"The idea of hell is old. And it fits well with certain theories of atonement, especially one called the penal substitution atonement theory. In simplistic bumper-sticker language, this theory suggests that God loves us because Christ died for us. Which makes Christ's death a way of appeasing an angry God. But that gets things backwards. What Christian theology really teaches us is that Christ died for us because God loves us.
"And when you put it in those terms, you have a terribly difficult time imagining anything like the kind of fiery hell that many preachers love to use to threaten congregants."
Just over a week ago, I took an overnight road trip to Pekin, Ill., to attend the funeral of the oldest of my five first cousins. As is my habit while driving alone, I sometimes flip on the radio and...