Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 4, 2009

Turn or Burn

The old “turn or burn” message isn’t as popular as it used to be. I’m talking about the gospel preaching that says “turn to Jesus or you will burn forever in hell after you die.”

Actually, we shouldn’t even call that message “gospel”, we should call it what my friend John Stonecypher labels the “baspel”. If “gospel” is good news then “baspel” is bad news and, as John would say, baspel is like hog manure – even a little bit in your ice cream is too much.

Why is “turn or burn” no longer a commonly used approach among preachers and evangelists? It’s not because they no longer believe it. Most Christians, at least evangelical Christians, believe that those who die without turning to Jesus will burn in hell – irrevocably, eternally, without any further chance for repentance.

No, the old “turn or burn” message hasn’t fallen on hard times for like of adherents, it’s fallen on hard times because it doesn’t work.

That’s right, most Christians have realized they can’t scare their family, friends, and neighbors into loving Jesus. So most Christians have stopped using fear as a tactic. Now we’re mostly trying to place nice – free car washes, soup kitchens, trash clean up, and that sort of thing.

Perhaps we ought to stop the crazy merry-go-round called Christianity for just a moment and ask why “turn or burn” doesn’t work. Consider this:

If it is true that an inescapable hell awaits all who fail to repent before death,

And if it is true that the Father desires that none should perish,

Then wouldn’t the Holy Spirit back us up when we preach hellfire and brimstone by scaring the be-jeezus out of people to prevent them from dying without repenting?

And yet we find the opposite is true. As soon as we start preaching an angry, human-barbecuing God who loves to roast the unrepentant we are abandoned by not only our audience but the Holy Spirit himself!

Here’s the bottom line as I see it: the gospel is the good news of humanity’s adoption into the life of the Trinity through the incarnation of the Son as the man Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5, Rom. 5:18, Col. 1:20, Eph. 2:15). And that’s why “turn or burn” doesn’t work. While we’re telling people that God is angry at them and ready to fry them for their sins the Holy Spirit is going around telling them that they are liked, loved, and included in Jesus. They don’t always understand exactly what the Spirit is saying but they know that God must be more loving than we are or we wouldn’t even exist!

One final caveat, just to head off the angry comments from everyone who loves hell so much: I do believe in hell. I believe hell is what we experience when we beleive a lie about God – for example, when we believe that he is an angry legalist who loves to roast sinners over an open pit.

We all have to repent of beleiving lies about the Father and believe the truth: that he is our loving Daddy who has adopted us in Jesus. Like the Father in the parable of the prodigal, our Dad in heaven never closes the door to that repentance, even after we have died.


  1. Well said, Jonathan! The Ogre God of Western Theological Christianity WOULD do what you describe in “turn or burn”. The Good News is, That God does not exist. Thank God! The ELECT of God IS humanity and ALL are made alive IN Christ. ( I Corinthians 15:22.). The concept of Plato’s hell is just that–Plato’s fable.

    I want to offer to your readers the “HELL PACKAGE” I put together a while back. They can access it at PASTOR PAUL on your Blog Roll above or E:mail me at :

    I will send it right out. Keep up the Good Work of Jesus IN you!!!

    P.S. Wait until you read the section on “LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN.” ( It has Nothing to do with hell or fire!!!!)



  2. Another idea is to see how they shared the Gospel in the Bible. The Book of Acts has 13 examples. Here’s a tidbit:

    Acts 17:30-31 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

  3. “Like the Father in the parable of the prodigal, our Dad in heaven never closes the door to that repentance, even after we have died.”

    While you are busy making up your own version of the Bible, why not say we don’t need to repent at all because nothing is a sin? That would eliminate the middleman.

    Seriously, the prodigal son repented. Before he died.

  4. I wasn’t thinking so much of the younger, prodigal son as I was the older, self-righteous son. At the end of the story he is outside the celebration (hell) and his Father is pleading with him to repent of his self-righteousness and come into the celebration banquet with his “sinful” brother.

  5. Thank you, Jon for those very encouraging words! After believing lies for so long, I am finding it somewhat a grieving process but so worth it! Thank you Neil for sending me to Acts 17 to read the scripture in context…It seems Paul was stirred passionately in Athens by the amount of false idols (lies) that were surrounding him, prompting him to speak to those that might listen and believe (repent) and as usual the philosophers called it babble…for me, it is hard (hell) to maintain a lie especially knowing the enormity of the Father’s love for all his kids!

    I have a lot to learn in my ignorance but in Jesus I have eternity to commune!

  6. Thanks, Kimberly – I like your way of saying it: “we have eternity to commune”!

  7. Many seem to think that Jesus only conquered death for himself.He has conquered death for all humanity. He was our death he is now our life. And if Jesus is our life would not even death (our passing from this life to the next) somehow be life wrapped up in the life of Jesus? He is there or their is no there.

  8. Good point, Rick! The Psalmist says “even if I descend down to hell, you are there” – whatever hell is, it cannot be out of the presence of the one who loves us and sustains our very existence.

  9. Pastor this is heresy. Really just about the entire blog is.

    Hell is when you believe a lie? The gospel is humanity’s adoption into the life of the Trinity?

    This is universalism. It is heresy. It’s not new and you are perpetuating it.

    How on earth do you read the Bible and come to these conclusions. No honest reading of Scripture results in Universalism.

  10. Do you not affirm these statements?

    On eternal judgment:

    “At the end of the age, God will gather all the living and the dead before the heavenly throne of Christ for judgment. The righteous will receive eternal glory, and the wicked will be condemned to the lake of fire. In Christ the Lord makes gracious and just provision for all, even for those who at death appear not to have believed the gospel.”

    On Hell:

    “Hell is the separation and alienation from God chosen by incorrigible sinners. In the New Testament, hell is referred to by the terms “lake of fire,” “darkness,” and Gehenna (a gorge outside Jerusalem where garbage was burned). Hell is characterized by punishment, torment, anguish, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and eternal destruction. The biblical terms Sheol and Hades, often translated “hell” or “the grave,” refer to the realm of the dead. The Bible teaches that unrepentant sinners will suffer the second death in the lake of fire, but it does not make absolutely clear whether this means annihilation or conscious spiritual alienation from God.”

    Both come from the statement of beliefs affirmed by the denomination your church is a part of. A straight reading seems to put your beliefs at odds with their statement.

  11. Good points, kschaub. Pastor Jonathan appears to be a universalist and selectively reads his Bible to form a god in his own image. Do a word search for “children of God” or similar phrases in the Bible. It is only used for those who trust in Christ, a la John 1:12″ “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”

  12. Here’s a link to a place where I discuss the issues of heresy and universalism:

    Regarding the statement of beliefs: Worldwide Church of God is a denomination that stresses unity on the core issues (such as Trinity, Hypostatic Union, Salvation by grace alone) and allows diversity on other issues (the nature of hell, e.g.). Whether or not my way of explaining things lines up word for word with WCG statements on their website I am happy to be part of a denomination that lives as a family and allows me to be distinctly myself.

  13. That was a tortured view of scripture to rationalize your heresy. I pray that you will repent and stop teaching those lies. Or at least be honest and stop calling yourself a Christian. I wish your denomination (and mine) exercised more discipline in its teachers.

  14. Wow. You’re in deep.

    Pastor you need to repent. I read the page you linked. It is bad scholarship. Bad theology.

    As to your WCG statement: where to begin . . .

  15. Hi Pastor Jonathan,

    As I read your post, I am struck by a few things. Your view of God as loving, gracious and our Heavenly Father (Who takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked) is correct and biblical, but only as far as it goes. It is incomplete, as you are overlooking the infinite holiness of God.

    In His perfection, God cannot abide with sin. In His mercy, God redeems sinners. How? By pouring His righteous wrath out on His Son – the propitiation for the sins of all who would believe on Him. I have read the Bible several times, and from Matthew to 2 Peter I counted over 100 instances where salvation was linked (directly or indirectly) to personal faith in Christ.

    But, let’s back up a moment and look at something else. You could accuse me of presuppositional apologetics for my comments above, but if we look at the Gospel text objectively, something else stands out.

    Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven. He warned. He pleaded. He laid out the way to heaven in clear and precise terms. I see no delight there – He WEPT over the fate of Jerusalem – those who rejected Him. What were John the Baptist’s first recorded words in Matthew? “Repent, for the kingdom is near”. Repentance is constantly hammered away at in the Gospels. Love is inextricably linked to obedience. The Way is narrow, indeed. We Evangelicals didn’t come up with that – Jesus Christ did.

    I hope that you will come to see that Christ is not simply one way of many, but is THE Way. Those who do not turn to Him surely will burn. And God will weep over the hardness of their hearts.

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