The Skeletons In God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War
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Thomas Nelson / 2014 / Paperback

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

Thomas Nelson / 2014 / Paperback

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Stock No: WW9100818

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Product Description

God has some skeletons in the closet. At least, that's what many of us fear. "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?" These are difficult questions that our family, our friends, our culture--even we ourselves--are asking. The Skeletons in God's Closet pulls these skeletons out of the closet to show that they were never really skeletons at all--but part of the good news that God is good and coming to redeem his world.

Hell is not an "underground torture chamber" God creates to torture sinners, but a destructive power we unleash that God has promised to redeem his world from--it represents an extravagant act of mercy. Judgment is not "churchgoers go to heaven, everyone else goes to hell," but God coming to raise humanity from death and set his world right by calling things out as they really are--and the results are a shocking surprise. Holy war is not "the strong using God to justify their conquest of the weak," but God arising on behalf of the weak when the tyranny of the strong has raged for far too long--he is the hope of the world.

Ultimately, The Skeletons in God's Closet uses our toughest questions to provoke paradigm shifts in how we understand our faith as a whole: we'll pull the "skeletons out of God's closet" to reveal they were never really skeletons at all. We'll grapple with the "skeletons in the ground" of tragedy, injustice and death in our world--to explore resurrection as God's good answer. Most importantly, we'll affirm that God is good "in his very bones"--not just in what he does but in who he is.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 240
Vendor: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: 2014
Dimensions: 8.38 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 0529100819
ISBN-13: 9780529100818

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Publisher's Description

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 God is really good and can truly be trusted.

The Skeletons in God's Closet confronts our popular caricatures of these difficult topics with the beauty and power of the real thing. Josh Butler reveals that these subjects are consistent with, rather than contradictory to, the goodness of God. He explores Scripture to reveal the plotlines that make sense of these tough topics in light of God’s goodness. From fresh angles, Josh deals powerfully with such difficult passages as:


  • The Lake of Fire
  • Lazarus and the Rich Man
  • The Slaughter of Canaanites in the Old Testament


Ultimately, The Skeletons in God's Close uses our toughest questions to provoke paradigm shifts in how we understand our faith as a whole. It pulls the "skeletons out of God’s closet" to reveal they were never really skeletons at all.

Author Info

Joshua Ryan Butler serves as Pastor of Local and Global Outreach at Imago Dei Community, a church in the heart of Portland, Oregon, where he enjoys helping people who wrestle with some of the tough topics of the Christian faith. Joshua oversees the church's city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking and homelessness and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support and church planting. Joshua is also a worship leader who enjoys writing music for the life of the church. Joshua's wife Holly and daughter Aiden enjoy spending time with friends over great meals and being a foster family for vulnerable children.

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  1. tdae1234
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    facing the giants head on
    December 6, 2014
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    Book review: The skeletons in Gods closet.

    Is God good? Can we trust Him? How do we reconcile the goodness of God with Hell? Holy war? Judgment? When asked, especially by people far from God about these topics, we either give a surface-y answer or we slink away to talk about something else. Anything else. But that wont do. That cant do.

    Joshua Butler takes these three topics head on. No slinking, no surface-y answers.

    Skillfully, Biblically accurately, and clearly, he addresses each topic. He shows what people generally assume, corrects misunderstandings, and then enters in with Gods big picture story of how it is best understood. Some key concepts include: Gods purpose in not to get us out of earth and into heaven; its to reconcile heaven and earth. P. 13)

    This is not a book to be digested all at once, but it is one where each chapter builds on the other. The personal illustrations are hard hitting, and powerful.

    There are times of wondering about literal vs. figurative understandings... but they were cleared up and reinforced in the appendix.

    This is a deep book to examine three deep topics that need to be understood and shared in word and deed. I recommend this book. It is for all who want and need to get beyond the surface. Itll challenge and change you. And, best of all, youll love God even more as you understand Him better and better!

    I received this book for free from for an honest review
  2. ldesherl
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    The Skeletons in God's Closet, by Joshua Ryan Butler
    November 9, 2014
    Quality: 5
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 5
    This book provides an in-depth analysis of three of the teachings in Scripture that most trouble so many of us in the West. These include the teaching of Hell, the teaching of judgment and the Old Testament accounts of "holy war" where the ancient Israelites declared war on Canaanites. This book is divided in three parts. Butler devotes the first part of his book to the Bible's teaching on Hell. He devotes the second part of his book to God's teaching on Judgment and the third part of this book is devoted to the Biblical account of the Israelite "holy war" with Canaan. Butler uses illustrations and stories throughout this book and anticipates many questions that we would ask about these matters. He shares stories from his own life.

    This book is pretty much as I expected, using well-reasoned arguments from common sense, to explain what is behind these tough teachings. I found this book interesting but it seems that Butler repeats himself. It has been said, though, that good teachers are not afraid to repeat themselves, if needed, to re-enforce their lessons. Butler, being of Native American origin, uses the argument of our instinct for justice to make all wrongs right, to underscore that our holy God will finally bring justice through judgment and Hell. Until I read this book, I have never heard Hell illustrated as being a source of protection not only for the inhabitants of Heaven, but is protective even for the inhabitants of Hell itself. I was puzzled as to why Butler did not underscore the Biblical fact of the reality and uniqueness of the Church as the Body of Christ until later in the book. It seemed that, earlier in the book, other faiths were seen almost as equal to ours. But I liked Butler's use of stories and symbols to show us what he means by what he says.

    I recommend this book to all Christians who have ever wondered about the difficult and hard-to-accept teachings of the Bible. They may find these teachings easier to accept, if not easier to reconcile with human logic. I even encourage non-Christians to read this book, as many of their questions about God in relation to injustice and suffering, may be answered here. Every Pastor needs to read this book so they are better-equipped to answer questions about God in relation to God and suffering, as well as to be equipped to preach on Hell and judgment, which are often neglected in pulpits. This book is too in-depth and intense for youth but maybe Butler should consider writing a youth version in the future.

    I receive a complimentary copy of this book through Booklook Bloggers, in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.
  3. bookwomanjoan
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: Female
    3 Stars Out Of 5
    Discernment suggested
    October 25, 2014
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: Over 65
    Gender: Female
    Quality: 3
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 2
    God gets a lot of criticism. Many think that Hell, Judgment, and Holy War are dark doctrines rather kept in a closet.

    Butler decided to get these skeletons out of God's closet. He is convinced those issues have been misrepresented today and are often not what the Bible teaches or what Christian theology has historically proclaimed. He centers his work around the biblical story of God's reconciliation, healing, and protection of the weak.

    The first skeleton is hell. According to Butler, hell is a force for evil, not a place of punishment. Hell gains entrance into God's good world through us. (24)

    Hell is the destructive power of sin that is cast outside the city. Hell is not a place God creates to torture sinners, but a power God exudes to protect the robust vitality of his kingdom. (62) In the Appendix, he does clarify that hell is a place and involves punishment. God's containment is the punishment. (319) He does make it clear, however, that it is not torture. (320)

    Butler never mentions the devil in his discussion of hell. He writes, Where then, does evil come from? As we have seen, we are the ones, not God, who unleash its destructive power in the world. We are the architects of autonomy, the engineers of evil... (62) He does not mention spiritual warfare, temptation, resisting the devil, etc. The power of hell resides in our hearts and makes its way into the world through us. (78)

    The next skeleton is judgment. God's judgment is good news, Butler writes, because the injustices are not forgotten. (116) God judges the world to heal creation, to release the land from captivity. (117) There will be a healing of the nations, a reuniting of the nations. (130)

    Butler emphasizes that judgment begins in the house of the Lord. If a priest rapes a boy, he will be judged (no mention of the possibility of repentance and God's forgiveness). He also seems to indicate that an abandoned wife in a third world country who worked hard to support her children, might find herself surprised to encounter Jesus and hear his voice call her his beloved... (153-4) There is no mention of what Christians would generally call saving faith. Butler says Jesus knowing us is where our salvation is found. That is not the same thing as claiming to know Jesus. (154) He writes, And it is also important to note: Jesus appears to know many who didn't know him. (156)

    About other religions, Butler writes, Jesus calls us to humble ourselves before followers of other religions as those created in the image of God. (165) Butler reminds us that God's kingdom is for them and that Jesus' judgment will be a surprise... (166) God is all about reconciliation. (171) We must not think that God's grace is not big enough to encompass the Muslim in the midst of a reduced perception of Jesus (the Christian must declare that God's grace has encompassed us as well in our reduced perceptions of Jesus). (178)

    Butler's third skeleton is Holy War. He argues that Israel's conquest of Canaan is a David and Goliath kind of story showing that God is for the weak. He also argues that the Old Testament makes clear it was using ancient trash talk, an exaggerated way of speaking. (228) Hyperbole is used to emphasize military victories. Joshua's armies were clearly not fighting against civilians but were fighting against soldiers in their fortified military outposts in the battlefield. (231) He also argues that the Canaanites were driven off notkilled off. (232)

    I am always amazed when someone develops an understanding of Scripture that is different from what is generally understood today. Butler develops much of is theology from the parables of Jesus. He generally ignores the rest of the New Testament. The impetus for developing his theology seems to be the injustice he has seen in the world. God's justice, then, becomes oriented toward the welfare of humans, not God's own holiness.

    On the positive side, Butler's book is a good reminder of the skeletons in our own closet. Have we hidden evil behavior in the closet? How about judging others? What about ignoring the plight of the weak and poor? Reading this book did encourage me to think about the skeletons I might be hiding.

    In the end, Butler's book left me dissatisfied. There were times when his unusual interpretations of Scripture really made me think. There were other times when I was sure he was skirting heresy, or perhaps actually treading on it. I would advice discernment when reading this book.

    I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
  4. jrforasteros
    Dayton, OH
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    A Challenging, Thought-provoking Exploration of Hard Doctrines
    October 14, 2014
    Dayton, OH
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    What aspects of Christianity make it hard for you to really, fully follow Jesus? Maybe its how the Church treats LGBT people. Or a congregations attitude toward women in ministry. Maybe its Bibles 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, itll actually turn out that God isnt very good at all, that God is a spiteful, tribal war god who only loves those that love him and punishes everyone else for eternity.

    Josh Butler calls these doctrines the Skeletons in Gods Closet, and in his new book, hes dragging them out into the light of day.

    For this book, Josh focuses on three particular doctrines many Christians find troubling: Hell, the Last Judgment and Holy War. Are there more? Most certainly. Is three enough for one book? Unquestionably.

    In The Skeletons in Gods Closet, Josh carefully works through each of these issues. He claims that each issue is a skeleton because its become caricatured in the larger cultural discussion. So, for instance, Hell is a counterpart of Heaven, one of two possible eternal destinations that awaits us after death one reserved for those who werent good enough.

    With each issue, Josh works carefully through Scripture, Church tradition, reason and his own experiences to reframe the conversation. He offers profound insights from across the Christian tradition, and establishes a more orthodox understanding of these issues.

    As Josh claims in the introduction:

    "God is good In the chapters that follow, I will seek to demonstrate that Gods goodness is continuous with, not contradictory to, these tough topics of hell, judgment and holy war. Indeed, that it is precisely because of Gods goodness, not in spite of it, that these topics arise."

    How well does Josh reframe these skeletons? Do they become avatars of hope?

    To a large extent, Josh succeeds. His treatments of these issue elevates the discussion to a serious-but-accessible level Evangelicals need. I dont know very many people who take their faith seriously who dont honestly struggle with these very issue. Joshs words will be a welcome guide (especially if you use the free discussion guide he offers to do this as a group study!).

    You probably wont agree with everything Josh offers. In particular, I wasnt wholly convinced by his discussion of the Canaanite genocides (though his treatment is excellent, and immeasurably better than what comes from some pastors). Either way, The Skeletons in Gods Closet will help you to think more clearly about some very difficult topics. That alone is worth your time.

    Its also worth mentioning that The Skeletons in Gods Closet is not exactly an apologetics book. Josh doesnt write to non-Christians to defend the faith. This book is written to Christians. Josh doesnt defend the authority of Scripture; he assumes youre already in the same neighborhood as he is.

    Thats not to say those who dont share Joshs (and my) Evangelical outlook wont find the book profitable. This is some of the clearest, most accessible writing Im aware of that directly and purposefully deals with these challenging doctrines. Even if youre not an Evangelical but youd like to hear an excellent representation of Orthodox Christian engagement that doesnt shy away from the potential ugliness of these issues, The Skeletons in Gods Closet is a book you need you be reading.
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