into mischief. So how good is good enough and how bad is bad enough?

Dead man walking 4

Truman Show 2,
When you state the idea “God is the only thing that can save us even though we have done such terrible things that he should not save us, but he still does because of the love that he has for us.” To myself that reads don’t worry you can do whatever you want and no matter how bad or terrible you will get away with it because God will accept you. If this is true why have rules, the Bible, and guidelines of right and wrong? There would be no reason for the concern and action of your sins.

Dead Man Walking 6

In the afterlife there are only two clear places that people have to get through which are heaven and hell. The choice each person can get simply based on what they have done in their life. The Bible describes heaven as good and hell as bad. In my opinion, most of everyone wants to be accepted into the gates of heaven. But the question of what things will lead us to heaven has always been a debate between humans. The answer of that question derives from different sources; depending people’s religion and their own belief. Personally, I do not know whether I deserve heaven or hell, but I do know everything I have done that I always look up for the future.

Chariots Of Fire 2

I think that everyone has their own idea of what afterlife is. No matter what religion, faith or non religious views we have, we all believe something happens to us when we pass away. I think the Bible makes it pretty clear that we will either be sent to either heaven or hell depending on which one we deserve in the eyes of God. God wants everyone to go to heaven in the end, but who knows where everyone ends up going. I guess no one really ever knows where they will go, they hope for the best and try to live their life in the way God wants us to. I think heaven and hell can be pretty touchy topics. It all depends on what we believe in.

Breaker Morant 3

I have so much trouble with the concept of Hell. I know that it is real, and I'm aware that there are many there. I would imagine that God is deeply saddened when people go to Hell. It is hard to think that I probably know people who have died who didn't in fact go to Heaven like we all like to believe. It is really sad, but just because we don't want to believe it, doesn't mean it's not true.

breaker morant4

I really feel like the idea of hell is to scare people in to doing good if there wasn't something bad that would happen to you if you did something wrong every one would just do what they wanted. i also feel like the church uses hell to scare people to keep there faith

breaker morant 6

heaven and hell, both after-life that are the beliefs of all Monotheist all over the world. Good people are in heaven and bad people are in hell. Now that sound simple, but when it comes to faith, the simplicity is tossed out the window. In faith, those who believe in God and his word are in heaven, but those who don't believe are in hell. Where can we draw who is really good or bad? Like Pulp Fiction 4 says the gray area. God loves everyone and does not desire that everyone goes into hell but not everyone will. In the end, we don't really know for certainty who is in heaven or hell, only God knows the hearts of all. I like how the eastern Orthodox's eschatology is that heaven and hell are in the presence of God's light. That light, either brings us warmth or burns us. Just like the light of the sun warms us or burns the( a good example is)the vampires. Simply because vampires hate the light. The eastern Orthodox teaching is that those who hate the light will be burn in the presence of the light; that light is God. Those who love the light will enjoy God's warmth and paradise. In looking at this view, heaven and hell are state or conditions of the heart, and not places. I think this do much justice to God, for he loves all and shines his light to all. Furthermore, we can't really say much about heaven and hell, both are spiritual reality or concepts that no one has really seen or known. I leave God to decides the fate of all, he knows the heart of everyone. He is good and loves all.

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    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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