Runalong with Pastor Mark has posted 10 Foundational Principles on the topic of Hell - a much needed reflection to guide our thinking on this touchy subject. I'd like to add a few comments and posit an alternative to his second point (the word rebuttal is used to snag readers who are looking for controversy :-)
First, I agree with Mark that we need to take the whole of scripture as a message from its Author and work to understand it, rather than simply pick and choose the parts we're comfortable with. The topic of hell fits within this framework.
And to rightly understand hell, we need to be clear that God is not capricious with regards to punishment of wrongdoing. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25.41), not humans. It is part of his overall plan for justice and mercy, but God first and foremost wants to save us (grace); although he will not force us into heaven (our response to his grace). We can choose to "go to the devil."
Which leads to another good point that Mark makes on why hell and damn are swear words. These words have a reality behind them! That's also why people don't say "Oh, Buddha" but instead use the name of Jesus in a curse - it's because there is no reality in Buddha. Same with the English phrase "bloody" - it's a swear word because we're talking about the power of Christ's blood to save us.
Now to the rebuttal. One point where Pastor Mark might want to rethink his position a bit would be his rejection of an "expiration clause." He writes: "2. Hell, like heaven, has no expiration clause. The same words are used to describe the duration of torment in hell as are used to describe the duration of bliss in heaven. Eternal, everlasting, never-ending, you get the point. Matthew 25:46 is typical."
While words like eternal and everlasting are used, it is also clear from a plain reading of these texts and others (eg 2 Thess 4:9) that those who rebel against God are destroyed. The terrible reality is that people will be cut off from God forever. It's eternal punishment in that it is a permanent judgment, not an ongoing physical punishment that lasts forever.
To hold that humans will suffer consciously for an eternity is to assume the indestructability of the soul and most likely reads into the scripture a worldview or philosophy that isn't there. That is, the immortality of the soul is not a biblical concept.
A fairly plain reading of scripture indicates that eternal life is a gift - not an ontologically inherent state of being. Adam and Eve were potentially immortal, not necessarily so. (See God's concern that they would eat of the Tree of Life after eating of the Tree of Knowledge - Gen 3:22)
So, while believers are granted eternal life with God (note that we can enter eternal life today!), the wicked are destroyed and will be cut off from God for eternity. Hell is indeed a terrible fate. One that needs to be preached and proclaimed. And joyfully declared defeated in Jesus Christ for those who respond to his salvation.
Thanks for your thoughts, comments, and reflections/rebuttals.