Scaring the hell out of teenagers will cost you $299 this year if you intend to use the Hell House Outreach kit written by the Rev. Kennan Roberts, of New Destiny Christian Center in Denver, Colorado. I’m not making this up! Roberts estimates that 800 churches, in every state in America and 18 countries, now use his product. He has sold over 3,000 of his kits to date. 

In one sketch the Roberts Hell House kit tells how you can do a tour in which a “demon” guide marries two men. The skit then fast forwards to a hospital room where one of the partners lies in a bed dying of AIDS. Roberts notes that, “We’re not saying if you have AIDS or an abortion you’re going to hell. There is forgiveness.”

In Burleson, Texas, a church uses the kit and charges $15 admission, Because of the show’s graphic nature children younger than 14 must have a parental release signed at the ticket booth. Teens are herded into pitch-black closets where the floor suddenly shakes and rumbles, creating the sensation that the enclosures are elevators and the occupants are descending into the pit of hell. After a glimpse of the nether-world they enter a softly lighted room where they face the Son of God, speaking from the cross. After filing past an empty tomb the kids are told, “You do have a choice.” When it all ends the teens enter a brightly lit room where adult church members counsel them how to make a decision for Christ.

At best this is the ultimate form of tacky evangelism. At worst it is crass manipulation. I tend to lean toward the worst case interpretation. Every time I think this kind of stuff is passé it takes a new form. And we wonder why modern secularists think Christians are either dangerous, or at least nuts.

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  1. Nathan Petty October 31, 2006 at 9:31 am

    I would vote for manipulation. In a sense this is just the logical outcome of the “hard sell” invitational system I grew up in. Whether it is a Halloween type scare or an emotionally charged sermon directed to a 7 year old, it is in some respects still a “trick” with the “treat” being heaven when you die.
    In either case there will most likely be little or no discipleship, little or no spiritual growth, and little or no effect for the kingdom. Finally, in my experience, the vast majority of those so “converted” will eventually drop out and never be seen again (which is not to say they aren’t saved and may yet someday have God direct their lives).
    One last comment. This type of ministry is also a logical outcome of leaving “evangelism” to the paid staff. If I just give money to the church then the church (staff) will leverage our resources for maximum benefit. While this concept works pretty well in business, God is not honored when we use business management techniques as the means of advancing the kingdom.
    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  2. Coops was here October 31, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    Halloween evangelism, not what you think

  3. Louis November 1, 2006 at 8:51 am

    Why isn’t this “incarnational” ministry? Why isn’t this part of our “generous orthodoxy”? The more I am exposed to friendly, post-modern theologians and ministries, I am realizing they are just as exclusive, narrow, and have their own brand of fundamentalism. The main difference between the two camps: the post-moderns use an external measuring stick (how does the world perceive us) and the fundies use more of an internal measuring stick.
    Last night, an acquaintence was slamming Bob Larson & these other ministries that they grew up with that traced rock music and the devil. Granted, I think a lot of this doesn’t follow, but I remember watching these things as a kid and they were instrumental in bringing me to Christ. It reminds me of people who are discipled by Crusade through college and then become Reformed and decide to throw Crusade under the bus.
    How “generous” are we really with our orthodoxy? Or are we only generous with those that are actually more liberal in their outlook, i.e. Obama (thinking there are many paths to ‘god’), but despising our “fundamentalist” brothers.
    John, you say you left the “watch dog” mentality, but just watch for different things now. The “orthodoxy” isn’t that much more generous, but the categories & language have merely shifted.

  4. Adam Shields November 1, 2006 at 9:28 am

    The difference may be who we are being generous to. Are we being generous to those that are outside the church so that they come into the church? I have seen posting about this on a variety of anti-Christian blogs and news sites. This is what John was talking about. Why do we need to rile up people when there will likely be no benefit. How many people will become Christians through this? My guess is that pretty much only Christians will go and their faith will not be challenged much. But those that are not Christians that hear about it will have their preconceived notions confirmed and be that much more distanced from real faith.

  5. Jamison November 1, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Here’s a link to last week’s Newsweek article on one such Hell House recently staged in my own borough of Brooklyn.
    As a pastoral intern here, I find this totally unhelpful and infuriating. FYI, a fairly balanced documentary was made on the infamous Hell House outside of Dallas, Texas. Info here:
    I can assure you that such endeavors scare the living daylights out of New Yorkers, myself included, and not for any of the right reasons. FWIW.

  6. John Armstrong November 2, 2006 at 8:33 am

    Thanks Jamison for these links. I am afraid they confirm my sense of the inappropriateness of this kind of evangelism.
    Generous orthodoxy compels us to extend the love of Christ to all who love him, or at least it should. My concern for many conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical Christians is not that they don’t truly love Christ but that they do not yet grasp the catholicity of the church or understand our present culture missionally. These are huge issues biblically. I am not placing them outside the church in my treatment of them, which is in fact what they often do to those they oppose them. The issue here is not “who is” Christian vs.”who isn’t” Christian but catholicity vs. sectarianism. This problem has been with us for centuries and can be clearly seen in the Jesus story of the New Testament.

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