The Most Encouraging Book On HELL Ever

the most encouraging book on hell everThor Ramsey, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever (CruciformPress, 2014)  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…