Too Little or Too Much Hellfire?

Charles Taylor on Luther, Catholicism, and hell:

“The sale of indulgences was driven by a fear of punishment. But Luther’s message was that we are all sinners, and deserve punishment. Salvation involves facing and accepting this fully. Only in facing our full sinfulness, can we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, by which alone we are justified. ‘Who fears Hell runs towards it’. We have to face down our fears, and this transmutes them into confidence in the saving power of God.

There is perhaps an irony here. A great deal of Catholic preaching on sin and repentance was based on the principle that the ordinary person was so insensitive that they had to be terrified into responding. They had to be woken with strong effects. Preachers tried to culpabilize their audiences to the extreme. Even venial sins were talked up as something terrible, because after all, they also involve offense to God. But just this cranking up of fear may have helped to prepare people to respond to Luther’s reversal of the field.

The irony is perhaps compounded when we see how some Protestant preaching repeats the same pattern. You’re supposed to be confident in your salvation, but not flatly complacent. But because many ministers saw their flocks as leaning towards the second danger, they too cranked up the terrifying visions of damnation. Did this prepare the desertion of a goodly part of their flock to humanism?”

This is interesting given that there are still many among the Protestant laity and clergy that insist that no one is saying enough about hell these days. Could this be exactly the wrong impulse?