The Unfundamental Conversion

Real World Consequence of the Doctrine of Hell

January 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Lana Hope in Missions | SE Asia

I am a hopeful universalist. I believe God will force no one into hell against their will, and I am hopeful that God’s love will ultimately overcome everyone and all will freely choose to worship him over living outside God’s presence.

I have written before about why I personally rejected hell here and here.  But today, I want to mention a real world consequence of teaching people that they are going to hell.

New Tribes Missions and Hell


photo from NTM

I follow New Tribes Mission’s blog because I am in interested in ethnic groups. New Tribes Mission is a conservative missions organization who works with unreached people groups in other countries. I have never been apart of NTM (and I would never join because I am uncomfortable with their goals), but their office was in my neighborhood when I was studying the local language in SE Asia. Additionally, I spent a few months living with an ethnic people group, so I follow NTM and try to keep up with what is going on in SE Asia.

Yesterday a missionary from Papua New Guinea posted a story about a man who belongs to a dialect right next to group he lives with right now. In conversation, this is what the elderly man relates to the missionary:

Elderly man: “I’ve been to one of the churches near here and they only teach from Pidgin or English Bibles. They told me that if I don’t believe God’s talk then I’m going to the place of fire. I don’t understand God’s talk though. This is really weighing on me….If you don’t come live with us…then…then I’m going to cut off my finger.”

Yes, you read that right. A missionary scared the elderly man shit, and now he is saying he wants to cut off his finger if someone doesn’t teach them the Bible NOW!!!!!!!

As blogger Seth explains, it is important to understand that in this ethnic group, cutting off a finger is an actual practice, because it is a symbol of grief. For example, one might cut off a finger when their child died. So this elderly man was perfectly serious.

I will not criticize the actual practice of cutting of fingers. As long as adults  are consenting to having their fingers removed, I will not fuss about practices different than mine. But I am disturbed that missionaries have been going around to tribes, without understanding their culture, and telling them that they are headed to hell.

Telling people they are going to hell has real world consequences. It scares people shit, and in some cases, it scares them so bad they want to remove their finger.

This practice of going around and scaring people needs to stop.

Missionaries are always talking about how thirsty other people groups are for God, but sometimes I wonder if they are less thirsty and more just scared shit.

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  • Sage

    Can we also talk about how a doctrine of hell creates incredible personal angst and cognitive dissonance when a child raised with it grows up and then leaves their faith? It’s still in my blood; might always be. I can’t run from it even when I don’t logically believe it, and it’s not fun. I’m growing and trying, but it is harmful and hurtful even if one doesn’t chop off one’s fingers.

    • oh Sage, I so agree. I don’t even believe in hell and I’m still terrified I”ll end up there. Intellectually I don’t believe that, but emotionally I feel it. But I also have a special hatred for the fact that missionaries are spreading this fear to other countries, blah.

      • Sage

        I read this article ( and it was so sad but so relatable when the guy said he believed in God but thought he was probably going to hell. It’s how I feel. Even though intellectually I don’t believe it.

        But yes, missionaries who do this are despicable. They…should not exist. I had a coworker (who was a Southern Baptist headed for the mission field in the Middle East) make another coworker (who was a Muslim) break down in sobs because the Southern Baptist told her that she was going to hell if she didn’t accept Christ and the Muslim couldn’t. That person should never have been allowed near a mission field.

      • Lana, I also believed in hell for many years. I did have some lingering concern when I first abandoned the harmful doctrine, but I no longer do at all.

      • RonnyTX

        Lana,there is no reason for you to fear hell,because there is no such thing as a Jesus Christ created hell of eternal torment. But yes,I used to believe in such a hell;but only because I was brought up in a church,that taught such. In my case,it was a Calvinistic type teaching church. And I was also falsely taught there,that all that came from our pulpit,was straight out of the Bible and the same as me hearing it directly from God. I believed that,because I was taught to believe that in church;but I didn’t get such from God. Found that out later,when God showed me better. 🙂 In such scripture as,In Adam all died,in Jesus Christ all will be made alive,

        • I actually spent several years in a Calvinist church; thought I was one of hte elect haha.

          • RonnyTX

            You are.but then as I see it now,so is every one of us,from Adam on down! 🙂

            With me,I grew up from a baby,in a Calvinistic teaching church. Then in 1967,I hit 12 years old and discovered I was gay. Never had heard of homosexual back then,much less gay. (ha) Not in rural,small town NE Texas. So at 12yo,I thought it was the grandest thing in the world,for me to be attracted to these two guys. 🙂 But not too long after that,I overheard some of my churches elders,talking about those homosexuals. They did so with scorn and said such was chosen and I got from what they said,that it was the worst of sins. Went to my Mom’s medical book and found an entry on homosexual. And that’s how I found out the word,that described me. Now I knew I hadn’t chosen to be that; but came to believe I must have,because of what I overheard those church elders saying. Well,they had already taught me to believe, that all they said was straight out of the Bible and straight from God. So a bit later on,in tears I went up at the church one day and agreed with everything the preacher told me about God,Jesus Christ,the Bible,etc. I was led to believe,that I’d become a Christian and was later baptized. But 4 years later,God let me know I was lost and I was born of God then. 🙂 So for the 4 years before that,I was simply a wet Baptist! (ha) 🙂

            BTW,good to meet you Lana. 🙂 Just found out about you blog here,from a fellow in an atheist group. He told me about this, because I’m also a Christian universalist in belief. I have been, for the past 5 years now. Before that,strictly Calvinist.

            Hope to read more later and get to post some more. But better get offline in a bit and do a couple of other things. 🙂 Too,not all that up to doing much reading and posting right now. Went to a doctor yesterday,glad I got in without an appointment and got 3 needed meds,for a problem I have that crops up now and then.

            Good to meet you. 🙂

          • You are from rural NE Texas? I am too. I won’t say which town, but you may figure it out by some of my posts. Do you still live there? I live in Canada now, but grew up there.

  • Kevin

    That’s very sad. Such a despicable teaching.

  • When a topic like this is brought up it begs the question of what does a person do about sin? There is a reason that John 3:16 exists. If hell does not exist why does anyone worry about their consequences of sin, without repentance? If a person doesn’t want to believe in God where does that person then go in the afterlife? Certainly not with God? What about Satan and the fallen angels. They are certainly not in the abode of God. What then?

    • Well I recommend thomas talbots writing. its not that people die and necessarily wake up next to God, but that overtime the power of God’s love and presence wins them over to want to worship him. I do think it’s possible that some people will never choose to worship God, but that will be their choice, not God shoving them into hell because they failed to believe on earth.

      • I don’t know who Thomas Talbot is but if his writing doesn’t line up with the Bible then it should not be trusted when it comes to spiritual topics like this. Otherwise you sell yourself out for some other philosophy. The comments you have, do they line up with the Bible? Otherwise it is your opinion against what? Feelings? Emotions? Some kind of rational thinking? Just something to think about.

        • you should tell me where in the Bible it says everyone gets kicked into hell.

          • I will share but your question is more of an extreme one. It seems it is either no one is going to hell or everyone is going to hell. Where is that coming from? Has your background caused you to view it in that type of thinking? What happened to the middle ground? I will share some in the next 24 hours. Time on time at the moment.

          • Let ‘s not talk about “my background” as the cause for this. That is conflicting the issue. The issue is where in the Bible does it say that everyone who doesn’t believe in this life has no chance of believing in the next, or as far as that goes, that belief is necessary for God to love us.

          • Here are some instances that reveal that not all people will be saved but when be cast into damnation.

            Matthew 25:31-33, 41

            31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

            41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

            Hebrews 9:27-28

            27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so
            Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly
            wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for

            A most striking passage

            Revelation 20:11-14

            11 Then I
            saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the
            earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God,[c] and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The
            sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up
            the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to
            his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

            Just a small synopsis of the salvation of God and the judgment of God. What do you think?

          • What is interesting about the passage from revelations is it says according to their works, not according to salvation. That is very different than saying one goes to hell for not believing in God. As for the second verse, I do think God bore our sins, but nothing in that verse says punishment is forever. The Matthew verse is the strongest passage IMO.

          • In other words ‘And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire’ is damnation? Another important factor to consider when referring to salvation is context especially as it refers to works. I do think these scriptures rip away the Universalist argument that there is no hell or damnation or punishment. Would you agree? Thus I would go so far as to say that Thomas character didn’t get his belief from the bible but from some other place. What do you think?

          • John, I would like to respond to the biblical passage you offer as a support for the doctrine of hell.

            The passages from the book of Revelation come from the apocalyptic genre that was popular for about 300 years that fell both before and after Jesus’ lifetime. It is characterized by exaggerated symbolism and dramatic scenes, along with allusions to a wide variety of sources. It was neither history nor prophecy, but was written to comfort distressed groups in times of severe oppression. The book of Revelation was meant to relate to the conditions of its first hearers and not as a doctrinal source.

            Hebrews does say that there will be death followed by judgment, but it says nothing about hell or eternal punishment. The point of the passage from, which this is plucked out of context, is that Jesus has provided one single action to do away with sin:

            “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

            Finally, the story of the sheep and goats is just that–a story or a parable. The purpose of a parable is to make a point; the details are not important in themselves, nor are they sources of doctrine. Jesus called upon familiar imagery to make the point that people will be surprised to discover what God considers important–caring for other people instead of keeping legalistic religious rules.

          • I agree with you in revelation, but I don’t usually get into revelation debates because it is so difficult.

          • What I see in our comments is that none of the bible is real but just parables and symbolism. It is a very convenient way to not have to deal with reality of sin in the sight of God and why Jesus came to this Earth. I find it a bit shameful to bring the Bible to that low of a view and borderline heresy.

          • John, I have never said that none of the Bible is real; I base my entire life on the Bible. But I do not flat-read the Bible as though it is one authoritative voice because it is not.

            I believe Jesus was real. I believe that he had a special relationship with the Father. I believe what he taught, and I believe he healed, and I believe that he was resurrected after his death and that he provides for our resurrections after our death. These are some pretty important things that are real.

            However, the Bible was not written by people from our time and culture, so much of it must be read from the authors’ times and cultures. That includes many things like parables, apocalyptic, and midrash that were not literal, but are thought to be literal by many people who read it from our time and culture. In this way, we often come to false conclusions.

            The Bible is very important, but we must try to understand it correctly as much as we can.

          • Isn’t it more convenient to consider everthing in the bible real in a non-symbolism way? You can drop all thinking, you can drop all struggeling with the bible and how to bring the loove for the next, God’s love for the sinners (sic!) and all that together. You just pick your bible verse, consider it *real* and think you *win*. How convenient.
            What about the reality and gravity of love? (what’s more grave? love or sin?) I find it a bit shameful to bring the literal reading of the bible to that high of a view and borderline heresy, as this gets close to worshipping a book instead of the living God. We believe in a trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The bible, though it’s an important book, is not nor was it ever considered part of the trinity. It is thus not God and falls with all its parts under Paul’s “prov everything and keep the good”.

          • John, if you wish to read further reasons to re-evaluate the misguided belief in hell, you might want to read the following:


          • Careful, universalists didn’t say there is no punishment. Nor did they say there is no hell. They said there will be no people in hell because all will eventuallly be in heaven. there are verses that support the universalists position, btw. Numerous times it says all will be saved.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I saw this cross-posted at No Longer Quivering. I feel the need to speak my mind on something you said.

    I am a hopeful universalist. I believe God will force no one into hell against their will, and I am hopeful that God’s love will ultimately overcome everyone and all will freely choose to worship him over living outside God’s presence.

    Do you realize how this sounds to the people you’re talking about?

    This is SO extremely disrespectful to those of us who don’t already share your religious views. You are point-blank saying that you don’t care what we believe, why or how we got there…What we went through in order to get to the conclusions we have now…What we think about your god…None of that matters. You sincerely hope that we throw away our beliefs, adopt yours and spend forever after happily worshiping your god.

    What about people who think that, if your god exists, he is a complete monster? What about people of other religions who’ve spent their entire lives worshiping a different god? This mind-wipe that you’re expressing such hope for would be extremely traumatic.

    Or take me, personally, as an example. I am a staunch Atheist. If god does exist, I have *massive* issues with him for allowing me to go through the abuse my fundamentalist upbringing inflicted upon me in his name. And yet you expect me to just throw all that aside and happily spend forever worshiping the god who let me be abused?

    You need to spend less time fantasizing about everyone telling you that you’re right and learn to accept people even if they disagree with you. Wanting everyone to believe as you do is not love, nor is it good.

    • Thanks for the comment. You make some valid points here. I do, however, disagree that worshiping God means throwing away one’s other beliefs. I am quite sure that whoever God is, it’s not the narrow protestant view. Protestants would be as shocked as any other religious person. The problem of evil is a problem for theism — I’ll give you that!

  • Agreed. Threatening people with the false doctrine of hell is a very harmful practice, and thoughtful, insightful believers should not engage in it. I, too, am a ‘hopeful universalist’, but I don’t think anyone will be forced into the Father’s community against their will.

    • Right that is the reason I’m not a 100% sure universalist, because I’m not comfortable saying God will force people to into heaven. C.S. Lewis might have it right.

      • I agree, but I still don’t think those who reject the Father will be punished in eternal fire. I suspect that they will simply cease to exist, as I wrote in my blog post Conditional Immortality and Natural Death:

        • Interesting. Thanks for this. If you have any blog entries on the verses John mentioned (see conversation below), post a link to his comment.

        • What I noticed in your blog is that you use very few scriptures to support your case. Just as a preacher should preach from the Word and not use only a couple of scriptures I believe anyone arguing a biblical topic should do the same and even go back to the original language to support what the text is saying. It is all about context. I believe that the fewer scriptures used to support something the more philosophy is used and that will run a heart down the road to heresy.
          If Annihilation happens instead of everlasting torment then why should anyone care if they receive salvation for they will become nothing in the end. However, if torment is there for the ‘goat’s then it changes the entire ballgame.
          I have given a few scriptures on another post but I didn’t elaborate on them and inject my own thoughts. Scripture should interpret scripture. Philosophy will seek to subvert scripture. Be careful.

          • John, you ask a very good question. Many people ask it this way: “If there is no hell, why shouldn’t I just do whatever I want?” In fact, I have had firm, dedicated Christians tell me that if there was no hell, they WOULD do whatever they wanted.

            I know many who believe there is a hell but do not become Christians based on fear of hell, but if a person is a Christian because of the fear of hell then I question the depth of their dedication to Jesus.

            Regarding the use of scriptures, the particular post I suggested on conditional immortality did not have much biblical reference, but in my short series on hell I deal extensively with the biblical passage used to prove there is a hell But I agree with you that it is all about context, as I explain in that series.

            By the way, I had two years of New Testament Greek and I have a number of Greek tools.

          • I am jealousy about you having had 2 years of NT Greek. I would like to get schooled on that or at least have it next to me when going through the Bible. I often think it would be better than having multiple translations of the bible side by side. I have used an online interlinear with some Jehovah’s Witnesses recently.

          • John, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to study Greek, but I was not able to continue with it as I would have liked because I soon after began a 21 year career in Christian bookstore management, so there was little time to keep up with my Greek.

            However, the background continues to be very helpful and I use it, but not with the skill I wish. I do consult my Greek New Testament and use Greek tools, but I certainly am not a master of the language.

            I think reading various translations is a good idea, but I would avoid the Amplified Version. It list various meanings of words in the translation, but you can’t pick and choose among possible meanings–not all meanings apply to any particular usage of a word just the same as it is in English. I would also avoid the KJV because it is not based on the best Greek manuscripts and is in an obsolute form of English that is not easy for us to read today.

          • I have been using some online resources myself. I use the NKJV as my primary source and flirt with the ESV, KJV, and NASB . It has actually helped me as I use it in dialogue with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their view of hell is that of 7th Day Adventists. Annihilation of the soul. I always ask, if that is true then what is the point of salvation? You are either redeemed from your sin and live in the Presence of God, after death, OR you are totally annihilated as if you never existed in the first place. When scripture says ‘The dead are remembered no more’ I don’t think it is referring to such a thing not when you put it in context with the rest of scripture.

            I have only dialogued with JW’s on the issue of the ressurection as well as Jesus isn’t created. Never an argument. Simple conversation while asking questions on passages and invite them to take it with them and come back with answers. That is what they like to do so I pray the truth convicts them to faith in Jesus.

          • Hi John, I think comparing translations is quite helpful. While I strongly believe in the resurrection, as you know I do suspect that conditional immortality (sometimes called annihilation) is the most likely answer to those who refuse the gift of eternal life. I speak for my self, not Lana. I have shared with you previously my posts on hell and on conditional immortality.

      • RonnyTX

        Lana,I know some Christian universalists wouldn’t like me using the word force,as I do sometimes;but I don’t mind using it,as long as I explain what I mean. For instance,yes,God did force me into a right relationship with God. What force did God use,to do that? Why,the greatest and best force of all,the love of God! 🙂 And it’s the love of God/Jesus Christ,that will bring all people,into a right relationship,with God the Father. 🙂 So therefore,in the end,when all is said and done,God/Love wins! 🙂

        • I was actually thinking about this this week, when I was reading St. Teresa who talks about God coming upon us such that our thoughts don’t wander and we are captured by his love. I’m rethinking some of this, and I don’t have the answer, because I do see value in free will, or maybe I don’t see value in it as much as I observe that this is the way the world is.

          • RonnyTX

            I like that,captured by God”s love! 🙂 And that is exactly what God did for/to me,when I was 16 years old and born of God. 🙂

            P.S. Sorry to be so long,in getting back to you;but had to go to the doctor yesterday. Then it was back to town this morning,to pick up a few things,that I forgot to get yesterday! 🙁 LoL

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  • tonycutty

    I’m currently working on my ideas on this: if there is no Hell, then what did Jesus save us from? I have lots of really pleasant answers to that question, but I thought I’d put it out there for others to reply to with their ideas. I won’t try to prime the conversation by inserting my ideas…..So, what did Jesus save us from?

    • He saved us from Sin, Death and Devil, which held us captive before, but now we are free to live our lives as children of God.

    • Yes, what De Benny said, he saved us from our own fallen ways. It migh be worth pointing out that I am not claiming that we somehow deserve to be in the presence of the almighty God, but that God is very, very gracious and doesn’t give us what we deserve. Protestant believe that – i’m just extending that.

  • Imagine what would happen if the authorities found out that cult leaders and the parents in that cult were telling their children that if the children did not obey the rules of the cult, they would be tossed into a boiling pot of liquid fire.

    The leaders of the cult and the parents would most likely be put in jail.

    So if conservative Christian clergy and parents threaten their little children with claims that an invisible ghost god is going to burn them alive if they do not obey the church’s rules, should these clergy and parents be subjected to the same punishment as the leaders and parents of the cult?

    Should the teaching of Hellfire and damnation to children be a crime?

    • Who should decide upon what’s good for children if not their parents? Do we really want to substitute the parents with the state here?
      Whereto would this road lead? I agree with you that some parents do terrible things to their children, but generally I still have more trust in parent here than I ave trust in the state. And this is why I would answer your question: No, it should not be a crime. The whole logic could easily lead to outlawing all religion (which would then be substituted by the state as well) and finally everything the party in power dislikes. I don’t want this, so let the children hear about hell and show them different approaches to reality in school.

  • Joe

    I find it odd that you hold zero judgement of a culture that self-mutilates but strongly object to and find toxic a group that believes that the creator of this world is utterly holy and without repentance will bring judgement to the same world full of people destroying each other and themselves in different ways.

    • I believe God’s holy. But I also believe that God makes us holy.


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