1. They're not scary enough. To speak of hell, Jesus used the imagery of a garbage dump overrun with worms, a place where babies were once scarified to demons (Mark 9:43-48). Teenagers in plastic red devil masks and Styrofoam pitchforks usually don't convey what it means to "fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). The answer isn't better technology, though, since nothing we could conjure up can convey the anguish of the damned walled off from relationship with God.
2. They assume people's problem is that they don't know about judgment. But the Bible says they do. All of us have embedded within us a conscience that points us to the Day of Judgment (Roams 2:15-16). We have a "fearful expectation of judgment" (Hebrews 10:27). The problem is we block it out of our minds, diverting ourselves with other things. The problem isn't that lost people don't hate hell enough. It's that they don't love Christ. Hell is the Abyss they run into in their flight from Him.
3. They abstract judgment from the love of God. I know most "Judgment Houses" present the Gospel at the end. But in the Bible the Good News doesn't come at the end. The prodigal son leaves the father's house, but the father is eager to receive him back (Luke 16:11-31). The awful news of God's judgment is always intertwined in Scripture with the message of the Gospel of a loving, merciful God. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17).
4. They abstract judgment from the glory of God. The prophet Isaiah doesn't see that he's "undone" first by the horror of judgment. He sees it in light of the glory of God's presence (Isaiah 6:1-6). The Apostle John tells us the glory Isaiah saw was Jesus of Nazareth (John 12:41). When we preach Jesus, the glory of God breaks through (2 Corinthians 4:6). Some people recoil at that light; some people run to it (John 3:19-21).
5. It's hard to cry at a Judgment House. But Jesus does when thinking about judgment (Matthew 23:37). And so does the Apostle Paul, pleading with sinners to be saved (2 Corinthians 5:20). These evangelistic tools, though, are meant to take on the feel of a "haunted house," a place of thrill-seeking and festivity. It's hard to convey the gravity of the moment in such a way.
6. The Holy Spirit doesn't usually like to work that way. Pop quiz: How many people do you know who came to know Christ through the witness of a friend? How many do you know who came to know Christ through faithful parents? How many are in Christ due to the week-to-week preaching of Christ in a local church? Probably a lot, right? Okay, now answer this: How many people do you know who came to know Christ through a Halloween "Judgment House" or "Hell House"? If you know one, you're outpacing me, and everyone I've ever talked to about this. The Holy Spirit tends to work through the preaching of Christ (Romans 10:17). That's how He points the world to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
But the fact remains that most lost people in your neighborhood are going to be saved the same way people have always been saved, by Christian people loving them enough to build relationships, invite them to church and share the Gospel. The problem is that for many Christians that's scarier than a haunted house.
Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at www.russellmoore.com. A version of it appeared in Baptist Press in 2008.
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