The Rev. Shane Page said of all the requests he gets for sermon topics, hell tops the list.
"People are just genuinely fascinated with it," said Page, minister of evangelism and involvement at Myers Park United Methodist. A recent controversy over a North Carolina Methodist pastor who was dismissed from Marrow's Chapel in Henderson after posting a non-traditional view of hell on Facebook also has sparked interest in the topic.
In response, the clergy at Myers Park UMC are holding a discussion Monday evening to talk about the doctrine of heaven and hell and to dispel myths about the subjects.
"We aren't going to say anything new, but we are going to try to clarify some points," Page said. Pastors will not give their opinions on the topics; instead they will discuss relevant Bible verses and church teachings.
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The discussion will include an explanation of the "articles of religion," the beliefs of the Methodist church, and what the church has taught about hell, judgment and the "resurrection of the body" through the centuries.
Page said that many people have ideas about heaven and hell gleaned from sources ranging from Dante's "Inferno" to "Highway to Heaven," a 1980s television series starring the late Michael Landon.
The Bible, however, provides little in-depth information on heaven or hell.
"There are references to hell interspersed throughout the New Testament, but there's not a discourse," Page said. And Dante's famous imagery of the nine circles of hell? None of it is in the Bible, Page said.
"Scripture is more or less silent about painting a detailed picture of either place," he said.
The Myers Park UMC clergy also will talk about intellectuals throughout history who have challenged the idea of hell on biblical grounds, including Origen of Alexandria, an early Christian scholar, and Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed theologian who died in the 1960s.
A most recent popular challenge to the traditional view of hell came from Rob Bell, founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan and author of "Love Wins." Bell has stated that the book argues for living in "mystery" about hell rather than demanding a definition of it.
The Myers Park UMC discussion also will address Bible verses that led those scholars and writers, including Bell, to question a traditional "hell."
The discussion will end with a question and answer session, Page said, and the entire event will last between an hour and an hour and a half.
People who attend may come to understand that heaven is not about angels floating around or an eternity living on a piece of beachfront property, Page said. The biblical afterlife won't just be "going to heaven" after one dies.
"It's something better and radically different than that," Page said.