A surprisingly poor book. The best contribution, by far, is by Clark Pinnock, the annihilationist who takes aspects of Crockett's poor argumentation to task. Walvoord's contribution (the literal, traditional view) is mired by dispensational thinking where it is neither helpful nor required.
It has been a long time, maybe twenty years, since I have heard a sermon on hell. Perhaps this reflects the churches I attend, but I suspect it has more to do with a general embarrassment Christians feel when confronted with the doctrine of eternal punishment. Even among those who affirm a literal view of hell, silence is the watchword. I suppose people feel it is better to be silent than to offend. Better to teach God’s truth in positive, affirming ways than to sound vengeful and uncaring.
Jesus believed in hell, we reply, but somehow the picture of desperate faces shrieking in a lake of fire unsettles us. Trapped, we shift awkwardly on our feet and try to soften the impact of what the Bible so clearly seems to say.
There is nothing wrong with using images to teach truth. After all, Jesus used the images of fire and darkness to warn the wicked of the consequences of sin. Difficulties arise only when we insist that the images reflect concrete reality.
I agree with him that one cannot preach what the tradition has said about literal hellfire, because it is such a morally and judicially intolerable notion (and one not even necessary according to exegetical considerations). The fact that Augustine and Edwards could have cauterized their consciences into believing it should make no difference at all to us. After all, both men also believed in double predestination as well. One simply has to admit that tradition contains a number of obnoxious things that need changing; so let us be bold to change them.
And Crockett himself adds somewhere else that the fire, though nonliteral, is “a symbol of something far greater.” Why then does he come down so hard on Walvoord for being sadistic? Why does he leave the impression that a nonliteral view like his would make it possible to preach about hell again? It seems to me that he has painted himself into the same corner. God is a sadistic torturer. And I think I know why he has done so. Crockett (and Packer) is looking to his theological right and wants to be seen as orthodox, while making a major shift to a nonliteral view of hell.