Fire and brimstone has been part of Christianity for as long as there have been literal-minded Christians. Jesus himself spoke of sinners being cast into “Gehenna,” translated in the King James Bible as “hell,” the place where the “worm never dies and the fire never ceases.” Never mind that he was not referring to everlasting torment but to a desecrated valley outside of Jerusalem where the earthly remains of sinners would be unceremoniously dumped. For ancient Jews, this was a hideous prospect—not receiving proper burial rites was a fate worse than death. Only later did Jesus’ followers assume Jesus meant conscious torment forever. Later still, these followers also found the same teaching in the writings of Paul and the book of Revelation, though they too do not advance it.
Still, for most of Christian history the glories of heaven and the torments of hell captivated the Christian imagination. Relatively modern times brought widespread doubt to the population at large, but Bible-believing evangelicals famously held on, at least in their public discourse: Anyone who did not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior would be tortured, world without end. In the extreme version, these sufferers of torment necessarily included billions of “heathen” who had never even heard of Jesus or, for some real extremists, anyone, believer or not, who had not been properly baptized as an adult.
That has begun to change. Not completely. And not for all evangelicals. But for some, including evangelical pastors, theologians, and teachers.