Pasadena church hopes to jar people out of sin Drama depicts heaven, hell PASADENA

May 14, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

For three weeks, members of a Pasadena church have fasted and prayed that a drama they are presenting this weekend will scare people out of hell.

Last year's production of "Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames," a series of vignettes of people confronting life after death, prompted some 150 people to convert to Christianity, members of the Assembly of God church say.

"Last year we had an amazing response," said the minister, the Rev. Philip Foster. "People who had attended church for years realized their lives weren't where they should have been. Non-Christians came and thought seriously about life after death. I've never seen anything like this before."

A cast of 50 church members will present the show, which focuses on the Christian belief in judgment after death, Sunday through Tuesday.

So serious are they about their production that some have skipped one meal a day for the last three weeks, and one family stopped watching TV.

"Those who skipped lunch would go some place private during the meal and take the time to read the Bible and pray," Mr. Foster said. Reality Ministries, a traveling team that takes the program throughout the United States and Canada, is directing the show.

A church lay leader, who is helping the team coordinate the event, says he's one product of last year's production.

Bob Hughes, 55, says the program changed his life. The Pasadena resident of 22 years said his daughter and wife attended church regularly, but he wasn't interested. But because his daughter and granddaughter were taking part in the program last spring, he went.

"It shows you the separation between people between heaven and hell -- if you believe there's a heaven and hell," Mr. Hughes said.

The script includes the screams of anguished souls being pulled by demons into hell. It focuses on the pain of family members who are separated as one goes to heaven and the other to eternal punishment.

So extreme are the sound and visual effects of the program that the church is providing child care -- in another building, Mr. Foster said.

Some adults may have trouble handing the effects, too, say those who criticize such an approach as a scare tactic.

Arnold B. Lovell, a Presbyterian and a professor of evangelism at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., questions the wisdom of approaches that frighten people into believing.

A healthy "fear of the Lord," meaning a "reverence of God that leads to obedience" has been part of Judeo-Christian theology throughout both the Old and New Testaments, Mr. Lovell said.

"In that respect, fear is part of what's appropriate. But when fear becomes one's normative method, fear ends up casting out love," he said.

"You don't need to beat people up emotionally to convert them to Christ," he added. "A super-emotional style can become very manipulated and orchestrated."

However, the professor said, "the other extreme is that we live in a culture where people have no fear or guilt. Bringing some sense of moral authority -- whether you agree with the approach or not -- can be something that calls people to repentance from sin, and that's crucial in any religious tradition."

Mr. Hughes says the program simply made him think hard.

"I was not a Christian. But the impact of the scenes made me think that I wasn't going to live here forever," he said. "It presented me with a day when I'd be judged."

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