Trevin Wax posted a segment of a talk by D.A. Carson in which he was discussing the question:
How do you perform deeds of mercy and keep a strong emphasis on proclaiming the gospel?
He goes on to talk about one person involved in the Gospel Coalition who insisted the best way to do this is to “Preach Hell.”
At one point Carson says:
I will not soon forget a Gospel Coalition member who said, “I’ll tell you how to fix the problem. Preach hell.”
We looked at him. This particular chap is known for his bluntness. We wondered: How does that answer the question? How do you preserve gospel faithfulness while doing deeds of social mercy? We knew this chap. He is into racial integration in his church. He is very concerned about these things. How do you keep those things from swamping the whole direction of the church?
The men listening to him were puzzeled and asked him to explain. He did and you’ll have to read Trevin’s post to see the responses. But I’ll give one part of the response:
[Preaching Hell shows] ….. that you are interested in the relief of suffering both in time and eternity. You start fudging on that corner and you lose that eternal dimension.”
(emphasis and brackets mine). I can understand this unnamed person’s points and find them valid. At the same time, however, I think I would prefer to take a somewhat different tack (and this may be along the lines of what Carson suggested in the posted segment where is suggests preaching the gospel.
I would suggest the way to urge performing deeds of mercy and keeping emphasis on the gospel would be to take the same tack Paul did with the Corinthians:
1 Cor 2:2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
As I see it, this is the best and preferred approach to dealing with the tension of promoting social action and gospel proclamation. Preach Christ and him crucified. In this context you can easily warn people of the coming judgement of God and its potential consequences, which for some may very well be eternal separation from God and his presence, also known as hell. Again, this is an important doctrine and it does need to be preached and people really need to be warned about it. Yet, I think it needs to be integrated into preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. Most importantly, however, I want to argue that preaching Christ and him crucified an risen from the dead, helps keep the focus where it needs to be: on Christ.