An official at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Russ Moore reprised on Oct. 28, 2011 a 2008 Baptist Press editorial wherein he decries his perceived deficiencies of Judgement House ministries. Below is his editorial, and then my response to it.
FIRST-PERSON: 7 reasons Halloween judgment houses often miss the mark
Russell D. Moore
Posted on Oct 28, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP -- 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: Howmany 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 Hepoints the world to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
7. They're easier to pull off than talking to people. Can people be saved through Judgment Houses? Sure. I have a colleague who was saved at a Stryper heavy metal concert in the 1980s. Are the intentions behind them good? Absolutely. If you have a Judgment House and it's enabling you to share Christ, have at it with blessings on you.
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.
When in 2008 a permutation of your current Baptist Press opinion article on Judgment Houses appeared in Baptist Press, I jotted a quick email to you that has never been answered.
If memory serves, you noted in 2008 that you had never met anyone who had come to faith in Christ through a Judgment House ministry. I think my emailed response to you was that you should "get out more."
Check this citation from Baptist Press, posted Oct 22, 2001.
Judgement House effort 'absolutely worth it'
by Janice Backer
CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)--Tired of planning the same type of alternative Halloween youth event for Bethel Baptist Church in Moody, Ala., Tom Hudgins decided use the paganholiday to present a gospel drama message. In 1983, the first production of"Judgement House" opened for two nights, with 500 people attending and 50 people making professions of faith (emph. added). "I couldn't believe it. We had revival meetings in the past, but not this kind of response," Hudgins recounted. Since that production, Judgement House has been produced in more than 220 churches in 27 different states and five foreign countries, with more than 63,200 people making first time professions offaith or recommitments to Christ (emph. added).
In your current BP opinion piece, you say Judgement Houses are "not scary enough." Have you been to one of these evangelistic efforts, Russ? See the same article noted above from Baptist Press:
Hudgins ... explained that Judgement House is an eight-scene walk-through drama which tells the story of the death of two young people. Currently there are eightdifferent scripts dealing with cancer, abusive family situations, automobile or plane crashes or some other calamity. At the end of the 45-minute tour, the gospel is presented (emph. added)http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=11987.
I've attended a number of these events, and the scenes are graphic. Further, I have seen genuine fright, fear and terror on the faces of many attendees.
"They assume people's problem is that they don't know about judgment" is your second point. Are you not also making an assumption, here? Personal assumption is a willful act. Unless you have talked with the Judgement House creators, then you have no basis in fact to say what they may or may not assume. If you refer to the ministry itself, then you are welcome to your opinion.
You wrote that Judgement Houses "abstract judgment from the love of God" noting that the "Good News doesn't come at the end." Just how big is your gnat? As a minister of the Gospel yourself, you ought to be pleased that such a ministry has wrought thousands into the Kingdom rather than to denigrate the ministry for an improper format as you see it.
You wrote that Judgement Houses "abstract judgment from the glory of God. The prophet Isaiah doesn't see that he's 'undone' first by the horror of judgment." Do you not think, Russ, that, if God had given Isaiah a view of his lostness in hell that Isaiah would not have repented? It was a sermon on hell preached by my father thatdrew me to God, not Isaiah 6.
"It's hard to cry at a Judgment House" you wrote. This statement alone tells me you have never been to a Judgement House presentation. I have seen countless people shed tears, and they do so easily at such an event. It may be hard for some to cry, but it is not hard for others. Note this BP citation: "Registered nurse Pam Beverly was moved to tears when she went through Higher Ground's Judgment House in 1994" http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=3936.
The above-cited 1997 article by Ken Walker notes that Pam Beverly came to Christ that very night. Said article casts a different light upon your opinion piece. Reading it may help you moderate more toward the use of means to help bring people to Christ.
"The Holy Spirit doesn't usually like to work that way" is your next presumptive statement. Pop quiz: How many people do you know who came to know Christ through the witness of a friend who read to them Isaiah 6? Next question: How do you know how it is that the Holy Spirit "likes" to work? Baptist Press reported that, as of 2001, 63,200 people had made first time professions of faith or recommitments to Christ. Later in that same article, the percentage of those confessing faith in Christ at such events is 7 percent. Odd, isn't it, that people are coming to know Christ and recommitting their lives to him in a manner that the Holy Spirit "doesn't usually like." (Hmmm?... "doesn't usually like ..." So He sometimes likes it and sometimes doesn't. And here I thought God was immutable.) As far as relationship evangelism is concerned, countless thousands of Christians bring their lost friends to Judgement House ministries every year. Is this not a form of relationship evangelism?
Indeed, people do come to Christ through foolish ways, whether through a Judgement House or through week-to-week preaching in a church. However, the latter doesn't seem to be so successful as of late. I'm counting on the Great Commission Task Force Report's implementation to remedy that situation. Meanwhile, 7 percent of folks seeing a Judgement House ministry will still keep coming to Christ. Wonder what the percentage of people coming to Christ is who hear preaching week-to-week? If it were 7 percent, I daresay we'd need the GCR at all.
"They're easier to pull off than talking to people," you opined. Now, really, Russ, can you say this with a straight face? Are you not aware of the logistical and theatrical preparation necessary to "pull off" a Judgement House ministry? But, if you are saying it's easier to use theatrics than it is to have a face-to-face conversation with someone about their lostness, my response would be two-fold: 1. Tell that to the folks at Sherwood Baptist Church, and 2. When is the last time you had such a face-to-face conversation with someone about their lostness? I suspect your honest answer is at the root of your assessment that such is difficult.
And one of your concluding statements is this: "But the fact remains that most lost people in your neighborhood are going to be saved the same way people have always been saved ..." How is it that lost people "have always (emph.added) been saved"? You suggest that method is relationship evangelism. What sort of relationship did Jonathan Edwards have with those to whom he read, from horseback, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"? Those who heard that sermon claimed to have felt the heat and smelled the stench of very hell itself. What sort of personal relationship did Billy Sunday or Billy Graham have with the multitudes to whom they preached and witnessed? To say that relationship evangelism is what wins people to Christ, in my opinion, diminishes the power of the Word and casts doubt on God's sovereignty. That's a bit like Wade Burleson saying that his willingness to drink wine at a dinner prepared by a lost woman led to her salvation, and that of her husband. Rev. Burleson must not give much stock to God's sovereignty in the salvation of lost people. I guess grace may be even more irresistible after one drinks aglass or two of wine. (Note that when we say it is the Spirit's wooing thatbrings people to Christ, we must always include the apostrophe and use an upper case 'S'.)
Your opinion piece cited some Bible verses. I'll cite you some, though there are others in defense of JudgementHouse ministry:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people sothat by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 9.19-23.
My guess is that the apostle Paul would applaud Judgement House ministries.
If you write about Judgement Houses again, I trust you will celebrate, rather than denigrate a method that has a 7 percent success rate, and that you would challenge SBC churches everywhere to implement the ministry on an annual basis.