Christians Say The Darnedest Things: John Piper Advocates Threatening Children With Hell

john piper

John Piper

A question from Michael: “Pastor John, how can I talk to my 6-year-old son about hell? When any loved one has died who has also been a Christian, I have told him they have gone to heaven. But if somebody dies who is not a Christian I do not want to lie and say they have gone to heaven, but I do not know how to teach him about hell. He has extreme anxiety about death and I am afraid talking about hell may make him more anxious. He also gets very upset when he makes any kind of mistake or when I have to correct him. I do not want him to worry that if he disobeys that he will be sent to hell. How in the world can I teach him this?”

Let me start by turning the tables and saying, we should be one hundred times more concerned about a 6-year-old who has no fear of death [Yes, because it is absolutely “normal” for children to fear death and hell.] and hell than we are about a child who fears death and hell. One of the reasons we may not feel that is because when a child has no fear, we tend to go along as though all is well. He’s such a happy little fellow, and she’s such a cheerful little girl. [Pity the happy, joyful, well-adjusted child, right?] When a child has anxieties, nightmares, fears, then all of our parental instincts and mind go into gear, and action, because we want to help them, not realizing perhaps that the child with no fear needs even more help from parental vigilance and concern than the child with much fear.

I want to encourage Michael that the problem he is dealing with is a good problem to have. If he were not dealing with it, there would be more reason to be concerned than there is now. How do we help a 6-year-old child deal with the terrifying reality of hell and death? The main thing is to realize that God intends for our real and wise fear of hell to be a means of clarifying and establishing in our hearts at least five great realities.

….

1. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity for treating God as big and glorious and utterly real. It is hard for human beings who are sinful to feel the reality of God, but if God is the one who created hell, and whose majesty makes hell just and understandable, then this is a golden moment. The reason hell is so terrible is because God is so great that despising him is so evil that it deserves this terrible punishment.

In other words, the horror of hell is a signpost concerning the infinite worth and preciousness and beauty and goodness and justness of God. If he were small, if God were small, hell would be lukewarm. Because he’s great, scorning God is a horrible thing. This is a golden moment for how to teach a child about how real and how great God is.

2. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity to teach about the nature and the exceedingly great seriousness of sin. Hell is all about the outcome of a life of sin, and therefore a child needs to understand what sin is. Sin is all about falling short of God’s glory; that is, failing to see God as glorious and to honor him and thank him as glorious, and to follow him and praise him and glorify him. We need to make sure that our children see the direct connection between hell and sin.

The great and frightening tragedy of growing up feeling no fear of hell is that in a life like that, children will not be able to see sin as serious. It just won’t ever get to the point where sin is ugly and outrageous, because they haven’t schooled themselves on the penalty for sin, namely hell — that they will not see it as a great and horrible offense against God. Fearing hell is a golden opportunity for bringing our children into the light concerning the horrible darkness of sin.

3. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity to bring the child to an awareness of the reality and justness of God’s final judgment. This is a great and central biblical teaching that all human beings will stand before God to give an account of their lives someday. Hebrews 9:27, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

What a gift for a child to grow up deeply convinced that the whole world will face judgment someday. This will give seriousness to the child’s life. Parents worry far too much that their children will be unhappy in the fear of judgment when they ought to worry that their children will be happy with no fear of judgment. Hell is a golden opportunity to bring children into the light and the reality of God’s final judgment.

….

Don’t run away from this opportunity. Don’t miss this golden moment of using the fear of hell as a means of clarifying and establishing the truth of 1) a great and glorious God, 2) a horrible nature of sin, 3) the reality and justice of future judgment, 4) the greatness of the cross and Christ’s rescue from hell, and 5) the glory of a fearless life of faith.

— John Piper, Desiring God, Explaining Hell to Our Children, May 2, 2017

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27 Comments

  1. John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    Piper’s use of the doctrine of hell to terrorise little children is abominable. It is totally lacking in compassion and kindness towards little children.

    What he teaches will give some children nightmares. His Calvinistic theology is reprehensible. It is based on fear and punishment. The atonement interpretation is penal substitution where a God of retribution punishes Jesus in our place, and only forgives if we repent, otherwise we are doomed to the lake of fire, God’s eternal torture chamber is God’s vengeance on the non elect.

    I hope Evangelicals will throw this Calvinism and all Evangelical theologies that teach retributive punishment into the dustbin of history, but my hope is forlorn as some passages in the bible seem to teach this theory and the NT itself seems to teach hell as eternal punishment. Jesus himself seems to teach hell and he is in error on this subject as it is inconsistent with the command to love our enemies and God being compassionate towards the ungrateful and the so-called “wicked”.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

    Reply
    1. anotherami

      Even without all the other problems I have with Calvinism’s inherent cruelty, Calvinism always had a fatal flaw to me– it teaches Jesus died and was punished for all the sins of humanity in the space of three days, but if a person doesn’t accept Jesus, then they will be punished for all eternity. This makes zero sense on two fronts: 1. All human sin across all time could be paid for in 3 days by Jesus, but it will take eternity to punish an individual for their own sins alone. 2. If I reject Jesus, then God exacts vengeance for my personal sins twice; once from Christ between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and then again from me for eternity. In that case, Jesus bore something completely undeserved. Seriously, WTF?!? This basic contradiction was what originally repulsed me. If God is just, then why did He punish Christ for the sins of the non-elect then still toss them into Hell? Hell is said to be the just punishment for our sins but punishing twice for the same sin is NOT justice, I don’t care how you try to slice it. Maybe Bruce can explain the mental gymnastics required, but it never made a drop of sense to me.

      Reply
      1. Byron Smith

        The long and short of Calvinism for me, as I understood it was this. God has an elect that he preordained to salvation, and only them (whether you think he did it before the Fall as I did, Supralapsarianism, or after in light of the Fall, Infralapsarianism, is an in-house debate between Calvinists, and most of the creeds and such as I understand it affirm the second one contrary to my view, and I found out a few years ago the rabbit hole goes even deeper than that and I didn’t realize it). When Jesus died, he died to redeem only the Elect, who are known only to God, not to man. In Calvinism Jesus did not die for a single non-elect person, so their sins are never redeemed and their final destiny is exactly preordained by God for them to take the down escalator instead of the up one. However, since none of us mortals know the identity of the elect, beyond our own status questionably, the Gospel of God’s Grace gets preached to all, the Holy Spirit uses that to zap the elect into regeneration (and it could be later that they are actually converted and saved) which is an invisible spiritual process that no human can see or verify has taken place (it too is known only by God). So, theoretically, you have people like me and Bruce who had all the external signs of conversion and salvation, but somehow we were never regenerated by the Holy Spirit in the first place, and unlike some, we are revealing our status as non-elect before death. But there is a catch-22 there, too, because even someone like Bruce could be elect and no one but God knows it, and if that is so, he will without fail repent and convert to the Christian faith, having been invisibly regenerated by the Holy Spirit at some point. I hope some of that made sense. Now it all just sounds like magic to me, and I no longer believe in it. No offense intended to Christians, but Calvinistic soteriology is one of the most convoluted, complicated systems of theology I’ve seen in my limited experience, though I know next to nothing outside of Christianity.

        Reply
      2. Byron Smith

        There is also Amyraldism the so-called “Four Point” Calvinism which to my understanding seems to teach that God still has predestination and elect, and Jesus died to redeem only the elect for salvation, but that he died for all humankind in a generic redemptive way that somehow does not redeem their for salvation but does something with their sin before God’s eyes. I was trying to follow a particular teacher named Conrad Murrell on this, and I never did fully understand it, but he made reference to the scape goat in Israel I believe it was, and also the OT reference which I don’t have available to me at the moment where if a murder occurred in the land and the murderer was unknown, then an animal sacrifice occurred to pardon the iniquity of the people in the land though the murderer himself was still held to be guilty before God. Sorry, that’s the best I can do. Maybe someone who understands that system better can explain it better. I’m sure Bruce studied it, too. But basically, it comes down to what Conrad Murrell called Universal Propitiation instead of the Limited Atonement in the Tulip yet somehow still only the elect were saved.

        Reply
        1. anotherami

          I thank you for the attempt to further explain but it’s about as clear as mud. The idea of a deity who would create humans only to condemn all but a tiny number to eternal torment is abhorrent to me and one I was not raised with. Even as a person who retains a belief in the Divine of some sort, I reject the Calvinistic version of God outright. If that’s the only way to Heaven, send me to Hell, even if I was supposed to be among the so-called elect. Everything I admire about the story of Jesus calls me to reject allowing my fellow humans to suffer while I am spared. Either we all get there eventually or I’m not going. I cannot worship a Divine would allow anything less. Perhaps I’m not any kind of Christian anymore at all, though I still think in the terms of that faith. Calvinism does explain the complete lack of empathy for larger society on the part of those who follow it though. In fact, cultivating a lack of empathy would seem to necessary to being able to follow it.

          Reply
          1. Byron Smith

            Oh, I’m with you 100% now. I can no longer stomach Calvinism or any of its variants, for the same reasons you gave. I have to cringe in agreement with your last two sentences, though. It’s very hard not to be filled with pride and self-importance when you hold to what is basically a theologically elitist doctrine. I don’t know if the Divine exists or not, but I love the idea of Universalism. I really hope Christianity will progress towards that and have it become the majority view.

  2. Trenton

    That kid will probably say the sinners prayer a thousand times over his lifetime and still think hes going to hell. Pipers prescription is like a drug whose side effects are worse than the thing they are supposed to cure.

    Reply
  3. Byron Smith

    Bruce, thank you for criticizing my former theological superheroes with your brand of humor, which I find to be quite therapeutic. Thank you. Also, I like what the two former commenters said. How on Earth did I ever fall in love with Calvinism in the first place? I suppose it appealed to both my pride and feelings of being an outcast and a misfit. I’m still an outcast and a misfit, but at least I no longer have to hobble around on such reprehensible theology. So that’s progress at least. I find your blog to very helpful and encouraging. I mainly keep up via the email digest, though.

    Reply
  4. JR

    I used to be a big fan of Piper and still respect him.

    But what he says here is dangerous to young minds. So many christians I know struggle with ‘assurance’. So many sermons are designed to give christians confidence that they are loved by god. Why? Because from a young age they have been told that their heavenly father puts bad children in the oven.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      JR, what can you respect about a man who is responsible for cheering on child abuse? He takes his reading of scripture as licence to abuse and is a virulent piece of shit. Respect him? Bullshit.
      Perhaps you mean, setting aside John Piper’s sick brain, he is a good dresser and speaks well?
      The man belongs in a padded room with Michael Pearl. Respect? Yuck.

      Reply
      1. JR

        Sorry my glasses slipped for a moment and I saw the world in shades of grey.

        Despite now completely disagreeing with my former hero on everything from Paul’s view of justification to the reality of hell (and God for that matter) I still remember hearing him honestly admit before uk evangelical leaders that he had become obsessed by his celebrity status, an honesty I respected.

        Glasses back on and everything is black and white again. Evangelicals – 100% bad, stupid and not worthy of any respect.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          When I was a Calvinist, I had a lot of respect for Piper. Over time, as I became more progressive, his Fundamentalism grated on me. As with Al Mohler, Tim Keller, etal, Piper had god-like status among Evangelical Calvinists. Many of the things I hated about the IFB church movement, I began to see among the Calvinists. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising since many Reformed Baptists/Sovereign Grace Baptists/Evangelical Calvinists came from IFB backgrounds. The Fundamentalism remained, despite the soteriological changes.

          Reply
        2. Brian

          Well, no, JR… Piper is not even close to being ‘all evangelicals’. Many evangelicals are able to respect their children, not assault them and terrorize them. Perhaps you would suggest that they are not truly evangelizing then and have fallen under the influence of ‘the world’ but I think Piper is not merely one of ‘them’ but a sick fuck who encourages child abuse. He uses the hammer of innocence-hating religion to build his sick idea that kids benefit from being abused. THAT is my point.
          I am tickled that you admire a man who is able to admit something publicly but what does that have to do with his advocating violence and harm being visited on children?
          One of the glaring failures of Christian love is willful destruction of innocence in childhood, the institutionalized hatred that is passed along as God’s love. Piper is an asshole, a grey one, I admit. And he speaks well when he admits he is….

          Reply
  5. Geoff

    What an absolutely dreadful thing to instil in a child’s mind. It’s no wonder so many evangelicals develop deep psychological problems and have such difficulty enjoying life.

    At age 6 children shouldn’t be thinking about death, other than in a very vague and detached way, something that only happens to ‘old’ people. Of course children must be taught to understand, and be able to distinguish, right and wrong, but teaching them all this silly nonsense of fearing hell is just plain disgraceful. The word ‘sin’ should be erased from the English language.

    Reply
  6. Matilda

    Piper’s views are sick and appalling. I raised 3 kids in fundyland. Once we were at a friend’s 5th birthday party when another guest suddenly started crying, food half-eaten on his plate. The host realised in horror, his family was veggie and he’d just eaten a sausage roll and was very distressed. That incident made me see that it is wrong to place burdens on small kids that developmentally they cannot cope with. My DD was sensitive and prone to nightmares and we had to be careful what she saw and read, so we did gloss over stories like Daniel and even Noah till she was older. Even in my state of fundy-dissonance, I believed childhood should be happy and carefree, as far as is humanly possible, not marked by fear, nightmares and guilt.

    Reply
  7. Cob

    Oh my my what a wonderful sermon full of teachable moments. How insightful, it’s always best to learn up the youngins before they can actually question whether something is true or not, it’s like training a dog without the expense of buying dog biscuits. Why when little Timmy starts acting up at Walmart whining for some Marshmallow Mateys I just grab the lighter out of my pocket and flick it on and off a few times it gives a campfire effect to the demented grin on my face, the little shit turns white as ghost and breaks into a cold sweat, I just mouth the words “praise Jaysus” and wink. You’ve never seen a more obedient child. Pavlov ain’t got nothing on me.
    I just love how the Lord laid it on Piper’s heart to show the evils of a carefree child too. I won’t tolerate non of the “healthy well adjusted engaging” psychobabble used to describe a demon child. Being the Gawd fearing man that I am I keep an eye on my Annie when she’s playing tag at Chaich with the other four year olds, when she gets to giggling and smiling too much I take her out to the prairie dog town afterwards with my flame thrower and torch a handful of them while shouting “Hallelujah” As we watch the burning rodents running from their holes I say “Gawd is so good you deserve to roast like that little prairie dog because you lied and said the cookie monster was in your closet. But he had a bunch of people torture himself so he doesn’t have to burn you alive. That’s how good Gawd is”
    No child of mine is gonna be brainwashed by them idolatrous tree hugging liberals

    Reply
  8. Cob

    On a more serious note, is my satire there honestly any more absurd than Piper’s writing? The thing I love about satire is it teaches critical thinking, how I wish Christians could read that and after getting angry, defensive, and feeling misrepresented actually think about how much sense it doesn’t make. I wish they could see idea that God eternally torturing people for being bad (often times in ways that hurt no one in any significant way) is every bit as absurd, cruel, idiotic, neurotic, out of proportion, abusive, and bat shit crazy as a redneck burning prairie dogs alive with a flame thrower in front of a four year old while threatening her as a means of control. Even if they didn’t change their religion I just wish they could see what they would see if they could see themselves from outside their box.
    I could also wish that monkeys would fly out of my ass. I better start bringing extra pants to work in case the more likely of the two happens

    Reply
  9. Ami

    As a mandatory reporter, if I suspect a child is being abused physically or emotionally or being neglected, I am required to let someone in CPS know.

    Piper is advocating emotional abuse of children. If I were given the opportunity, I would kick him in his teeny little substandard balls.

    As a three and four year old child, my babysitter put me in a dark closet and told me the devil was going to come and take me to HELL. That was my punishment for misbehaving. Having now raised two children, I can be logical… what the FUCK can a 4 year old do that’s sinful???

    I was afraid for years and years and had absolutely horrible nightmares until I was at least ten years old.

    And frightening children is one of the only ways to get them to stay on the straight and narrow, I guess. A lot of them never outgrow it.

    I wonder all the time how I managed to do so.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      I’m sure glad you made it, Ami. Your voice is clear anf true and it does my heart good to know that child advocates are alive and kicking at the pricks. I am also very sorry to know that you were terrorized by a sicko using religio-horror. I weep when i hear of children tortured for-their-own-good! Sick, abused people eat up the Piper hate and delight in harming innocence.

      Reply
  10. Ami

    Oh, one more thing. He said at the end of his bullshit tirade, “the glory of a fearless life of faith.”

    Nope. EVERY person I know who is living a life as a Jesushead is fearful. The most fearful people I’ve ever met are Christians afraid of their god.

    Reply
  11. Ellie

    I remember seeing the movie “A thief in the night” back in the 70’s at church. I was probably about 6 or 7 at the time. I had nightmares for weeks! Then when I was going thru a “rebellious” phase in High school I remember coming home from school one day and my parents were not home or my brother. Then I walked down to my grandparent’s house and they were not there either. I had a panic attack thinking I was left behind! Anyone else see that movie?

    Reply
    1. Trenton

      We got the equally abominable left begind books when I was growing up. Over at slacktivist, he has a great review of just how awful they were, not to mention the sadistic glee with any passage that dealt with sinners getting their “just” punishment. The whole series is trash and only got more cringeworthy the later the publication date.

      Reply
    2. Byron Smith

      I am sorry for all the horrible experiences people have retold here. I did see the movie a Thief In The Night but it’s been a long time. I think I also read and devoured all the Left Behind books. For some strange, twisted reason I enjoyed reading them, although I had already left Dispensationalism behind when I started, having become more or less Amillennial, and left the Faith completely after I finished. For whatever reason, I had no urge whatsoever to take them seriously, and it was like one never-ending Hollywood B horror movie in book form for me. Then a few years ago, I had one of the most fun dreams I’ve ever had in my life in the same style as Left Behind. I got Left Behind (of course), and being a Calvinist somehow I knew I was not elect so I knew salvation was not something I needed to care about. So, I went right to work for the AntiChrist as soon as he was revealed and started hunting down, infiltrating, and destroying hidden churches wherever I could find them, and with my powers of persuasion, managed to compel many people to forsake Christ and take the Mark of the Beast as an evangelist for Evil I suppose (for some reason, in my dream, I must have had acquired this Mark supernaturally as soon as the Left Behind thing happened). And I was working my way up in the ranks of Evil, with my eyes set on becoming the third or fourth in line of power to the AntiChrist. I was very good at what I did, and truly loved doing it, in my dream. I knew where I belonged, I suppose. Not sure what brought that dream on, because it was every bit the pizza nightmare thing except I enjoyed the whole dream start to finish.

      Reply
  12. Justine Valinotti

    “Jesus is a half-naked guy, hanging, nailed to a cross, and then people wear that around their neck, and then those are the people that are upset about violence in movies.” –Marilyn Manson

    I had to look at that half-naked guy, hanging, nailed to a cross every day when I was in Catholic school.

    Sometimes I think the Church has some kind of arrangement with the American Psychiatric Association. After all, the church sure creates a lot of business for shrinks.

    Reply
  13. Jim

    My daughter told me that a few years ago at a thanksgiving dinner my x wife told my 6 year old grandson that if he didn’t receive Jesus in his heart he was going to burn in hell forever. That teed my daughter off. After arguing with her mom about it my x flipped over the kitchen table with all the food on it. My daughter sent the kids upstairs to pack their bags and moved out. Just another reason why I’ve de-converted. Christians are some messed up people.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Jim,

      Thanks for commenting. What do you mean when you use the word deconverted? The reason I am asking is when I click the link in your comment profile it takes me to a Christian website. When the typical readers of this blog use the word deconverted they mean leaving Christianity. It is a word most often used by atheists and agnostics.

      That question aside, I totally understand anger/frustration when dealing with children being pressured to get saved lest they end up in hell. We have a similar problem in our family with three of my grandchildren. Their mother is determined to convert them to Christianity, going so far as to tell them that “in THIS house we are believers!” She believes morality comes from believing in Jesus (she attends an Evangelical church). My son, on the other hand, is not a believer. I can’t speak for him concerning what he is, but I know one thing for sure: he is NOT a Christian and he definitely opposes any attempt to evangelize his children. When the children are at his home, he promotes skepticism, reason, and critical thinking skills. The children are asking questions about religion. I am encouraged by how they are using critical thinking skills to answer these questions.

      I oppose attempts to evangelize children. Let them alone until they can rationally work through questions about religion, the Bible, and faith. Of course, Evangelicals know that evangelizing children when they are young is crucial to keeping them in the church when they get older.

      Bruce

      Reply
      1. Brian

        When I go back to my earliest memories that involve religion, I remember being tortured by those who gave me life to begin with… I remember hearing exactly what was going to happen to my body in Hellfire if I did not listen very carefully to what was being required of me…. I remember suffering night-terror with images of melting-flesh Hell.
        This was toroture committed by my own loved ones. Children do not have a choice about the love they feel for their parents and they will believe anything that comes from their mouths. And the very sickest part of it all to me is that they gather together to sing praises and be thankful to the most vicious fucking creep ever vomited out of the human brain, the triune God. What a prick. What a fucker. What a complete asshole.

        Reply

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