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The Skeletons in God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  628 ratings  ·  102 reviews
How can a loving God send people to hell? Isn't it arrogant to believe Jesus is the only way to God? What is up with holy war in the Old Testament?

Many of us fear God has some skeletons in the closet. Hell, judgment, and holy war are hot topics for the Christian faith that have a way of igniting fierce debate far and wide. These hard questions leave many wondering whether
Paperback, 356 pages
Published October 21st 2014 by Thomas Nelson (first published October 14th 2014)
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Brian Watson
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I find it hard to assign a starred rating to this book. Some parts were certainly five-star quality. But there other parts that, because of theological problems, bring the rating down considerably. I couldn't recommend this book without some serious qualifications.

First, the good: Butler takes three issues in the Bible that might paint a problematic view of God to some and turns them around, showing that, indeed, these are good things. The issues are hell, judgment, and holy war. Butler shows th
Apr 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Reading this book is like one really long sigh of relief.

I think the concept of hell -- along with how people use the idea as an emotional weapon against others (think: "Gays go to hell!") -- is one of the the things Christians struggle with most. I think it is also one of the main things keeping people from God in the first place. Who wants to know a god that plays favorites? And why would you want to hang out with him for all eternity?

The fact that this way of thinking also comes across as inc
Judy D Collins
A special thank you to Thomas Nelson--W Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. (nice cover)

The Skeletons in God’s Closet, The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War is an insightful and thought-provoking book, packed with tough questions, fresh ideas with profound and enlightening perspectives to age old thinking about heaven, earth, and hell, written by talented, Joshua Ryan Butler.

Wow, this is one powerful and eye-opening book; one you cann
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
My goodness this was a stimulating read. Some things I disagreed with, and others I would explain differently, but overall it’s a masterclass in pastoral apologetics for a secular age. Butler is not preaching to saints so much as seeking to persuade skeptics. I think Derek Rishmawy is right: “Skeletons in God’s Closet” is sort of like the book that “Love Wins” tried to be but failed.

In an age of entrenched skepticism, tribalism, and expressive individualism, I am grateful for this powerful (tho
James Housworth
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would love to wrestle through this book chapter-by-chapter with some Christian friends. There's so much thought-provoking stuff in here!

Section 1 ("How can a loving God send people to Hell?") was AMAZING. Seriously incredible. "Paradigm-shifting" is a descriptor so commonly given to books that I usually gloss over it while rolling my eyes - but this section truly was paradigm-shifting. I found myself saying again and again, "How have I never heard Hell described this way before?" He shows that

To cover intricate and difficult topics, like hell and holy war, with finesse is no easy task, but Butler manages it well. Highly accessible and engaging, this book had some great insights and helps Christians parse out the differences between a biblical view of hell and the Western cultural caricatures.
Casey Arn
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This books has given me a paradigm shift in my faith. Provided entirely satisfying answers to a lot of problems I had with what I thought was Christianity. Turns out my problems were with what modern Christianity has morphed into in the last 100 years AND which has very little to do with the Bible or any of Jesus's teachings. So happy someone like Joshua Ryan Butler came along seeking answers in the bible to some big questions (like what the bible actually says about Hell and judgement) and came ...more
Matt Tyler
Oct 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
There are chapters in this book that are fantastic. The book is very well written, well structured, and well argued. Unfortunately, some sections have some significant problems, and because of that I’m not sure this will be my go to recommendation on this topic.

One minor critique that really bothered me: the author removed nearly all Scripture references from the main text of the book and made them endnotes. I’m not sure why, but I hope it doesn’t become a trend. On a topic this important, I wo
Elisha Lawrence
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wow just wow. You want your mind to be blown? Read this book. Butler shows that so many characterizations we have of hell, judgment and God as a vindictive killer are completely misguided. The characterizations are literally flipped upside down when you recognize the emphasis of Scripture. This book is so humbling to read- come in with questions for God that feel substantial and leave deeply humbled at Gods patience, mercy, and posture of welcoming love for people. More in love with God after th ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A book that attempts to answer many of the questions that tend to keep people away from Christ. From why is God such a cruel Old Testament God of holy wars, to why does God torture people in hell. The book attempts to answer these questions. In the end, I was left with a feeling of how much I still have to learn about God’s goodness, judgment, and new creation.
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Such an incredible read!!! Highly highly recommended!!!
May 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I listened and then read this book. I grew up in a church where you didnt really discuss things like hell (just a place sinner go to) so this was very insight and I learned a great deal from this book. He really breaks things down and makes them easy to understand.
Hope Eifert
Jan 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
I’m not exactly sure what to rate this. I feel like I need to reread the section on hell to wrap my mind around it. I thought the section on holy war and the Israelites and Canaan was amazing, though! All in all, I felt like I learned a lot and had my paradigm expanded.
JR. Forasteros
Oct 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What aspects of Christianity make it hard for you to really, fully follow Jesus? Maybe it’s how the Church treats LGBT people. Or a congregation’s attitude toward women in ministry. Maybe it’s Bible’s complicated, complex history of transmission, and the way texts are handled by some denominations.

Or maybe there are some foundational doctrines that just give you the willies. Doctrines that, if you look too closely at them, it’ll actually turn out that God isn’t very good at all, that God is a s
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Simply excellent! Read it. One of the best books I've read this year. It was paradigm shifting and thought provoking. This would be an excellent book for discussion group.

My only critiques are that Butler is repetitive at points, almost to the point of copy + paste, and that at times, I want him to be much more specific than he is in describing key scriptural points/theology.

That being said, what an excellent work on hell, judgment, and violence in the Bible. He is a master of metaphors, and h
Nathaniel Spencer
3.5 stars.

This book may not have the most satisfying answers for everyone, but it definitely has more satisfying answers the a lot of the nonsense you’ll hear.

Hell, holy war, and divine judgment? How could anyone defend such things from a moral standpoint? It's not easy, but it’s necessary at a certain point.

One option is to throw throw these ideas out in disgust, and maybe the Bible with them eventually. Another is to throw down the "it's in the Bible, I believe it, that settles it" answer. H
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Some gems in this book but ultimately misses the mark. Some significant Biblical passages are missed (Rev 20:15 for example) and his idea of Hell is formed by CS Lewis more than the bible in chapter 6.

For all his claiming that the church and people have a caricature of Hell, he then proceeds to caricature one of, if not the most biblically sound view of Hell - annihilation, better understood if you Google conditional Immortality. This is a view held by theological greats like John Stott and pote
Ben Palm
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely gave me plenty to think about, though there were parts I didn’t agree with...
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology-bible
This book has helped me so much. It helped me think through some things I’d had wrestled with and wondered about for years. His way of wording things and painting a picture is powerful and helpful.
Maggie Boyd
Most people don't understand the Bible. It's about an ancient civilization set amongst other ancient civilizations of whom we in the west know nothing about. Moreover, thousands of years of misunderstandings stand between us and the truth of God's word. The end result is that caricatures of vital doctrines have taken the place for many of the doctrine itself. These "severely exaggerated, distorted, and oversimplified" theologies actually prove dangerous to our witness and our own beliefs about t ...more
James Pate
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Will God torment people in hell forever and ever just because they had the wrong religion? Should we celebrate a God who ordered the Israelites to slaughter every Canaanite—-man, woman, and child? These are important questions for a lot of people. As Rick McKinley says in the book’s Foreword, many think that “God’s hiding skeletons in his closet, showing us a smiling face of love but holding a whip behind his back in case we don’t do as we’re told” (page xv).

Christian pastor Joshua Ryan Butler t
Kayla Rakita
Jun 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
For a while I’ve noticed my beliefs about hell and God’s judgment have been changing, because it felt like some of the things I’d been taught growing up were inconsistent with who Jesus is and the main overarching story and themes of the Bible, but my understanding and theology on those issues were still murky and not fully formed. In this book, Josh Butler puts into words what I’ve wanted to believe, and provides tons of biblical and historical support for his argument.

The book tackles three m
Jul 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Recommended to Melissa by: Wyatt
This is a thoughtful look at Christian beliefs that are particularly difficult for our current culture to accept. For example, Butler reevaluates what he describes as a traditional "caricature" of hell, i.e. a fiery place where God tortures people. Instead it is something outside of the presence of God for people who do not want to be with Him -- the punishment is simply leaving people to their own desires and devices. There is a lot that resonates here, and it's reminiscent of C.S. Lewis's writ ...more
Andrew Brantley
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
How can God be good or trustworthy if He's going to send anyone who doesn't believe in Him to hell? Why is He so violent throughout the Bible? Why would anyone want to follow Him?

Josh Butler offers a robust Biblical examination of hell, judgement, and holy war in The Skeletons in God's Closet and concludes that many times the skeletons in God's closet are caricatures of what the Bible actually says. Hell, judgement, and holy war are all grounded in God's goodness, mercy, and relentless quest to
Steven Kopp
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I started out a little unimpressed with the first part of the book (on Hell), but by the end of the book Butler had pulled it all together and filled in most of the missing parts. I found his discussions on judgment and holy war most helpful. Here are my two biggest critiques: First, I don't think he deals adequately with "punishment" language in Scripture. He addresses it, but his systematic approach causes him to relegate it primarily to "containment." He might be right, I'm just not convinced ...more
Patrick S.
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What I like about this book is its balance between truth and grace. It is biblical and present biblical truths - truths that are obscured by popular theory rather that Scriptural truth; even by Christians. The author isn't presenting any new truths here but is presenting the topics of Hell, Judgement, & Holy War in a way that isn't the cartoon version that has imbedded itself into the collective consciousnesses. The author asks hard questions of what we think we know about heaven, hell, God's ju ...more
Josep Baidya
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a classic! Butler has unpacked the concept of Hell along with its causes and consequences. This book will challenge many Christian readers in how they read their Bible. This is an eye-opening and paradigm-shifting book. it breaks the traditional view of hell and gives a very fresh perspective of hell which radically demands bible readers to read the scripture with new-cultural-eyes. The ideas flow from page 1 and keep building. When we get the main story of Heaven and Earth right, then t ...more
Jesse Miller
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Butler starts the conversation that has been needed for a long time, and does so better than others I have seen attempt to deal with these “skeletons”. For that I gave 5 stars. My one issue would be that his answer lead to more questions when fully pondered. He leaves things unsaid. For example: does he think one could choose heaven after death? Does he think God’s judgement on hypocritical “Christians” is final and without escape while the worst sinners are met with loving arms? Some chapters c ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A unified story leading to Jesus the Hope of all nations

I have seen this book pop up in my “recommended for you” section but avoided it because of the title. I ended up purchasing this book based on a recommendation while listening to a Tim Mackie podcast. I am glad I read and listened to this book it help me weed out western; traditions, ideology and caricatures that have distorted the ancient script (Bible) and allowed me to receive the unified message as intended by its many authors. Your wor
Melanie Mead
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really helpful look at some biblical teaching that many people find difficult. (Hell, Judgment and Holy War). I highly recommend reading this book. Even if you don't agree with everything, it's a deep dig into both the questions raised by Christians and non-Christians and a very rich look at what the Bible says about them. While I'm still left with some questions about how the author interprets a few passages, overall I found it a really insightful and very helpful look at these often rejected b ...more
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