Book Review of ‘Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version’ (Julie Ferwerda, 2016)

As a lifelong Christian who has always critiqued and pondered deeply the core teachings of both Christianity and religions in general, David Sretenovic has a particular interest in the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell. In this blog he reviews a brilliant book by Julie Ferwerda, ‘Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version’ (2016, Vagabond Group).

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Years after I read and was blessed by Raising Hell (2011) (the earlier edition to the subject of this review) I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with its author, Julie Ferwerda. This struck me about her: she loves and cares for people, and she is honest. And this is the wonderfully human sense you get as you read the book. In particular, the autobiographical elements show her internal, personal dialogue as she followed her conscience – prodded by the innocent questioning of her young daughter – into examining the way the traditional doctrine of ‘eternal hell’ seems incongruent with the heart of a loving Father God. The image of the Prodigal Son’s father frenziedly running to greet his returning vagabond is a refrain throughout Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version (2016) (Raising Hell (TSSV)) . This will capture your heart and intellect if you let it.

Any reader who opens their heart enough to feel the compassion behind the book will be blessed to encounter the rigour and logic which Ferwerda applies in deconstructing the centuries-old edifice of children-parents-and-friends-torturously-burning-in-hell-while-we-are-happily-coexisting-in-heaven-forever. Raising Hell (TSSV) is a welcome précis to the original book, yet its scope remains balanced and thorough. Ferwerda draws on robust scholarship, including the Jewish and Universalist traditions, and amply utilizes both classical and modern analogies, timeless quotes, poetry and biblical worldviews to unlock the paradigm. Much of the book is also dedicated to rebutting common pro-hell arguments, including the “What about Hitler?” quip!

Ferwerda scaffolds her thesis throughout by supplying the important questions which she, and any searching reader, need to ask to distill the truth on the matter. Questions such as: Doesn’t the New Testament mention hell more often than heaven? Is there a viable Christian theological position historically and scripturally that doesn’t teach a literal, eternal hell? How could millions of devout Christians and theologians over many centuries have been duped (and who am I to question authoritative scholarship)? Moreover, the author delves into the intricacies of Bible translation through the ages and interpretation. The chapters explore these well, and Bible study and discussion-starting scaffolding are also supplied (although fewer than in the first edition of the book).

The following quotes from Raising Hell (TSSV) are most illuminating for anyone who is warming to the idea of ‘raising hell’, and wanting to be shepherded towards a better hope, as the gospel suggests:

The notion of hell is suspiciously missing from the OT as the destiny for most of mankind, unless you read the KJV or TM (The Message), both of which include the word hell over thirty times. Do KJV and TM know something others don’t? Why the inconsistency?…Here’s the deal. KJV translates Sheol as hell whenever they want to convey it as the fearsome destination of the wicked (e.g. Ps. 55:15, 91:17…). However, when portraying the fate of the righteous, they translate it grave (e.g. Ps. 89:48, Job 14:13). Same exact Hebrew word in both cases!…

The word most often translated hell in the NT is the word Gehenna, found only twelve times – once in James and the rest occurring in the Gospels. Jesus warned about Gehenna on four unique occasions in Matthew. Mark and Luke only use it in one passage (repeating Matthew), and John doesn’t use it all. (Raising Hell (TSSV), p.26-27).

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

For more information and a link to a free download of the Hell Raising books, click on this link: http://www.raisinghellbook.com/#wrap . Follow the book and Julie Ferwerda on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RaisingHellBook/ .

Additional resources on the general topic of “hell” via my public Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Hell-free-Christianity-203963783004656/

Stepping Stones for Andje

David Sretenovic shares a poem inspired by time with his daughter, and reflects on the stepping stones of her growth into his family faith.

Earlier in the week I captured a special moment with my daughter Andje [AHN-jee], who is now three and a half years of age, in a poem. The picture attached is similar to the view I had as she sat on my lap outside 🙂 .

Rain, Snuggles and Tears

You sit on my lap wrapped in your special blanket
We breathe the rain-soaked air and feel the fresh breeze
You snuggle up and smile because you just love to
I hear your voice uttering unfiltered delights
You describe the world around and the world inside your heart
Every idea is magic to me
And just as I see the lines of your pure little cheeks
I see that you will need me to teach you as you grow
But if I am gone before that time
I know God will
The tears they come and fill my heart like the rain
Tears of joy for you, my beautiful daughter

This week has in fact been special: I’ve seen my daughter grow in beautiful ways. Little milestones of independence such as dressing herself and cleaning up spontaneously, next-level manners, and for the first time actively clarifying alphabet letters for her name and others’. And today as we were reading some kids Bible stories, she consciously engaged as never before with the events of Christmas and Jesus’ life story: I saw pennies dropping like a poker machine payout. It was a precious moment, because images from Christmas, Easter, and other New Testament events are so dear to our psyche as a family and our extended Christian community. She was partaking of our faith in a new way. These are moments I’ve been anticipating with joy: sharing with her the hope which the gospel gives to us and the whole universe — and not just potential hope, as some factions of Christendom offer, to “the elect” or to “those who say the correct prayer”. It was a thrill for me to share with her our faith, and to inspire a hope-filled outlook as she faces both life today and also the sadness of death. I was amazed at the hope I heard in my own voice – it was real! By telling her what I believe, my heart and voice communicated hope. And in time, because I have shared my faith, she too will have an opportunity to believe what I do … but regardless of her future choices, I believe I have already instilled a sense of hope into her spirit, something beyond words and intellectual understanding. I do believe this.

What joy my daughter brings. Thank you, Heavenly Father!