TITLE INFORMATION: HELL NO Not Exactly What You Were Brought Up To Believe
J.E. Gulbrandsen FriesenPress (93 pp.)
Oct. 2020 – ISBN: 978-1-5255-7819-9

A KIRKUS BOOK REVIEW

A lay Christian’s investigation into the meaning of hell. A retired Norwegian entrepreneur, Gulbrandsen has devoted much of his retirement to in-depth biblical research. Here, in his fifth book, he challenges traditional Christian interpretations of hell. Raised as a Pentecostal and currently attending a Baptist church, Gulbrandsen’s belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and prioritization of the biblical texts over scholarly interpretations align with mainstream evangelical methodology. On this issue of hell, however, he believes that “the evangelical church has fallen into a religious sleep” and has uncritically accepted the traditional Roman Catholic interpretation of it. The book’s beginning explores the various Christian interpretations of hell over the past 2,000 years, reminding evangelical readers that their specific version of the fiery everlasting “has not always had such a significant following throughout history.” Early Christian fathers, from Clement of Alexandria in the first century to Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century, rejected the idea of eternal damnation for nonbelievers and instead emphasized universal reconciliation with God. By the Middle Ages, the author notes, the Catholic Church had formed its own ideas of purgatory to extort Christians into paying their way into heaven and to “control the masses” with the threat of hell. To Gulbrandsen, a religion built on fear and punishment is antithetical to the Christian God of love and forgiveness. The book is particularly strong in parsing out the litany of Hebrew and Greek terms in the Bible that have been lumped into a singular hell, which obscures the varied meanings of the original words. The lake of fire that Satan is cast into in the book of Revelation is drastically different than the allegorical Gehenna featured in the parables of Jesus, though Christians for centuries interpreted both places as hell. On the other hand, the book’s theological and historical research is mostly superficial and includes multiple block quotes from Wikipedia, by far the most referenced source in the book, though there are many biblical citations. An amateurish, yet refreshingly ecumenical and critical, study of hell in Christianity.