The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever
“Is the fear of God merely an Old-Testament doctrine? Does hell glorify God? Will we party with Stalin in heaven? What about Bill Maher? For answers to such questions, this thought-provoking, bracing corrective to the soapy bromides of recent volumes on this subject may be just the ticket. And have we mentioned that it’s entertaining and encouraging?”
– Eric Metaxas, New York Times Best-selling author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Plus Stephen Baldwin (actor), Drew Dyck, (Leadership Jrnl)
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Description & Excerpts..SHARE..
It’s become a modern question because of the traditional doctrine: How can God be both loving and wrathful?
In The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, Thor Ramsey (an author, pastor, and comedian…but don’t let that fool you) tackles this question by probing deeper. Avoiding the caricatures of God as either a Frankenstein out to crush you or a Santa Claus ready to grant your every wish (as long as you’ve been really, really good), he asks, “What changes about God if this traditional understanding of the doctrine of hell changes?” As it turns out, everything changes.
If you think a God without hell is more loving, this book will surprise you. While many believe that by eliminating hell they’re getting a new and improved God, this new thinking is more troubling than the old doctrine itself. The new doctrine of hell being sold today is only good news at the most superficial level, leaving us with a wrath-less God who tolerates evils that make even the average atheist cringe.
What if hell itself is good news about God? What if hell highlights everything we find glorious about God? What if the loss of hell leaves the world with a smaller God? Discover why the church needs a new and different breed of hellfire-and-brimstone preacher in the pulpit today. If you can’t imagine how the doctrine of hell could ever make you say, “Praise God,” this book (often funny, but deadly serious) lays out the biblical vision.
Table of Contents
Introduction: WHAT DO WE REALLY LOSE IF HELL FREEZES OVER? (Or Why Hell Is a Good Idea)
One: WE LOSE THE FEAR OF GOD (Death Is Actually Not Your Biggest Problem)
Two: WE LOSE THE HOLINESS OF GOD (In All Its Old-Fashioned, Bible-Thumping Scariness)
Three: WE LOSE THE GOSPEL OF GOD (The Gospel Is Not About Escaping Hell, Though this Is Highly Recommended)
Four: WE LOSE THE LOVE OF GOD (A Love Way Better than an Infinite Hug)
Afterword: THE WORST FUNERAL EVER (Not That the Sandwiches Weren’t Delicious)
Appendix A: A is for Annihilationism
Appendix B: A Word to Pastors about Preaching the Doctrine of Hell
About the Author
Thor Ramsey is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, speaker, vertebrate, biped, and stand-up comic, in that order.
endorsements & reviews..SHARE..
“Is the fear of God merely an Old-Testament doctrine? Does hell glorify God? Will we party with Pol Pot, Vlad the Impaler, Stalin, the Marquis de Sade, and Satan in heaven? And what about Bill Maher? For answers to these and other questions, this thought-provoking, bracing corrective to the soapy bromides of recent volumes on this subject may be just the ticket. And have we mentioned that it’s entertaining and encouraging?”
Eric Metaxas, New York Times Best-selling author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
“The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever is also one of the wisest. This book is crammed with hilarious quips (“Where do Universalists tell people to go when they’re angry?”), but the message is deadly serious. Losing the doctrine of hell isn’t trivial. It means losing truth, righteousness, and grace. Ultimately it means losing God. Thor’s book uses humor to disarm readers just enough to deliver this crucial and timely message.”
Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journal, a Christianity Today publication, and author of Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying (Thomas Nelson)
“Praise God for Thor! The end must be getting near as Christians are actually getting funny. After a few pages, you’ll realize this ain’t your grandma’s book about hell… but she’d love it just the same. Because it’s only funny in the right places.”
Stephen Baldwin, actor, author, radio host
“This book is a much-needed antidote to the plague of unbiblical teachings from famous, fashionable, and rich preachers”
Hell glorifies God—that is the premise of Thor Ramsey’s book The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, the newest release from Cruciform Press. It is very encouraging to see a Christian publisher (who consistently aims at the general Christian audience) invest in a topic so essential to true Christianity. It is one thing to notice a few biblically-faithful publishers putting out academic defenses of the doctrine of hell (rare in itself), but it is another thing (and refreshing) to see diligent work put into the placing of such vital truth in the hands of the average person in the pew.
This book is refreshingly honest, and bold. In a day when too many publishers find it fashionable to waste paper and ink on so-called biblical treatments of hell (which are nothing more than pathetic regurgitations of old heresies), this book does not attempt to improve God’s reputation. As the author writes in his Introduction, “there is a swath of fashionable new preachers with a mission to clean up God’s nasty reputation as a bloodthirsty old clod. Unfortunately, in the process of doing God the big favor of helping his PR, they’re reinventing the doctrine of eternal punishment with a new and improved gospel. It’s gospel-riffic!” This book is a much-needed antidote to the plague of unbiblical teachings from famous, fashionable, and rich preachers who treat hell “like the Christian’s dirty little secret—the pock mark on the church’s history formed during its teenage years.”
How, exactly, does hell glorify God? That’s the question the author answers, both biblically and efficiently (a very easy 104 pages). In his four chapters, he draws our attention to four essential aspects of God-centered theology that are lost when the biblical doctrine of hell is neglected, or downright rejected. I will state them positively.
Hell glorifies the fear of God. If the fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom (and it is) then losing the fear of God in any generation will only be disastrous. Faithful preaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment will rescue the pathetic state of the church from our Santa-god. “Contemporary preacher poets don’t scare people with the wrath of God anymore. They lure people into becoming Christians toothy promises of eternal life.” This is not to say that hellfire and brimstone preaching absent from the glories of God’s love is what is needed. Simply scaring people into heaven without truly presenting to them the glory of Christ, our Rescuer from the wrath of God, will not produce true conversions. But let’s face it. The average professing Christian today has “no idea how much danger they are in.”
Hell glorifies the holiness of God. Changing the doctrine of hell requires first that we change God’s nature. “Eliminate hell and we eliminate something vital to God’s character, namely that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), completely holy, infinitely pure and righteous (Hebrews 1:9), a God who will not let the guilty go unpunished (Exodus 34:7). Eliminating hell changes who God is. Removing hell doesn’t make God more loving. It makes him smaller, more like us.” And that’s the last thing we need!
Hell glorifies the gospel of God. When preachers minimize, or distort, the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment they drain power out of the gospel. Without understanding the wrath of God against our sin what in the world are we even being saved from? Why do we even need a Savior? Hell glorifies God because hell glorifies the one and only Savior Jesus Christ who alone endured the wrath of God for us.
Hell glorifies the love of God. Hell exalts the love of God by keeping it in balance with all of his other attributes, and within the boundaries of truth. Love rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), that is, biblical truth is the pasture in which love grazes. Hell keeps God’s love from becoming squishy and self-centered. We need this because, “as sinners, we manage to bring a measure of corruption into everything we do. To a great extent, therefore, we love people because of what they bring to our lives. We love them because of how they make us feel. We get something out of loving them.” The doctrine of hell saves us from emotional and relational suicide.
The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever closes with much-needed and sound counsel to all believers to love professing Christians enough to express concern when the fruits of the Spirit are lacking, or absent, from their lives. Because hell is real, and hell is as awful as awful can be, we dare not neglect it, or fear another person’s response to its teaching more than we fear the God who created it for the devil and his angels.
This book is an important and valuable contribution to today’s collection of “theology for the average person in the pew.” I recommend you get a copy (paper or electronic), read it, and share it with others.
Paul Tautges, Counseling One Another
“The author is insightful in his teaching while he is building a biblical case for hell.”
The title of this book prevails upon the reader to open it up and see what this is all about. It’s daring. I mean encouraging and hell are in the same sentence! It kind of reminds me of the old fundamentalist preachers my husband sometimes impersonates. With a big, starchy smile on his face, he says, “You’re going to hell!” But of course, Thor Ramsey is not that man. He seems to bring back some of the edge we remember from the Old English Puritans, however, he is comedic and succinct. Ramsey’s mission is to convince the reader that hell glorifies God.
While very evangelistic, the book is also a polemic of sorts against the shift in evangelical thinking on hell. He confronts the books that have been written to suggest hell doesn’t exist, the prosperity pastors who promote a “non-judgmental Santa-god,” as well as those who may just be too embarrassed to bring up the whole hell-thing. The book is broken down to teach that without the doctrine of eternal hell, “we will suffer the loss of the fear of God, the loss of a holy God, the loss of an extravagantly loving God, and the loss of God’s wisdom in the cross” (18). The author does this in a mere 103 pages. And I have to tell you, I really did finish the book encouraged. The title is brilliant, and it just may be true!
At first I didn’t know how the whole pastor who does stand-up comedy was going to sit with me. I mean the guy is talking about hell. But he already had me laughing in his dedication: “Dedicating a book on hell is problematic. Which ex-girlfriend do you choose?” And yet Ramsey’s sense of humor in no way compromises the holiness of God in the book. I think that the mordant remarks peppered throughout the book actually helped take away that stereotype of the fundamentalist pastor that my husband imitates so well.
I always think it is a challenge to write in depth on an important doctrine in a mere 100 pages. I don’t want to buy and read a glorified outline that is missing reflective thought. While Ramsey doesn’t have the space to carry each of his points through the forest of literary beauty, there are many flowers that you can capture and preserve. The author is insightful in his teaching while he is building a biblical case for hell. I especially like how he brings up the proclivity that we often have to think that God needs our PR help.
As a side note, I learned that busses make good comedy material. It’s as if Ramsey just can’t help himself. Like a good stand-up guy, he weaves a seemingly random theme throughout the pages. Yes, busses. He begins in the dedication. There he moves on from the ex-girlfriend idea to dedicate the book to a long line of people worth it:
…to all the pastors who act like men, friends that stick…rock band members who read, rappers who preach, countrymen who think,…and lay people with discernment—especially those from Grand Rapids, Michigan who find grace disabled by sentimental views of a morally lax and complacent God who winks at evil and has about as much authoritative oomph as the public school system’s bus drivers, not that they don’t do the best they can to keep the little tyrants in order. May you all begin speaking about eternal punishment again with tenderness and clarity. Especially the bus drivers.
We get another comedic dose on p. 22, where Ramsey is giving his own rendition of the stereotypical fundamentalist preacher. He says that these pastors “gently instilled in the congregation a healthy fear of busses. ‘If you were hit by a bus walking home tonight (dramatic pause), do you know where you would spend eternity?’” He does make a good point that it is the fear of God that should occupy our thoughts more than death itself. Later, Ramsey astutely reminds us that our main concern should be loving God, not avoiding hell (56).
The bus gets another short cameo on p. 31, where we catch a lesson in what happens when the church doesn’t fear God. We preach a different Christ. “It’s the difference between Jesus dying for you or just giving up his seat on the bus for you.” Not so much comedic, but he plays the ball again.
Later, the author goes into a whole Keanu Reeves illustration under his subheading, “Hell and the Purgatorial Buss Pass” (51). As you can imagine the bus plays an even bigger descriptive role here. And just to finish us off, Ramsey ties that illustration into his closing (92).
For now on I will think of hell when I see a bus.
But again, I don’t want you to think that the comedic notes in the book take away from the seriousness of the author’s message. Ramsey doesn’t shy away from pressing the reader. He ends the book challenging us with the notion that our love for God should bear fruit. Our lifestyles shouldn’t cause fellow loved ones to wonder about our eternal life. He reminds us of the words of Jesus to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Then Ramsey pleas with us. If we believe the biblical doctrine of eternal hell to be true—and it is!—then it is cruel for us not to warn others whose lives do not bear the fruit of repentance.
I didn’t get into the details of how hell glorifies God, or of what we lose when we lose the doctrine of a biblical, eternal hell. That’s because I think you should read the book! I was encouraged by it, and the author wrote it for a broad audience. It also may be one of those books which you to buy an extra copy and mistakingly leave behind on your bus seat…
Aimee Byrd,Housewife Theologian
“Ramsey has great a done job defending the biblical teaching of hell.”
I guess it’s fine to do without Hell right? No. That’s the main thesis of this book. How important is the doctrine of hell for a Christian? Quite important it seems. Ramsey has great a done job defending the biblical teaching of hell.
So why can’t we do away with this seemingly bad “PR” topic? Lots it seems. Four main things are lost to Christians (and even to non-Christians) who do not believe in the reality of hell. I will do a short summary of each of the chapters in the book.
We lose the fear of God. If hell isn’t real, then God doesn’t really hate sin. And if he doesn’t, then why should I be saved from sin?
We lose the holiness of God. Who have sinners truly offended? A truly infinitely holy God. Take out hell and you lose this important character of God. Ramsey also shows why, as Christians, we don’t just “hate the sin and love the sinner” (you have to read the book for it!).
We lose the gospel of God. Is being a Christian only about escaping hell? No! It’s much more than that. It shows how much God loved me despite my sins and willingly sent his Son to die and be resurrected for me. Take away hell, and there is no necessity of having Christ alone as our Savior.
We lose the love of God.This part deals with the more modern ideas of why Christians have to reject hell (e.g. Rob Bell’s book on hell). What they argue for is that the God who sends people to hell isn’t convincing enough, they need a God of love to convince them. What they have forgotten is how thoroughly sinful we really are. If God had waited for us to respond and then save us, he isn’t really that loving. But if God chooses to saves us from sure destruction while we will never turn to Him, that’s a truly loving God.
Lastly, an appendix to deal with annihilationism. Which is a short, good defense on why as Christians we should not believe in it. And a note to pastors on how to preach hell to your congregation.
What I found was good about this book was how the argument clearly showed the foolishness and danger in believing that Christians can actually remove hell and still have the essentials of the gospel intact. Ramsey shows that that is impossible. It was akin to how Machen showed that liberalism was not even remotely close to Christianity, and what the doctrines really meant.
One criticism about of the book was how Ramsey started the first one or two chapters rather casually. Too casually, I would suppose. I remember thinking that I would have changed some of them in a manner that would have brought out the seriousness of why Christians must believe in the doctrine of hell. Thankfully, that was the only time I had that thought, the rest of the book was great to read, engaging, and maintaining a seriousness to its tone without sound like a boring lecture.
This is a great book for all Christians to read. I doubt many would have thought about how important hell is to the Christian faith. After reading this, I doubt you would ever think in that same way.
Chris Ho in a 5-star review on Amazon
“I highly recommend this book to all believers.”
In what manner would you like to die? Would you prefer a slow, and possibly agonizing death, or would you rather experience a quick and hasty death that you have no time to prepare for? My default answer to this question, and the answer that most westerners would also give, has been that I would prefer a quick death (maybe going to sleep one night and never waking up?). However, that mentality of “avoid pain at all costs” has not always been the mindset of humans. Christian comedian and Pastor Thor Ramsey, in his book, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, tells of a life-changing moment in his own life that occurred while he was listening to lecturer Stanley Hauerwas from Duke Divinity School:
Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas asked the audience how they would like to die. The responses ranged from ‘quickly’ to ‘in my sleep’ to ‘not on stage.’ (There was a comedian in the crowd.) Hauerwas then explained that medieval people feared a quick and sudden death because it would not give them time to be ministered to by the church. Armies even debated whether an ambush was immoral or not because it didn’t give their opponents time to prepare for death. Medieval people wanted a lingering death because this would give them time to reconcile with their enemies. (pg. 27)
Wow, talk about a much different mindset than what pervades modern man! Medieval people were very worried about how a lack of reconciliation with both their fellow man and God would affect their eternal destiny. Our current mindset about eternity falls into one of the following categories: (1) Try and avoid thinking about eternity altogether because if we don’t think about it then we don’t have to deal with it; (2) Verbally argue away the existence of a Heaven and a Hell which is usually followed up with a belief in some form of annihilationism; (3) Hold to universalism in which everyone goes to Heaven at some point [either after a visit to Purgatory to atone for your sins, or immediately after you die]; or (4) Believe in a literal Heaven and Hell as taught by the Word of God. Ramsey’s book, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, is a brief glimpse from a Reformed perspective at each one of these beliefs and their lasting implications on those who hold them.
Also, I think it is definitely worth drawing attention towards the beginning of this book, even though Thor himself doesn’t mention it until the last chapter, that Thor’s own position has huge implications on his understanding of the eternal destiny of someone that he was extremely close to, namely his mother. Thor gracefully goes into excruciating detail about his own personal struggle with the doctrine of hell, especially in light of the fact that, outside of a death-bed conversion, his very own mother who passed away a few months prior to publication of his book is suffering in Hell at this very moment. Talk about gut-wrenching! The emotional turmoil that dealing with the reality of Hell can generate in any person is almost beyond words, so this book is a very personal one that Thor did not take lightly. As Thor says in that last chapter, “…this issue has true emotional force for me—it’s not just abstract theological doctrine or intellectual gymnastics.” (pg. 70) Therefore, not only was the book a labor of love for the church body as a whole, but also one of personal struggle, pain, triumph, and liberating joy found only in the hands of a Sovereign God who created not only a beautiful Heaven for His children, but a torturous Hell for the unrepentant.
Furthermore, the fact that Thor Ramsey is a practicing Christian comedian, I was very curious about how he would handle such a powerful and sensitive topic. I was very concerned that there would be some crude or cold remarks made at inopportune times in this book, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case at all. In fact, Thor’s jokes were well-timed and evenly spaced out in the book. I can honestly admit that I found myself chuckling a number of times during the reading of this book.
The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever is passionately evangelistic, and a wonderful antidote to the “Santa-Jesus” that is being peddled by the false teachers/preachers of modern times. The shift from a bible-centered view on Hell, to a “Hell can be whatever you want it to be (if you want to believe in it at all)” is something that Thor confronts with wonderfully gracious hands. He does not come across as vindictive at all towards those who have done, or are doing, the most damage to this Biblical doctrine. Instead, Thor goes again and again to the Word of God and powerfully refutes the false doctrines that are permeating modern society.
The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever is a brief, but biblical, handling of a very sensitive topic. I highly recommend this book to all believers.
I received this for free from Cruciform Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Kicker, in a review on Amazon
“Deals with a very important subject that is under attack these days.”
I shared yesterday that I have had a problem recently doing just about anything, including reading. I’ve had little desire to read, which is really abnormal for me. And so as I’ve begun to shake out of the cocoon of my acedia, I wanted to force myself to read a book. Any book. And so I went to my “books-on-deck” pile and grabbed the shortest book there. It happened to be a book on hell. Ironic. But at least it’s The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever.
Thor Ramsey writes a book on hell that is clear and concise. This is the not a theological treatise on the subject, but it does deal with several of the theological arguments against eternal conscious punishment. But there is one part of his book that makes it different from many other books on this subject I have read. He is funny.
I know, it sounds weird to me as well. A book on hell that is humorous. It almost seems to me that if any book should avoid humor, it would be a book on the eternal torment of conscious souls. Don’t you think? I honestly do not know where I fall on it. For some reason, I liked his humor. But I feel as though I shouldn’t because of the topic. But maybe the humor is what kept me reading without become overly depressed because of the topic. Either way, it is funny. But it deals with a very important subject that is under attack these days.
If you are looking for a book on the descriptions of hell, you need to keep looking. But if you are looking for a book that argues for the reality and existence and purpose of hell, feel free to grab a copy and sit down with your cup of coffee for a good lesson. At the beginning of the book, he shares his premise on hell. It’s shockingly accurate.
When I began studying the doctrine of eternal punishment, I had this thought but I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. It sounded absurd. It was too shocking to think, let alone say out loud. The thought was this: Hell glorifies God. I know. Exactly. It’s the halitosis of theological thinking, but it is truth nonetheless. And that is the simple premise for this book: hell glorifies God (16).
Obviously, this thought is going to raise many questions. But the one he seeks to answer in detail is how that can happen. How can eternal punishment of people glorify God? He says,
Because belief in hell affirms the holiness of god and other such attributes of his, like truth, righteousness, justice, and grace. Why do you think superheroes steal their slogans from us? Truth. There is one true God; he is righteous in all he does and in who he is. God will bring justice to those who do not approve of him (which is the essence of sin) and who will not confess they have committed cosmic treason. There is justice for those who have been harmed by the unrepentant. And thanks be to God, there is grace for all us moral failures who turn to him in reverence, fear, and repentance. Grace is not the elimination of hell, and any idea that comforts people in their unrepentant state can in no way be loving, truthful, or gracious, and should be rejected (and this includes annihilationism) (11-12).
Throughout the book, he argues that if we get rid of hell, we lose the fear of God, the holiness of God, the gospel of God, and the love of God. Yes, if we get rid of hell, we lose understanding the love of God (you’re going to have to buy the book to read why that is so).
Despite the humor (or because of it—still don’t know how I feel about it), The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever is a book you may want to pick up to read. It’s short, but packed full of helpful insights. He concludes with these thoughts:
If my view of eternal punishment turns out to be wrong, then I’ll be surprised and delighted upon entering the afterlife. ‘Hey, look, it’s my favorite uncle from prison!’ But if you die dis-believing the saving gospel and die believing you’ll have another chance…what happens then if you’re wrong? Not only is there no purgatorial bus ride. You will have missed the bus, period. All hope gone forever (92).
Thad Bergmeier, Changed By The Gospel