Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) (Book Review)

Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It)

I’ve been doing a lot of study recently in eschatology—specifically, the nature of hell and eternal punishment. Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) intrigued me, because Brian Jones once rejected the belief in hell (while he was a pastor), but now he embraces it. Surely, it would be interesting to see what exegetical evidence brought him around.

The book description led me to believe that it would be an apologetic for hell, perhaps something like Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I don’t know if I can blame the author. This seems more like an instance of misleading marketing. Either way, it was not what I expected.

I’ll get to what the book really was about, but let’s cover some of the good things I did like about it first.

Brian Jones is clearly driven by a love for God and a desire to trust the authority of Scripture—whether or not he likes what it says. I resonate with him completely here. We must always place God’s word above man’s word. Even if we don’t like what is in the Bible, we must simply accept it and submit to it. This book is a result of Brian following his convictions, and I fully commend him for that.

Hell Is Real was easy and enjoyable reading, as I’ve come to expect from books published by David C. Cook. I got through the whole thing in a day. Furthermore, Brian strikes me as a very sincere guy with a real heart for God and love for people. I have a feeling that he and I would get along pretty well, despite the theological differences that I will cover.

In his book, Brian never described exactly what he did believe about hell before he fully accepted it. Was he a Universalist, was he an Annihilationist, or did he simply reject the concept of hell altogether? We’re not told.

But whatever it was, the book did make it clear that his rejection of hell was not based on exegetical evidence. It seems he has always believed that the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment in hell; he just chose to reject what he sees as the biblical teaching.

Therefore, his conversion was not one of finally understanding the truth about what the Bible teaches. Rather, his conversion was one of finally submitting to the authority of the Bible. Once more, I fully commend him for this. We must always submit to what we believe the Bible teaches.

That said, Brian never got into any biblical support for hell as eternal conscious torment rather than other views of hell, such as annihilationism. He made a stand-alone statement that hell is not annihilation, but he provided no support. He listed plenty of verses that talk about eternal punishment, but he seemed to miss the fact annihilation would also be eternal punishment.

But the real thrust of this book is not about proving hell or the nature of hell at all. It’s basically taken for granted that eternal conscious torment in hell is the biblical teaching. The majority of the book is spent describing how this teaching should affect our evangelism. And that is where my biggest problem with the book lies.

Brian Jones seems to believe that the reason we evangelize is to prevent people from going to hell. I would assert that this is a poor understanding of evangelism. This (very common) view reduces the gospel to a how-to-get-to-heaven plan, and it reduces Jesus’ work on the cross to a get-out-of-hell ticket.

The Bible is clear that Jesus came first and foremost to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21) and from the penalty of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Furthermore, the Bible is clear that Jesus already did this, becoming the sacrificial atonement for all the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

Jesus did not die to save us from hell.

Hell—whether it be eternal torment or annihilation—is the result of refusing the eternal life that is offered through Jesus. When a man rejects this gift, through his words or his actions, he “treats with disdain the Son of God … considers ordinary the blood of the covenant by which he was made holy and … insults the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29, LEB). Therefore, the wrath of God—though appeased on the cross—remains on him (John 3:36).

Our purpose in evangelism should not be to keep people out of hell. The good news is that Jesus covered our sins and restored our relationship with God. We can forever have fellowship with our Father! That is why we should evangelize and make disciples.

What happens to those who reject eternal life is a secondary matter. But according to Brian Jones, we need a belief in hell to give us “apocalyptic urgency” to evangelize.

What do you think?