RLST 125W

HELL AND THE DEVIL

 

Today we will be watching a film about the history of these related concepts – Hell, and the Devil. Historically, both have occupied a far more central role in Christian belief and practice than they do today, and itŐs vital to understand them. (A lot of the same issues will arise again when we discuss The Screwtape Letters). Some questions to consider when watching the film:

 

How central do you think ideas of Hell, the Devil, and evil were to the earliest Christians, and to the world of the New Testament? Were they seen as symbolic, or were they real spiritual forces? According to the New Testament, how seriously did Jesus treat such ideas?

 

How important were these concepts to the Christian framework, ie in explaining just what people needed salvation from?

 

How did the early Christians explain the power of the Devil? Did God grant it to him, or did he maintain a kind of successful insurgency?

 

What happens to these beliefs in our period, ie after the Reformation? Belief in a material Hell declines steadily from the eighteenth century onwards, among a majority of groups. Why?

 

Without the idea of Hell at the forefront of Christian doctrine, what kind of problems did Christian churches run into, for example in explaining natural disasters? How did they explain great acts of apparent evil, like tyrannies or massacres?

 

How have changes in science and medicine affected older ideas of evil and the demonic?

 

How do modern churches confront the fact that the scriptures they teach have a much stronger belief in Hell and the Devil than is common today? How do they deal with these passages, often in the words of Jesus himself, especially when dealing with the healings and exorcisms recorded in the gospels?

 

What kinds of churches today maintain the traditional vision of a powerful devil and demonic forces? Why do they do so? What impact does this have on their belief systems? What are the dangers or problems they may face as a result of these beliefs?

 

Briefly: what happens to Christianity without a belief in Hell, the Devil, and supernatural evil?

 

How do the ideas we are discussing here mesh with the concepts of apocalyptic that we have discussed recently? What role does the Devil play in the apocalyptic mindset?