More from my interview with Robert A. Peterson in Risking the Truth:
In your experience what has been the status of the doctrine of hell among church members and in the thinking of those training to be pastors?
I have been active in local evangelical churches for forty years and in the training of pastors for thirty. Unfortunately, in my experience, the doctrine of hell has been neglected among church members and even in the thinking of those training to be pastors.
The words of Lesslie Newbigin are truer today than when he penned them in 1994: “It is one of the weaknesses of a great deal of contemporary Christianity that we do not speak of the last judgment and of the possibility of being finally lost” (“Confessing Christ in a Multi-Religion Society,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 12 : 130–31, quoted in Carson, The Gagging of God, 536).
Part of the blame should be placed at the feet of evangelical pastors, whom surveys show have been slow to teach and preach what the Bible says about hell. My study of hell in the mid-1990’s brought me to repentance because I was personally guilty of such neglect.
My experience has been that if we can bring hell to evangelicals’ minds and hearts, if we can move it from being a passive to an active doctrine, then they will begin to pray about their lost friends and loved ones as never before. That in turn motivates them to share the gospel as the Holy Spirit leads. And that produces fruit in terms of spiritual growth in the lives of the evangelists and salvation for some of those evangelized.
It should be preached by pastors who have a deep sense of Christ’s redeeming them from hell (see Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” in Hell under Fire, 219–37). Such pastors must prayerfully, lovingly, and faithfully share the message of Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, and his apostles that those who die in their sins will suffer “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), even “the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9).
At times I have found it impossible not to weep as I speak of Christ suffering the pains of hell, of drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us, so that we do not have to do so. The Bible’s message of hell is a topic worthy of study, but in addition, it has to be something that moves us to action—to repentance, when we consider what our sins deserve; to prayer, out of compassion for the lost; to worship, when we consider what Christ endured to redeem us; and certainly, to witness, when we desire for others to know our great God and Savior.