Hell Is Real (But I Hate To Admit It) In Review

Derek Ouellette —  May 30, 2011

Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It)
By Brian Jones
3.5 Stars (out of 5)

Hell Is Real was nothing like I had expected.  When this book was placed in my hands my first question was to know if it was somehow written in response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. But then I discovered that Hell Is Real is not due to be released until August 2011, and by then three other books would have been published responding to Bell. Yet as best as I can tell, it was written before Love Wins came on Jones’ radar. Nothing in the book even hints at it.

My second surprise came in the first chapter where Jones shares his story of first believing in Hell, then attending a Christian seminary where he learned that the idea of Hell (in the traditional sense) was absurd, and finally – after pastoring for four years! – coming back to accepting the traditional view again. This is a story we don’t hear very often. People who are raised in fundamentalism (as he clearly was) either dig their heels into their fundamentalists ways or run fool-headed away from it and into theological liberalism. Brian did run from his fundamentalist background and into a liberal view of Hell, but then he swung back and landed somewhere closer to the middle, as a conservative (theologically).

This is intriguing because Brian has a unique grasp of the key issues and a firm understanding of the arguments against the traditional view of Hell (he was educated at Princeton). After all, it was those arguments that convinced him that the traditional view of hell is untrue. The question on my mind (and undoubtedly on yours too) is what arguments re-convinced Brian that the traditional view is correct.

For most of my readers this may be where I will lose you, because like me, you’re an analytical and critical bunch wanting to see hard evidence to make an intellectual assessment. But while Brian believes that the traditional view of Hell is clearly taught in the scriptures and holds to the conviction that it needs to be accepted on faith. He thinks the reason people trade in the traditional view of Hell (he’d say the “Biblical view of Hell”) for something else is not because of the biblical evidence, but for some other reasons. Almost one third of the book is dedicated at exploring these various other reasons:


“Christians stop believing in hell because they allow the non-Christians around them [to] make them feel stupid for believing in it.” p.45


“Christians can negatively impact what another Christian believes. We can influence another Christian to stop believing in hell… When one Christian influences another to stop believing in hell, it has ripple effects throughout that person’s life… If you rob a Christian of apocalyptic urgency, you lose every single non-Christian that single Christian could have reached in his or her lifetime.” p72-73


“Any attempt to make [Christianity] into a religion that focuses solely on social justice falls flat and ultimately because ineffective. Likewise, any attempt to make Christianity into a religion devoid of social justice would be incomplete as well. It’s never either/or in Scripture. But that doesn’t mean evangelism isn’t priortized.” p.104

The chapter on “Wrath” was the most difficult one to get through. I’ll admit, there were a few times I wanted to hurl the book across the room. When I hear people say things like, “The Christian God is a genocidal, filicidal megalomaniacal bully” (Dawkins, p.122) I get upset. But not Jones, he writes:

“Dawkins is dead wrong, not because he paints God with too cruel of a brushstroke, but because he’s too flattering. The God of the Bible is far more vengeful than Dawkins could ever dream.” p.122

Talk about a hard pill to swallow! The bad news, says Jones, is really bad. But this set up leads to the news that is really good. So in the chapter on propitiation he connects “Wrath” to “Holiness” saying that God is wrathful because he is holy: “Wrath is simply God’s response to the presence of sin.” Then in describing propitiation he writes:

“If you’re having a hard time stomaching what truly lies at the core of Christian  belief (propitiation), you’re starting to grasp if only in small measure, how truly strange Christianity really is.”

The point is that the bad news is so shockingly terrible that it makes the good news all that much more shockingly good. The consequence of watering down the bad news is that you inadvertently water down the good news too.

The final third of the book really begins to working out the heart of Hell Is Real: it is essentially a track on evangelism. How to evangelize. What approaches to take. What approaches not to take (usually funny self-deprecating anecdotes are told!). And all of this goes back to chapter two which is both the heart and the purpose of this book: Apocalyptic Urgency.

“The heart of this book is about one simple idea – something I call ‘apocalyptic urgency.’ Apocalyptic urgency is the all-consuming conviction that overtakes you when you realize that hell is real, and that it is within your power to help people avoid going there… Practically speaking, if everyone goes to heaven, why bother with Jesus at all? Why attend church? Why serve? Why tithe? Why share our faith with others? None of this makes any sense. Why would we do anything beyond that which makes us feel good? If there is no hell, then giving less than our best to our faith makes perfect sense.” p.32-33

Hell Is Real is filled with humorous anecdotes that had me laughing often (usually when he’s telling a story from his fundamentalists days, because I could usually related with them). Brian is a practical, conservative guy who is always brutally honest. This book would not stand up to strong critical examination, but it’s not designed to. It assumes its position and then tells us that if we truly shared that view, we would quickly develop an apocalyptic urgency.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

    Thanks for the review, Derek! It sounds like an interesting book.

    One of the things I’m finding about reading about universalism from an evangelical perspective, is that while it clearly rejects the everlasting nature of Hell, it holds a place for the wrathful, torturous, horror of Hell. Where many Arminians soften Hell (and for instance, state that someone in Hell will have the illusion of happiness) in order to defend that people who have free will even in Hell would freely choose to stay there forever, the universalist need not tone down what the experience of Hell is like. So there are senses where an evangelical universalist views Hell in a more “traditional” sense than many Arminians who still view it is everlasting.

    Anyway, that is just a thought that Calvinists, Arminians, and Universalists, can have a view of Hell that is horrible enough for Apocalyptic Urgency. If Hell is as bad as scriptures tend to make it out to be, perhaps even a single moment in it is horrific enough to warrant urgent warnings about it.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Thanks a good point James.

  • brad dickey

    I wish I had the time and dedication to read it. But I spent 8 years on gal 5:1, and picking a topic as in depth as this, with so many avenues to grok before moving to a conclusion…. I don’t think so.

    I do a lot of communicating with people who hold the views of universalists, or atheists, agnostics, and their combinations.

    I go like this.

    If I built a car. And had a flat, would I ride on the flat?
    If the fuel injection system wasn’t working as efficiently as it should, or was totally clogged and inoperative would I sit on it, or fix it?
    If the steering column didn’t work, etc….

    You built the car for a purpose. When it doesn’t perform up to standard you remove and discard the tire, beat the steering column back into shape, and fix it from the inside to the outside with the fuel injection system.

    Why can’t God do the same?

    Why, to say he could and it would be just, would be to admit I fall short. Search for the vss Paul talks about helping people have a clear conscience. Or his comment, I don’t know if I have sins in me or not, (I don’t care), I continue to run the race.

    Remember Adam fled God.
    God sought him out.
    God fixed the shame.

    Adam wasn’t booted for the sin, specifically, but to keep him from the tree of life. Today, we sell the sin specifically/punishment stuff.

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    Good points, Brad.

    QUOTE: “The heart of this book is about one simple idea – something I call ‘apocalyptic urgency.’ Apocalyptic urgency is the all-consuming conviction that overtakes you when you realize that hell is real, and that it is within your power to help people avoid going there… Practically speaking, if everyone goes to heaven, why bother with Jesus at all? Why attend church? Why serve? Why tithe? Why share our faith with others? None of this makes any sense. Why would we do anything beyond that which makes us feel good? If there is no hell, then giving less than our best to our faith makes perfect sense.” p.32-33

    Why? Because salvation is not merely fire insurance. If some people are going to end up in hell, however hell may be conceived, for all eternity, they are already on that path. Their lives are a mess and becoming messier with each passing day, even if that is not obvious, either to themselves or to those around them. As this course continues, they affect other people which in turn tends to make the lives of those around them into something like hell as well.

    I do not know that all will be saved in the end. I hope and pray that they are. It is my opinion that many will be saved – are being saved – how are not consciously Christian in this life. I do know that Christ has redeemed all of creation and that the shortest, quickest way for anyone to be saved, to become what one was created to become, is through a conscious relationship with Christ and the Church. Given that, why would I stop putting that word out? At the same time, I am not going to become a Pharisee about it, and thereby give others an excuse to not take this good news seriously. In many, if not most, cases, people must “hit bottom” before they are willing to get serious with God.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Greg, I always here people say, “salvation is not merely fire insurance”. Agreed. But merely is the operative word.

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    Derek: Good point. I shall stop saying “merely”. Salvation or damnation: it is ALL fire in that God is Fire and both are the experience of God (See, for example, the Pillar of Fire leading the Exodus, Pentecost, and Hebrews 12:29.)

    From the Desert Fathers: “Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man
    stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.”

    And, of course, the famous story of St. Seraphim of Sarnov:


    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette


  • Fred Weisman

    What does God say?

    Matthew 13

    24Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

    25But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

    26But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

    27So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

    28He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

    29But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

    30Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

    36Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.

    37He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;

    38The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;

    39The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

    40As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

    41The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;

    42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:

    48Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

    49So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,

    50And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    And Revelation 14

    10The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:


  • Fred Weisman

    11And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

    And Revelation 20

    10And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

    11And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

    12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

    13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

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  • http://Www.ggallin.com Pastor Fred

    I’m glad people who haven’t heard of Christ are going to hell. It is just punishment.

  • chris

    Just wanted everyone to know that you should not be discouraged and think this book is a tough read. I got the book the other day and it took me all of 25 mins to read the first 2 chapters. My wife also picked up and had no trouble with it, even though English is not her primary language. I haven’t finished it yet, but probably will tomorrow.