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What is the preacher to do with **** and eternal punishment? In our day and age these truths strike some as comical and others as cruel. To some, **** is a joke. It’s about little devils in red tights (so teach the cartoonists). It’s a place where illicit pleasures are indulged (if we believe the entertainment media, not to mention the porn industry). It conjures up images of old-fashioned, red-faced TV preachers (before they figured out that only “nice” plays on the tube) preaching the disdained “hellfire and brimstone” sermon. On the other hand, in more thoughtful settings—major universities, mainline seminaries, serious print media—the mere admission of one’s belief in such a destination for the unredeemed evokes sheer horror from the enlightened. How could you possibly believe something so primitive, so backwards, so mean, so exclusive, so intolerant? A rampant relativism and universalism makes **** the only heresy.
Meanwhile, we’ve got our own problems with **** in the conservative Christian sub-culture. There are serious scholars of evangelical reputation who have created significant doubts in the minds of some of our finest young preachers. The traditional church teaching is not biblical, they’ve argued. Godly and brilliant John Stott was part of a group of British evangelicals that suggested conditional immortality as an alternative to the historic view (though he has repented into agnosticism on the question latterly). Clark Pinnock and others promoted a more thoroughgoing renovation of the hard place. Then, there are those who are in reaction against the abuse of this teaching in the days of their fundamentalist evangelical youth. They seek to ignore it out of existence. For the last few decades, some practitioners of the church growth movement have banished the doctrine from their evangelistic lexicon (along with sin, judgment and the like) because, they say, it doesn’t...
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