Leave a book like this lying around, and you're sure to get reactions.
On one hand, my twelve-year-old son loved the title of this book, Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It). "That title tells the truth," he said. On the other hand, I was turned off. It sounded like a grudging acknowledgement of the reality of hell. As Kevin DeYoung puts it, it's okay in a sense to admit that we don't like hell, but we need to guard against grudgingly accepting what God has revealed about himself.
It turns out I was wrong about this book and its title. It's not a book about grudgingly accepting the reality of hell. It's a book that recognizes that hell is real, and that confronts us with our tendency to try and pretend that it's not.
The book is written by Brian Jones, pastor of Christ's Church of the Valley near Philadelphia. While on a spiritual retreat, Jones became convicted about his lack of belief and teaching on hell. He spent the next five hours reading the New Testament, discovering:
…hell is not an ambiguous topic supported by a few hard-to-understand passages. It is inescapable: Virtually every book in the New Testament underscores the reality of hell. Jesus taught it; Paul, Peter, and every early church leader taught it, but I wasn't teaching it. I realized that I had a decision to make. Could I discount what Jesus taught on hell if I based my belief in heaven on similar passages in the same books?
Jones returned to his church and repented before his congregation and asked for their forgiveness. "Hell is real," he writes. "Deciding whether or not hell exists isn't an intellectual exercise; it's a matter of eternal life and death."
Jones tackles a number of important areas in this book. First, he covers the biblical teaching, and answers some common questions and objections. Second, he talks about our own struggles to deal with the reality of hell and act accordingly. He does this with a sense of urgency. Finally, he gives us practical encouragement on how to share the gospel appropriately. This is a book that's informative, passionate, and practical all at once.
Jones is a skillful writer. He somehow manages to make a book on hell enjoyable to read.
One note: There were a number of books that came out last year in reaction to Rob Bell's book Love Wins, such as Erasing Hell, Christ Alone, and God Wins. While I'm grateful for the books that were written in reaction to Bell's book, I'm also grateful for this book that deals with the topic without even referencing Bell. There's a place for both kinds of books.
Before the entire controversy last year, my son encouraged me to preach about hell. "We don't hear enough about it," he said. I agree. The subject of hell isn't a comfortable one, but it's important. This book reminds us of its importance, and does a good job of encouraging us to live accordingly.