As the weather gets cooler, the leaves change color, college football dominates the landscape, and little kids pull pumpkin guts out, one thing constantly fills my mailbox: judgment house invites. The picture below sums up my response to every single one of them.
Timothy George and Russell Moore offer some great perspective on these, and I would highly recommend their reading. Moore’s has been a consistent post I read every fall and pass along to other people wondering about visiting one of these, and George’s just was published this month. I would add the following to the discussion:
The problem is often moral, rather than spiritual – Most judgment houses focus on a particular issue (abortion, homosexuality, drug use, etc.) that is meant to display the destructive effects of sin. But, what’s often lacking in this presentation is that root problem, the real need for a Savior, isn’t a crack pipe or a visit to Planned Parenthood, it’s a heart that is set against God and in open rebellion towards the Creator of the universe. Most of the presentations in judgment houses end with those who were caught up in the particular sins suffering in hell. But a more terrifying picture is that of the kid who does nothing majorly wrong, attends church, has Sunday school ribbons, and is well thought of as the model of a Christian teenager, who then is condemned at the end of the presentation because he never truly had his heart changed. Moral issues call for moral answers, moral solutions that fix the problem – But the far deeper need is not for rehab or another answer, the deeper need is for a Savior who heals, restores, and gives life to a dead heart. When we reduce the problem to particular sins rather than addressing the root of the issue, we give a sugar pill.
Satan gets too much screen time – Richard Dawkins, who is no friend to the Church, featured a judgment house in his documentary The Root of All Evil? and the striking observation I found was that Satan gets far too much attention. Romans 3:9-18 lays out a universal case that we are all in open rebellion against God. We don’t need Satan to coax us or force us into sin, we do a very good job of it on our own. While he is the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), we cannot give him the credit we deserve. He is the Tempter, the Liar, the Deceiver, the Adversary, but the actor in sin isn’t him, it’s us. We are the ones who make the decision to actively disobey and actively engage in that which God does not delight in.
Haunted houses with a Bible verse – Let’s be honest, this is something in Evangelical Christian sub-culture we struggle with. We love what the world has, but we don’t want to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) nor do we want the pleasures of the world (1 John 2:15-17) but at the same time we do. So we doctor things up and instead of calling them haunted houses we “church it up,” call it outreach, and put it forth. The reality is we want the same result we do from a haunted house, to be frightened. Same thing with calling dancing “interpretive movement” and setting it to an awkward song. If we’re really honest, the issue is more than we want what the world has, because our heart still struggles with the things of the world/flesh (Romans 7:15-20). Let’s repent, not just of trying to copy things and baptize them to call them Christian, but of our unnecessary desire to find acceptance from a world set against the things of God.
One-sided judgment – Most judgment houses focus on the punishment of the individual, but overlook that on the cross Jesus absorbs all the punishment and wrath intended for the sinner. We are quick in judgment houses to talk about the justice of God towards the unrepentant, but fail to mention the justice of God towards the repentant as displayed on the cross. The satisfaction of the wrath of God in the person of Jesus is the only means of our hope, not the fear factor of sin. A better picture of judgment also includes the True Judgment of God against sin as displayed on the cross. On the cross, Jesus became sin, and as Shai Linne says in The Cross,
But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites
He’s the Light, but being treated like
He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife
He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer
Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer
Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside
Filled with inner pride while committing genocide
I could write for a billion years and still can’t name
Cheese factor – Multi-million dollar Hollywood productions with CGI, captivating storylines, and powerful actors. We all love these. They’re gripping. We flock to theaters to watch the latest. The powerful impact of these experiences leave us wanting more (or if you’re a Star Wars geek, having fake lightsaber fights in the theater lobby). Sadly, most judgment houses fall way short of it. It’s hard to capture the horrors and screams and darkness of hell when a teenager is wearing a Wal-Mart devil mask, the smoke machine doesn’t work, and you can see the lines on the basketball court. They’re not convincing, they’re not captivating, and sadly they’re not very scary.