Flames, worms and the gnashing of teeth may be less prominent in sermons today, but hell is still real, according to a report sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance UK (EAUK). And hell as a place of eternal punishment remains "the dominant understanding" among evangelical Christians.

But the report, The Nature of Hell, produced by five experts, also acknowledges a growing belief among evangelicals in "conditionalism," according to which, after judgment, sinners will be annihilated—something that is seen as a more merciful fate than the pit of unending torment.

The Nature of Hell accepts that both options—annihilation and eternal punishment—are consistent with evangelical belief, which claims the Bible as the supreme authority. It calls, however, for greater clarity in the EAUK's Basis of Faith, from which reference to "eternal punishment" was dropped in 1970.

Joel Edwards, general director of the Evangelical Alliance UK, said: "The increasing pluralism of Western culture has made hell more of a stumbling block than ever. It would be no exaggeration to say that both within and outside the church, many now see the doctrine of hell as indefensible and obsolete."

"The church has an enormous responsibility to be sensitive to our culture, whilst remaining true to our convictions," he said. "Until someone better than Jesus returns from death with an assurance that hell is all a hoax, the church would fail to be loving if we didn't talk about it as a reality."

The Nature of Hell was welcomed by Roman Catholic spokesman Monsignor Kieran Conry, who told Ecumenical News International (ENI): "The report will keep an important theological debate alive. It focuses on the reality of the afterlife and the fact that our actions in this life have ...

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