This is a difficult question. It’s not difficult theologically, but practically. If we give a simple “yes” answer, it makes Christianity and the God of Christianity look petty or bigoted. So how can we communicate the answer in a way that is both truthful and tactful? Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason has some tips for answering this question in a tactical manner.

First, clarify why it is that people go to hell. It’s not because they fail a theology test, but because they fail a moral test. People will be sentenced to hell for their moral crimes against a holy God, not for their failure to believe in Jesus. Sin is like a disease. Both will kill you (one physically, one spiritually) if they go untreated. Those who die of an untreated disease do not die because they haven’t visited the doctor, but because of their disease. Likewise, people do not go to hell because they have failed to believe in Jesus, but because of their sin.

Second, ask them if they have committed any moral crimes. You’re not asking for specifics, but in general. If they are honest, they will admit that they have. Admit to them that you have too. In fact, every person has.

Third, ask them if they believe those who commit moral crimes should be punished. Most people will agree that justice calls for punishment. This spells bad news, because if Christianity is true, there is a just and moral judge who will punish each of us for our moral crimes.

Fourth, explain the role of Jesus. While all of us are deserving of hell, God has offered us a pardon through Jesus Christ. Jesus alone has paid the penalty for our crimes so that we won’t have to. We can take advantage of that pardon by putting our trust in the one who gave it, or, we can refuse Him and His pardon and choose to pay for our own crimes, such as they are. The choice is theirs.

The advantage of this approach is that it helps take the edge off of an uncomfortable question while also explaining the essence of the Gospel in the process.