In admittedly his most difficult sermon in 15 years of ministry, Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll made it abundantly clear that hell is real and is the destination for those who don't trust in Jesus.
"Let me say it clearly, ... plainly, ... loudly: You are in danger. Without Jesus, you go to hell," the Reformed pastor told thousands at Mars Hill Church this past weekend.
Driscoll was preaching from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke – a New Testament book that he has been going over for the past year and a half with his church. But what made the sermon even more timely and that much more urgent was the recent debate on hell in light of the release of Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Grandville, Mich., pastor Rob Bell.
Bell, who has been accused of heresy and preaching universalism, has made media rounds during his book tour this month. In a visit to MSNBC, the popular author was pushed four times by host Martin Bashir on the question of eternal destiny after receiving unsatisfying answers – or rather, unclear ones.
"Is it irrelevant about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one's eternal destiny?" asked Bashir, who also accused the author of amending the Gospel so that it's palatable.
"It is terribly relevant and terribly important. Now, how exactly that works out and how exactly that works out in the future, we are now when you die firmly in the realm of speculation," Bell replied.
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"You have to be very careful that we don't build whole doctrines and dogma about what is speculation."
Without naming names, Driscoll, author of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, expressed profound concern over false teachings and messages that proclaim anything other than salvation through Jesus Christ.
"It greatly disturbs me when well-known pastors and preachers and authors get invited onto television ... when the world is listening to them, the interviewer inquires of them 'if you don't believe in Jesus are you going to hell?' and they squirm or they change the subject or they appeal to the emotions or they tell a story, they do anything but say 'yes, if you don't know Jesus you go to hell,'" the 40-year-old pastor said.
"Friends, this is the most serious of matters," he told the congregation. "I'm not the judge but there are pastors that are going to hell. So be careful who you trust."
For Driscoll, there is no ambiguity in Jesus' teachings about heaven and hell.
Stressing throughout his sermon that his job is to tell the truth, Driscoll pointed to Jesus' teachings on the hard-to-stomach issue of hell.
Jesus, he said, speaks of hell more than anyone in the entire Bible. Roughly 13 percent of his teachings and half of his parables are in reference to hell, judgment, or punishment, Driscoll noted.
"Some say Jesus is so loving, certainly Jesus doesn't believe in hell. I would say the most loving person who has ever lived not only believes in hell but clearly, emphatically, repeatedly teaches on it, which must mean that our sin is more damnable than we can fathom if it requires the most loving person to speak in the most stark of terms," he pointed out.
"The existence of hell, the instruction by Jesus of hell should reveal to us how sinful sin truly is and how rebellious we really are."
From the get-go, Driscoll, who was raised a Catholic before converting at age 19, rejected as false several popular positions people hold about death and the afterlife, including naturalism (no soul), universalism (all or almost all go to heaven), belief in reincarnation (multiple, successive lives), annihilationism (suffer in hell a while but eventually cease to exist), and belief in purgatory (temporary punishment and ultimately going to heaven).
Making clear what Jesus made clear, the Seattle pastor known for his no-holds-barred attitude said everyone who doesn't know Jesus will go to hell.
"Have you received Jesus? Have you trusted in Jesus? If not, you are in the path of the wrath of God. You are headed to the conscious eternal torments of hell," he asserted.
Quoting Jesus, Driscoll underscored, "'No one comes to the Father but by me.' No one. No one. Buddhism, no. Hinduism, no. New Ageism, no. Mormonism, no. Jehovah's Witnessism, no. Nice people, no. Good people, no. Generous people, no. Religious people, no."
"There is no salvation apart from him (Jesus)!" he exclaimed.
Regarding a second chance after death, Driscoll stated plainly that there is no second chance.
"Your eternal destiny is sealed upon your death. This life is your only opportunity," he preached.
"I'm going to bury a lot of people. So for me, this is not just heartless academic speculation," he stressed. "It's heartfelt pastoral affection."
"I'm really worried about some of you," he said as he became teary-eyed. “I love you. I can't have your blood on my hands.”
While some try to elevate one attribute of God over another (such as love), Driscoll noted that while God is love the Bible speaks more of His holiness than anything else.
"God is love, and whatever God does is loving. God is also just. God is also holy," he said. "Our God is also simultaneously, perfectly a God of wrath. Not just our God but the only God.
"God is holy. If we do not repent, we are in the path of His wrath."
It is in love, however, that God sent Jesus "as our substitute, to go to the cross and give us eternal life," Driscoll added.
Responding to questions about why God would create people if their future is hell, Driscoll stated, "People go to hell because they reject Jesus. We are in no way innocent."
"This is not the world as God made it. This is the world as we have corrupted it," he explained.
He continued, "What is astonishing is God would become a man to live in the world as we have destroyed it."
The wrath of God was poured out on Jesus, he added, so that it may be diverted from us.
"That is the gift of salvation. That is the love of God."
In one illustration, Driscoll stated, "It makes perfect sense to me that a convicted criminal goes to prison. Similarly, it makes perfect sense that a condemned sinner goes to hell."
Hell, he noted, was made for the devil and his angels who rebelled against God. And just as prison was made to protect the rest of the public, hell was made to "protect us."
"You need not go there. Trust in Jesus."
Regarding what hell is like, the illustration in Luke reveals a place of torment with flames. It's like being trapped in a burning building forever, Driscoll said.
Jesus also uses as illustration a place outside Jerusalem called Gehenna. There, children were murdered and sacrificed by fire to false demon gods.
It was a cursed place that became a garbage dump of the city where worms were always feasting and flames were always burning.
Near the end of his sermon, Driscoll pleaded with the congregation not to judge God.
"We have three-pound fallen brains. We have sinful dispositions. We have only been around for a few short years. We are not all knowing," he pointed out.
"For us to sit on a throne even if it is an academic throne propped up by footnotes, asking the Creator of heaven and earth to pass before us that we might render a verdict regarding His holiness and justice is how all the trouble began in the first place."
Driscoll urged the congregation and other listeners online to make a decision – eternal life or eternal death.
"You're still alive so I'm pleading with you. Make your decision while you're still alive."