It seems to me the R.C. Sprouls and the Rob Bells of the world have it wrong; representing polar extremes of the other ideologically.
If the Gospel is the the good news that the Kingdom of God has arrived and that we’re all participants in it, it seems to me that any view on how that ties into punishment is doubtful. That’s whether there’s torture for the wicked or love for all.
The best counter example that God entails to love in the Rob Bell sense is our very existence. A God of love certainty doesn’t love in a way that doesn’t lack pain and suffering, yet I don’t know of but few exceptions who wouldn’t call existence a wonderful state of affairs even so.
In the case of our existing as we do, it is clear pain and suffering exist as part of our experience. That’s God’s doing. All we can say is that pain and suffering are necessary.
It would be splitting hairs to say there’s a difference that makes a difference in making pain and suffering necessary because it makes us better and aware human beings versus pain and suffering being necessary for the punishment of sins. That’s simply saying God is immoral in either case, because with the former, the ends don’t justify the means. With the latter, if punishment is to change the sinner, it’s again the ends not justifying the means, and ends never justify means. If on the other hand, punishment is pointless, then God is whimsical and not good nor can He be seen in a moral light at all though we’d be inclined to call that sort of God evil, no question. That is, save the God-love of the Sproul, evangelical genre.
The fact is, God must be divorced entirely from our concepts of good and evil and is beyond all our ideas including love; they all lead to error or absurdity.
The good news of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is here and we have been left to our evolving sense of moral sentiment and moral reasoning in hopes that we’re going to desire that “thing which God is like” (goodness) and be at one with God in getting a better and better polish on that mystery we’re supposed to be reflections of no matter if it’s this existence or some other.
Just a thought.