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

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  520 ratings  ·  87 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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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
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
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
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
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.
J.R. 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
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...
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
Rob Haug
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Joshua Ryan Butler puts almost a to neat bow on this package. In his conclusion, he says, “Our questions are hell, judgement, and holy war. Holy war, judgement, and hell are Israel’s answers. Our questions are Israel’s answers”. Now you just have to read the book to see what any off that means.
Butler does a good job of answering these big and uncomfortable questions. Where I disagree with him was predominantly in style and emphasis. At one point, he proposed a thesis that your welcoming into the
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
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and thought-provoking!

I recommend this for any Christian, especially those curious about the doctrines of heaven and hell, the kingdom of heaven, or the wars of the Old Testament.

My one and only gripe against this book is that the author tends to restate his points for emphasis in several different ways. I would occasionally get a little frustrated with that

Overall it was amazing and eye-opening. It had me going to the scripture to check his work, and having finished I have a lot o
Corey Burch Sr
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
Oct 31, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: religion
Joshua Butler does a good job covering the subject within this pop theology book. It is not a rigorous study of the Christian Tradition. However, it was a good read. The most disturbing portions of the book for me were Mr. Butler's occasional anti-democratic rants. Yet again, I am amazed at how zealous our American culture is in the support of libertarian and social-darwin free-market economic values.
Austyn Harris
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Easily the most paradigm shifting book I have read outside the Bible. Josh has an incredibly humble approach to the tough topic of Hell, Judgment, and Holy War and therefore has very wise words flowing from his pen. Regardless if you are interested in these topics you should read this book. It is a beautiful perspective of the kingdom and resurrection of Christ that I have yet to see and understand until reading this book!
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a hard book to rate... First, it is a very very good book. Joshua touches on so much that we find frustrating about the Bible, and speaks to the mission and intent that is amazing.

What I found frustrating is that there are other passages that take his interpretation and expand on them...but he never address them. I think with a fuller reading he may have slightly altered conclusions. But the direction he applies is a fantastic point of view to pursue. Good read!
Taylor Barkley
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Again, I wish there were a 3.5 star rating. A thorough contextual study of the more troubling passages of scripture yet he wanders off topic at times. It reads like a long series of sermons. Overuse of colons. Scripture quotes were throughout which was a plus. Not as deep of a dive philosophically as I would have liked but it’s conversational and accessible.
Paul Frank Spencer
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an important read for anyone wrestling with or already comfortable with Christian theology. Butler faces the most difficult concepts in Christianity head on and forces the reader to reconceptualize his or her idea of God. Maybe the Old Testament God isn't as spiteful and vindictive as we thought. Maybe he has every shred of love expressed in the life of Jesus.
Robert Lloyd
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book!

I was very impressed and enlightened by how well thought out, studied and written this book was. This book made some connections for me that I had never made before, and helped me appreciate the interactions between the Old and New Testaments in understanding some of the more difficult topics of Christian faith. A wonderful book!
Alena ruiloba
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely accessible read!

Very clear, easy to understand way of framing some of the most important theology of our day. The mental shelves for the Biblical story of what God is doing about His good world gone rogue are ones we all need, and should familiarize ourselves with in order to speak to the concern of our generation
Diana Lehner-Gulotta
I definitely found parts of this books very enlightening and helpful, but the writing was sometimes a little wordy and difficult to follow. It took a lot of effort to get through, though I suppose that’s true of many intellectual, non-fiction novels. I gave it a 3 because it was good, not great or life-changing. I’m not sure if I would recommend but I’m glad I read it.
Joe Nixon
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have ever read answering tough questions about Christianity in regards specifically to hell, judgment, and holy war in scripture. The ideas are organized in a thoughtful manner and Butler relies on scripture to explain the false caricatures we have created. This book is filled with hope that God will one day redeem earth through His kingdom in Jesus.
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