But today Christians are more consumer-savvy. They know how to market themselves by jettisoning the unpopular bits, like a new product or politician. [A. C.] Grayling continues
"Nowadays, by contrast, Christianity specializes in soft-focus mood-music; its threats of hell, its demand for poverty and chastity, its doctrine that only a few will be saved and the many damned, have been shed, replaced by strummed guitars and saccharine smiles"(Against All Gods (Oberon, 2007), 24).
Another very conservative Evangelical, Al Mohler, agrees:
Though hell had been a fixture of Christian theology since the New Testament, it became an odium theologium—a doctrine considered repugnant by the larger culture and now retained and defended only by those who saw themselves as self-consciously orthodox in theological commitment.
Mohler maintains that the doctrine of hell
...is reformulated in order to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness. Evangelicals have subjected the doctrine of hell to this strategy for many years now. Some deny that hell is everlasting, arguing for a form of annihilationism or conditional immortality. Others will deny hell as a state of actual torment. John Wenham simply states, “Unending torment speaks to me of sadism, not justice” (Facing Hell: An Autobiography , 254). Some argue that God does not send anyone to hell, and that hell is simply the sum total of human decisions made during earthly lives. God is not really a judge who decides, but a referee who makes certain that rules are followed. Tulsa pastor Ed Gungor recently wrote that “people are not sent to hell, they go there” (What Bothers Me Most About Christianity , 196). In other words, God just respects human freedom to the degree that he will reluctantly let humans determined to go to hell have their wish.
These "hell-reforming" Evangelicals are, according to Mohler, following the lead of C. S. Lewis. 70 years ago, Lewis wrote:
I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man 'wishes' to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free (The Problem of Pain , 130).
While this "new" portrait of hell is a little more palatable to modern man, the fact is that undermines the rationale of the atonement. The atonement, at least according to the penal substitution version, is required in order to satisfy the retributive justice of God. In the PST, God punishes His Son, so that sinners will not have to be punished. If hell is not an active punishment by God, then the rationale behind the PST is destroyed.
Greg Gilbert (Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky) makes this clear:
Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? It was because that was the only way God could righteously not send every one of us to hell. Jesus had to take what was due to us, and that means he had to endure the equivalent of hell as he hung on the cross. That doesn’t mean that Jesus actually went to hell. But it does mean that the nails and the thorns were only the beginning of Jesus’ suffering. The true height of his suffering came when God poured out his wrath on Jesus. When the darkness fell, that wasn’t just God covering the suffering of his Son, as some have said. That was the darkness of the curse, of God’s wrath. It was the darkness of hell, and in that moment Jesus was enduring its full fury—the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
In other words, according to Gilbert, God can only remain just if sin is punished (which is the retributive theory). He writes:
God is not a corrupt judge. He is an absolutely just and righteous one.
Over and over the Bible makes this point. When God reveals himself to Moses, he declares himself to be compassionate and loving, but he also says, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” The Psalms declare that “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” What an amazing statement! If God is to continue being God, he cannot simply set justice aside and sweep sin under the rug. He must deal with it—decisively and with exacting justice. When God finally judges, not one sin will receive more punishment than it deserves. And not one will receive less than it deserves, either.
So, those evangelicals who want to remake hell into merely a place of self-chosen exile, and eliminate God's active role in the punishment, have, in some cases, unwittingly removed the basis for the PST of the atonement. It doesn't seem that one can consistently adhere to the PST and at the same time see hell as a place of self-chosen exile. Evangelicals who do so have, as Mohler puts it, transformed God from a judge who decides, to a referee who makes certain that rules are followed. Hell is no longer punishment deserved because of man's sin but merely the place man chooses to be. Free will becomes the single most important element in God's universe and God exists to ensure that each person's freedom is safe-guarded. While, as I said above, this may be more palatable to the sensibilities of modern man, it is a far cry from what the Bible itself teaches.