The Morality of Warning

Many preachers have used the illustration of a bridge being out to drive home the point of urgent evangelism. Usually, it is said that up ahead the bridge is out, and in order to warn people of the consequent destruction, some brave soul exits his car and begins screaming and waving his arms to warn drivers to stop before it’s everlastingly too late. From this scenario, we glean a necessary truth about evangelism: warning plays a major part in the evangelistic life.

I’d like to suggest that today we must add one more element to this common sermon illustration. Typically, we understand that in this situation, many will drive right past the preacher on the side of the road and fall miserably off the bridge. Those same people may even call that screaming preacher “crazy”. Now, however, there is more to the story. On the other side of the road, there is another guy. He is just as energetic, just as bold, and just as convinced he is right. He is holding a sign that reads: “Don’t trust the guy on the other side. The bridge is not out. He is lying to you.”

As we’ve noted before, there is a growing, offensive movement to undermine Christianity. It appears in the form of Jesusanity, the New Atheism, and other various forms of liberalism. It is not just one of unbelief – driving by the preacher and thinking he’s crazy. It is one that vehemently opposes all that Christians stand for – trying to convince the world that we’re wrong about the bridge being out. As I listen to more of this kind of thinking, I’ve realized that we’re actually accused of being immoral because we warn people of the coming judgment. Are they right? Are we immoral?

In 2006, Todd Friel debated missionary-turned-atheist, Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In the debate, Barker charged Friel (and, in essence, all Christians) of being immoral because he was “threatening” the audience with an eternal, burning hell.

This is the same kind of rhetoric heard in the debate between the Rational Response Squad and Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. Not understanding the concept of sin and judgment, Kelly said she would rather go to hell than worship some meglo-maniacal tyrant.

The onslaught continues through Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, who would say that Christianity has done more harm than good. Others have advocated imprisonment for parents who teach their kids about judgment (or religion at all for that matter).

The accusation is totally berserk, but not surprising. Nobody wants to hear about warning – not now, not ever. God, in His mercy, time and again sent Israel prophets to warn them of their sin and the consequent judgment to come. Yet, Israel killed the prophets (Matthew 23:37). When Elijah was sent to warn Israel of the drought that God would send because of their Baal worship, he was accused of troubling Israel (I Kings 18:17). It is only understandable, then, that when we warn people, we will not be well received.

In the latest T4G conference, RC Sproul quoted Billy Graham as saying (I’m guessing a loooong time ago), “If God does not judge America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” In that vein, Sproul reminded the audience of the post-September 11th discussions, in which the late Jerry Falwell was forced to apologize because he intimated that this was God’s judgment on America for allowing so much sin. (While Falwell was possibly out of line with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:2-5, he wasn’t entirely off the mark. We may not know why God allows certain events to occur at certain times to certain people, but we can be certainly sure that every last bit of evil in this world is a result of sin. And sin has its consequences.) Sproul continued to say that we live in a country where people say “God bless America” but can’t fathom the idea that God would judge America.

As preachers of warning, we are to remind people that God certainly is capable of judgment, and sin does have its consequences. Yet, we are not to be like Jeremiah Wright or the Westboro Baptist Church in calling for it. We should be praying for our country, that God would grant us a mass repentance and revival. Yet, while we still have time, we must continue to warn people of the coming judgment – whether it’s warning a friend that a particular sin will take them further than they’d ever want to go, or warning a passer by that hell is real – and then give them the good news to escape it. In this, we are not being immoral. I’d say warning is the most moral thing we can do.

At the same conference, Al Mohler responded in a a panel to Mark Dever’s sermon, “Improving the Gospel.” Dever said that one way people try to improve the gospel is to make it “kinder.” Mohler agreed that many want a gospel that doesn’t offend. He told the story of how he recently went to the doctor and was told he had a tumor. Mohler said, “that wasn’t very kind.” But it was true – and it was needed. Had the doctor been “kind” and said, “there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re good to go”, it would have killed Dr. Mohler. The warning of an infectious disease was uncomfortable, but a very good thing. 

Who’s more immoral, then? The Christian who says there’s a hell and warns people so they would listen to the gospel and avoid going there? Or the atheist who altogether denies hell and judgment and tries to convince people that it doesn’t exist? Obviously, if hell is real, those who attempt to tell people it’s not are helping them land there. The immoral thing for a Christian to do would be to say nothing. The immoral person is standing on the other side of the road, telling the drivers that the bridge is ok, it’s not out, and the Christian is immorally lying to you. When the cars drive to destruction, all will know who is moral and who is not.

God doesn’t have to warn people of judgment. He is under no obligation to do so. He does so out of mercy. A prophet was sent to Israel out of mercy. We are sent into the world to give a message, albeit uncomfortable, out of mercy. Warning is moral. Warning is our obligation.

One final note: don’t be like the sign below. Let’s determine as Christians that the only offensive thing about us would be the truth we preach. Warning people of judgment is offensive in and of itself, we don’t need to cloud that message with a bad attitude, hypocritical lifestyle, or anything else that would turn people away from the gospel. Then we would really become immoral.


2 comments so far

  1. cindyinsd on

    Well said, DT

    How could a man, refusing to relinquish his sin, possibly stand before the Holy God? For him there is nothing but Hell. Hell to be with God, and Hell to be away from Him. The Psalmist said there is no where to go to escape God’s presence. I wonder if that includes Hell in its final form? I’m not sure Hell could be away from God, as God fills all in all. I’ve heard people say that Hell is Hell because God is not there, but maybe it’s the other way round. Hell is Hell because God is there, and the inmate has not been cleansed. Maybe it’s the very presence of the sin he so desperately clings to that makes Hell Hell.

    Probably this is all useless speculation. We know well enough from the things Jesus said about it that Hell is not a place to hang out with your friends and a crowd of clever, hip demons at an eternal cocktail hour. It’s a place of eternal sorrow, hopelessness, agony, pain, and a place to be avoided at all costs. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?

    By the way, I love the sign. ;)

    Grace and Peace,


  2. Archie on

    If I were a fighter pilot and my instructor said, “Don’t do that. You will crash and burn!” I wouldn’t do it out of respect knowing my instructor knew something I didn’t. The difficulty is the lost don’t know what they don’t know.

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