The doctrine of hell, however unpopular it may be and however much we may wish ot soften its hard edges, is essential for faithful Christian witness. The belief that there is something worse than death is, to recall John Piper’s imagery, ballast for our ministry boats.
Hell is not the North Star. That is, divine wrath is not our guiding light. It does not set the direction for everything in the Christian faith like, say, the glory of God in the face of Christ. Neither is hell the faith wheel that steers the ship, nor the wind that powers us along, nor the sails that captures the Spirit’s breeze. yet hell is not incidental to this vessel we call the church. It’s our ballast, and we throw it overboard at great peril to ourselves and to everyone drowning far out at sea.
For those not familiar with boating terminology, ballast refers to weights, usually put underneath in the middle of the boat, that are used to keep the ship stable in the water. Without a ballast, the boat will not sit properly. It will veer off course more easily or be tossed from side to side. Ballast keeps the boat balanced.
The doctrine of hell is like that for the church. Divine wrath may not be the decorative masthead or the flag we raise up every flagpole. The doctrine may be underneath other doctrines. It may not always be seen. But its absence will always be felt.
Since hell is real, we must help each other die well even more than we strive to help our neighbors live comfortably. Since hell is real, we must never think alleviating earthly suffering is the most loving thing we can do. Since hell is real, evangelism and discipleship are not simply good options or commendable ministries, but are literally a matter of life and death.
If we lose the doctrine of hell, either too embarrassed to mention it or too culturlly sensitive to affirm it, we can count on this: the boat will drift. The cross will be stripped of propitiation, our preaching will be devoid of urgency and power, and our work in the world will no longer center on calling people to faith and repentance and building them to maturity in Christ. Lose the ballast of divine judgment and our message, our ministry, and our mission will all change eventually.
What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, p. 244-245