Review of Holy Hell, by Derek Ryan Kubilus

Holy Hell

A Case Against Eternal Damnation

by Derek Ryan Kubilus

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2024. 189 pages.
Review written March 27, 2024, from my own copy, purchased via
Starred Review

For many years now, I’ve been collecting and reading books about Universalism. It started from reading the sermons of George MacDonald, not realizing he was a Universalist. Then I checked what he was saying against Scripture, especially noting the “all” verses, and became convinced that yes, the Bible teaches God will save everyone. And then I started reading modern writers on the same topic. It is not possible to overstate the amount of joy this change in views has given me. Every time I read another book showing why universal salvation is biblical, I give myself renewed permission to believe this wonderful, joyful teaching.

Holy Hell is the first time I found one of these books so close to publication date, though. I was actually researching Christian publishers when trying to find a home for my own book, Praying with the Psalmists, when this then-upcoming book caught my eye.

And this book, like so many others on Universalism, made my heart happy. Derek Kubilus’s approach is not horribly academic, but he does base his arguments on what the Bible says, including the information about misleading ways we translate the Greek text of the New Testament into English. I’d heard that in other books, but I do like the way he puts it, taking a pastoral tone. He’s a United Methodist pastor, which also made me happy, because since 2019, I’ve been a member of a United Methodist church.

This book has all the basics for a universalist book, explained in a way a layperson can understand. I think my favorite part was his treatment of the parable of the sheep and the goats, because that was still a niggling point I wondered about. He points out that a God who praises people for visiting other people in human prisons is not the same God who would put people into an unending prison. Here’s how he puts it:

Notice that the King does not say, “I was innocent and you came to prison to visit me.” He does not seem to care about the particular guilt or the innocence of the one who is incarcerated. He simply identifies himself with whoever might be in prison, saying, “I was in prison and you visited me.” As the last detail mentioned in a series, the fact that sheep go to visit prisoners carries the most emphasis in the text. Caring for those who are imprisoned actually epitomizes what it means to be a sheep. Yet, some will argue that we are to understand this passage to be saying that God imprisons souls in a torture dungeon and withdraws God’s presence from them for all eternity! Are we to believe that God is praising the sheep for their enduring presence with those who are in prison, and at the same time, God withdraws God’s own eternal presence from those whom God sends to prison? If that were true, then Christianity would simply be a terrible religion worthy of our rejection, because the Christian God would be the biggest hypocrite of all.

Another thing I liked about this book was his chapter about expanding our circles. Becoming a universalist has challenged me to be more loving and more inclusive to those I’d like to dismiss. Here’s a bit from that chapter:

Exclusion is easy. Walking around thinking that we are the special ones, that we are justified simply by virtue of who we are or what we believe, some identity or another, is comforting. Cutting more and more people out of that circle isn’t a problem as long as we stay nestled safely inside of it.

Expanding the circle, however, is a “hard teaching.” Expand it too far and we start to wonder if there’s anything special about us at all.

By that measure, universalism might just be the hardest teaching because it expands the circle all the way.

I marked many quotations in this book, so it’s going to be showing up on my Sonderquotes blog. Check out those to get more of an idea.

But if you’re wondering at all, if you think universalism might possibly be true, I highly recommend this book along with all the others on my Exploring Universalism page. This one is a great place to start!

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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