I recently saw the acclaimed and quite stunning film ‘Belfast’ and for those not familiar with it, it is made by Sir Kenneth Branagh and is a semi-autobiographical tale of his life being brought up in Northern Belfast in the late 1960s during ‘The Troubles’. It is so good partly because it is less about the terror atrocities that took place in Belfast but more a warmly nostalgic eulogy about that time when you are 9 or 10, having the time of your life, fancying the girl who sits behind you in school (even if she does follow another denomination) and where your parents dance in the street to Van Morrison.
However, there is a scene in the film when the young Branagh goes to church and is terrified within an inch of his life by the fire and brimstone preaching of the local minister. He talks loudly and violently of the two routes in life you can follow-one is to the promised land whilst the other is Hell. Sadly, young Branagh could not remember which route was the one to follow and how you avoided the road to Hell. The point of the scene though was how damaging such preaching was to young minds then and now.
Previously it was the Christian way to convert and control people through the various ‘Great Awakenings’ in our history with the last one accepted as probably being in the 1960s- we have I suspect all witnessed or heard such preaching – the one where our sins are denounced, we are told about the imminent threat of hell awaiting us if we do not repent and the preacher will generally shout, yell and even pound the pulpit. The effect in the end is quite often we get taught the religion of Fear rather than of Love.
Compare that approach then with that of the Southern Baptist churches in the USA who crafted for themselves a God who was kindly, full of compassion and love for his creation, and it reaped great awards- which is way it is the 2nd biggest Christian denomination across the Atlantic.
We should be grateful that the fire and brimstone style of preaching has gone out of style to be replaced by something wiser, more encouraging, and frankly something that is more effective in bringing young minds to Christ.