I didn’t realize my new book on Hell had hit the shelves until Tim Challies mentioned it on his blog.
Why a book on Hell? Interesting story:
Apparently some market research found that a trending topic is non-fiction “afterlife tourism” or first person narratives of people who claimed to have been to Heaven or Hell. This egregious genre is one of my pet publishing peeves (for evidence, see my review Heaven is for Real…Well Duh!) When my agent was approached by a secular publisher (Sterling Ethos, New York) looking for a book compatible with that genre, we instead pitched the idea of a non-fiction, biblical explanation of Hell framed in the first person of the Rich Man in Hades whom Jesus mentioned in his parable in Luke 16. Sterling loved the idea and the journey began. In keeping with the after-life tourism theme it is titled A Visitor’s Guide to Hell.
I should warn those who intend to read the book: though this sobering topic must never be treated flippantly, anyone who knows me understands that I can’t even preach a funeral sermon without using levity. This bugs some people, and I understand that. But I think in this book I avoid being glib while still being myself.
Also readers should bear in mind that this is not written only to an Evangelical market but is intended to be evangelistic. My intention was that the book could be given to an unbeliever, who would find it engaging enough to complete and be exposed to a clear explanation of the gospel.
Here is a snippet from the introduction, followed by the table of contents…
Let’s face it: Hell is not a topic most people like to talk about, blog about, or teach their children about. The very word “Hell” is classified as a soap-in-the-mouth cussword in many homes. As kids we frustrated the tattletales by skirting the taboo word with a typographical code phrase: “Go to H. E. double hockey sticks!” Like sex and hemorrhoids, Hell is a topic unmentionable in polite company.
So why write a book about it? Why raise Hell?
Theologians and Proctologists
The reason to mention the unmentionable is simple: because a desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t a good enough reason to avoid thinking. We don’t enjoy thinking about our digestive tracts, but we are all really glad there are textbooks on proctology. When we need to face the reality of trouble brewing in our nether regions, we know some expert has gallantly ventured into that course of study on our behalf. Rather than ignore the topic of Hell, we should embrace the information we have at our disposal, particularly teachings provided in the Bible- however disconcerting they may prove.
If Hell is not real, then it behooves us to explore why so many people in the world today and in centuries past believed in it. Why does humanity need Hell?
If, on the other hand, Hell is real then ignoring it is not only futile, but also foolish. It is unimaginably dangerous to sip the opiate of ignorance rather than face the proffered cure. Avoiding the subject in the hope that it is mere myth is the worst high-stakes gamble a person could ever make, akin to playing Russian roulette with one’s eternal destiny.
We Agree to a Degree
Almost every ancient religion in mankind’s history has acknowledged the existence of a place or state of punishment for those who find themselves at odds with their religion’s credo.
The consistency of this punitive concept is astonishing. This sounds like the start of a joke, but just imagine a Jewish rabbi, a Protestant pastor, a Catholic priest, a Muslim imam, a Hindu guru, and a Celtic druid agreeing on a single religious doctrine. Hell would be your best bet at finding common ground.
Religions tend to be mutually exclusive in their belief systems. Until postmodernism popularized relative thinking, everyone in history understood that not all religions could be correct. If souls spend eternity in an underworld like Hades, then they cannot also be annihilated, and simultaneously sent to a euphoric spirit realm, while being reincarnated as a rodent, and yet burning in Hell. Either they are all wrong, and there is an option no one has ever thought of, or one is right and the rest are not.
What the… ? Surprised by Hell
Why Hell? A Brief History of Eternity
To Hell and Back: Who Has the T-Shirt?
Downtown Abyss: Learning the Lay of the Land
The Gated Community: Hell’s Population
Dead-End Streets: How to Go to Hell
The Great Escape: Rescued from Hell
Off the Beaten Track: Heaven
Unhappily Ever After