Should Hell Motivate Our Missionaries?
Earlier in January, Pastor John traveled to Louisville to speak at the annual CROSS conference, a gathering of 7,500 young men and women who are seeking clarity on their call to international missions and life evangelism. One of the sessions was a panel discussion hosted by David Platt, with Pastor John, international evangelist Mack Stiles, and pastors Thabiti Anyabwile and Kevin DeYoung. In that discussion was a very important clip I wanted to share here. It is about one very unpopular truth that drives gospel sacrifice — namely, the doctrine — the reality — of the eternal judgment of sinners under the just and holy wrath of God. As uncomfortable as this doctrine is, we cannot ignore it. Our friend Mack Stiles picks up the conversation.
Mack Stiles: We can’t air-condition hell. Hell is real. It is eternal suffering, and people are really going there. We want to make sure that the world hears the saving knowledge of Christ so that they can be saved from hell. It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you stand in places in India or China and look over these vast numbers of people and realize that, without the word, without the word of God, these people are lost and without hope in the world. They are facing eternal suffering. It’s hard to take that sometimes. But it’s the reality that we face. And it’s easily missed. People don’t want to talk about it often in missions conferences, but it should be one of the driving things that we want to advance.
David Platt: It seems so obvious, but having led a missions organization for four years and been exposed to the broader missions world, it’s actually uncommon to hear that truth emphasized even in a missions conference, which we believe misses the word of God.
All Human Suffering, Especially Eternal Suffering
John Piper: Can I give you one sentence? You’re going to need this if you have any bone in your body that’s sympathetic to that emphasis right there — that our biggest problem is hell, not hunger. Here’s the sentence: Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.
List your favorite social issue there under “Christians care about all suffering.” I hope you care about these issues with all your might. But Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. Nail that sentence down and see if you believe it. Christians care, and will show that they care, about all human suffering, especially eternal suffering.
If your life is marked by compassion for all suffering, except eternal suffering, you’re a defective lover. That’s what this conference believes, and so things are going to be missing here, right? We can’t do everything, so the especially really counts. There’s so much more that needs to be said than what we can say. If you went to the churches of these men and every pastor in here, you’d find all kinds of suffering being addressed — rightly. But somebody’s got to wave the flag today, when it’s so politically incorrect to do so, that we care about eternal suffering especially.
Kevin DeYoung: The doctrine of hell is ballast in our boat that keeps us from capsizing, keeps us from wavering and being tossed to and fro.
Some of you here are inclusivists. You don’t even know that term, and you didn’t even study it. It’s just the air that you breathe. It’s what you think. It’s not the good sort of “we include people,” but the theologically inclusivist. It means you believe that people who never hear of Christ and never have the opportunity to respond to Christ will go to heaven because of the good that they have done, or perhaps the light that they have followed, or perhaps they have known Christ without knowing that they know Christ — some sort of anonymous Christianity.
“If your life is marked by compassion for all suffering, except eternal suffering, you’re a defective lover.”
That is rampant among people of all ages in our churches. Even the great C.S. Lewis teaches that in Mere Christianity, and you see it at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia. He was a worshiper of Tash, but really, he was a worshiper of Aslan without realizing it. Not only is that mistaken with all of the verses from the Great Commission to Romans 10; it’s mistaken with our doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit does not work indiscriminately to save people apart from throwing a spotlight on the glory of Jesus Christ.
That’s our ballast. That’s our mission. That’s our emphasis. As John said, it is massively unpopular, not just with a world out there, but with student groups all over this country, all over the world. This conference exists not to say, “We got things right; people got things wrong,” but because the truths of God’s word, in all of their particularity and angularity, will serve you.
We were talking just at dinner, and John said this: “Theology in the short run will slow you down on mission, but in the long run it will sustain you for a life of mission.” If you want to worship deeply, you’ve got to think deeply, and you need your theology to go as deep down as you want your worship to go up high.
That means being absolutely crystal clear on these things. Our burden is to have the theology going deep down with roots for a very particular fruit that we’re praying for in this conference — namely, that 7,500 of you would be mobilized for mission, some going, many more probably sending, but mobilized for a lifetime of mission. That will not come without robust theological commitments like the kind that we’re trying to celebrate from God’s word during this week.
Amen. Several minutes later, as this panel discussion drew to a conclusion, the conversation moved toward why the CROSS conference is set up the way it is — relatively simple in its programming and rather sobered in its temper — a very distinct mood from other young-adult conferences. The question was asked to Pastor John, speaking to the 7,500 attendees. Here’s what he said.
John Piper: When I think of 800 or 7,000 responding the way we want, I’m really nervous about that. Not anxious, but sobered, because you’re going to die. It says in Revelation 12:11 that the martyrs under the altar in heaven are crying out, “How long? How long, O Lord?” The word they get from the King is “Be quiet and rest because the number of your brothers who are yet to be martyred is not complete.”
“The Holy Spirit does not work indiscriminately to save people apart from throwing a spotlight on the glory of Jesus Christ.”
We’re not playing games here. I had a dad at an airport, sending his son off, who looked me in the eye and said, “If he doesn’t come back, I will kill you. I will kill you.” That’s what I expect to happen — parents are going to hate what we get you to do if they’ve got dreams for you to make a lot of money.
There’s a sobriety and a seriousness about the reality of the wrath of God and hell, the reality of lost people. The reality of John Piper’s sin at age 73 — that’s the most burdensome thing I know. There’s a reality about this that just causes us not to play games here.
We are seriously joyful. Psalm 67:4 says, “Let the nations be glad.” That’s our message. You’re going to perish if you don’t rejoice in God, if you rejoice in everything but God. There’s a kind of paradox here. We are serious about joy. We really want the nations to be happy forever, not happy for eighty years and perish forever. That is what creates the mood in me, and I think what you will feel may be a little different about the simplicity and sobriety of this conference.