A Bible teacher in the Northwest asks for comment regarding the statement of Jerry Walls of Asbury Seminary, who wrote: ‘We cannot be moral without God, and we cannot have God without hell. Hell needs to make a comeback’ (Christianity Today 6/16/97, “Can We Be Good Without Hell?”).
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I say “Bravo!” to Professor Walls for reminding us that we are creatures accountable to our Creator, that earthly actions have consequences beyond this Age of time and space, and that there is a dark side to divine justice as well as eternal reward. The New Testament certainly warns against hell, and Jesus himself says more about it than anyone else. Yet the fear of punishment is not the driving force behind most scriptural exhortations to godliness or abstinence from evil.
Love for God, and gratitude for what he has accomplished for sinners in Jesus Christ, are far greater incentives to good than fear of hell — although that has its place for those whose spiritual hides are too thick and insensitive to respond to nobler motivations.
I also agree with Brother Walls that there is a resounding silence about hell in many pulpits, although he and I differ in explaining the reason why. I am convinced that the major cause for silence about final punishment in the churches today is neither loss of gospel conviction nor lack of nerve. It is rather a widespread and uneasy awareness that the traditional doctrine of everlasting conscious torment rests on shaky scriptural interpretation, and that it is patently inconsistent with the character of God revealed in Scripture and especially in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.