The doctrine of eternal torment is always inescapably in the background of the message of Christianity. It makes no difference whether it is specifically stated or not. Hell is a part of Christianity as understood by almost everyone.
The Christian concept of salvation means an escape or rescue from some threat; so identifying the threat is unavoidable. Even the “unchurched” are familiar with the doctrine of an angry God who demands justice and threatens hellfire.
Despite this basic tenet of Christian theology, many, if not most, in Christianity choose to avoid the explicit reference to eternal torment as part of their rhetoric or liturgical practice. This has been noticed by ardent fundamentalists who condemn the absence of a definitive mention of Hell in the average church message. They at least acknowledge that such an important part of Orthodox doctrine and the entire concept of salvation cannot be avoided while being true to the church’s longstanding understanding of Christ and the church.
Whenever the Gospel is presented as a love story- God so loved the world per John 3:16- it becomes problematic to inject a direct reference to Hell. Love and eternal punishment don’t mesh well with our concept of love or sense of justice. The suggestion that God can love but be required to exact justice in the form of eternal torment despite that love seems quite preposterous to a lot of folks. That includes, to a troubling degree, those in the church apparently. Otherwise one would rightfully expect Hell to be front and center in every sermon. If salvation is the goal, the issue of saved from what should an integral part of the message.
The fundamentalists raise a basic question for their more reticent fellow believers. Why try to whitewash the Gospel with all this emphasis on God’s love if the real goal in being a Christian is to escape from God’s divine wrath?
It would indeed be refreshing for all Christians and Christian groups to be clear about their view of salvation and what threat is eliminated when one is saved. Otherwise how can anyone know what being saved really means?
Additionally, the resulting re-evaluation of the background and basis for this uncomfortable doctrine should properly dispense with it altogether. A simple study of the Hebrew and Greek words which translate “hell” and “eternal” in the Old and New Testaments would suffice to raise serious questions about the church’s historical insistence on unending torment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a hell free Christianity and no longer have to sell a story loaded with such bad news?