I just finished reading Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones, published by David C. Cook. The timing of this book — even though it began as a project long before the current furor — makes it a kind of response to Love Wins even if not directly so. While the Rob Bell book uses its first two chapters to ask enough questions to somewhat undermine a belief in everlasting punishment for those who don’t believe, Brian Jones takes his first couple of chapters to state categorically that he now believes in the certainty of hell as traditionally understood, and as literally taught in the Bible.
He uses his unwavering belief in a physical hell as the premise for what he wants to go on to talk about, which is the need to communicate the existence of hell to our unsaved family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. It refutes Love Wins only in the sense that Jones’ dogmatic certainty stands in stark contrast to Bell’s questions and uncertainty.
The point Jones really wants to get to is taking the message of salvation to those whom life puts us into contact with. Just as last summer’s Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick gave us the phrase “audacious prayers,” so does Hell Is Real… give us a phrase, “apocalyptic urgency.” That urgency runs through all 266 pages.
However, don’t start constructing placards or buying TV airtime right away. The hallmark of this book is the balance of the approach between said urgency, and finding appropriate times and places to work with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in a person’s life. The key to this book isn’t the first part of the title so much as the parenthetic part, But I Hate to Admit It. Many of us have a natural reluctance to engage our friends and contacts in a faith conversation, much less a debate.
Unless people come to you with specific questions or a specific outpouring of the heart on a matter of need, sharing the message of — to use a $50 word — propitiation is delicate. Too aggressive an approach and you create barriers that can set the conversion process back indefinitely.
In many respects for those who have decided that Bell simply asks to many questions and undermines too much of what church leaders have always believed and taught, Hell is Real represents the next step in the discussion. In other words, after all is said and done, where do we go from here? What is the practical application of all the debate?
Brian Jones would say the “hell part” of the equation is necessary to create the apocalyptic urgency needed to make evangelism effective.
Brian Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.