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The Last Word and the Word after That The Last Word and the Word after That
A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity

Brian D McLaren
ISBN 0787975923 (9780787975920)
Jossey-Bass, 2005

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith

Are you concerned about hell? Concerned about the bizarre concept of a God who loves us so much that he's prepared to die for us — but if we don't love him in return is prepared to consign us to eternal torment? And then blames us for the predicament we find ourselves in — a predicament that only he can save us from but now it's too late, we've blown it. For ever.

It's a strange idea of Good News, isn't it? If it's got you wondering, questioning, even afraid, be sure of this: you are not the first to ask, nor will you be the last. In this book you're about to go on a journey, a roller-coaster ride into the history of hell, through the Bible and into the future of hell's de(con)struction. You'll see Jesus himself taking hold of his contemporaries' language of hellfire and firing it back at them, turning their whole world upsidedown. Whatever hell may or may not once have been, it is no longer.

But at this point I'm in danger of missing the point: whilst hell is the main topic of conversation in this book, that's not what it's about. It's about God's love and goodness, a love and goodness so amazing that despite the worst spin the church can put on it over two thousand years of backward-somersault-twisted theology, it can still break through to transform lives. Your life. My life. Our lives, emerging together in a community of faith, unfinished but also unafraid to ask these kind of questions.

This is volume 3 in McLaren's A New Kind of Christian trilogy, completing the series. Volume 1, A New Kind of Christian, introduced us to postmodernism and its implications for faith via a fictional conversation between two characters, Neil Edward Oliver (nicknamed Neo for his initials), a black school teacher, and Dan Poole, a white pastor. Volume 2, The Story We Find Ourselves In, took the conversation further via a tour of the Galapagos islands, exploring questions of creation and evolution. This volume takes the conversation over the precipice to gaze into the very pit of hell itself.

Volume 1 has apparently been banned in some Christian circles, and no doubt Volume 2 will soon follow suit if it hasn't already. This, taking the Bible's own fire-extinguisher to the concept of hell, will certainly prove too hot for some to handle. You, gentle reader, may not be ready for this book, especially if you've been told what to believe and are used to a rock-solid foundation of dogmatic certainty for your faith. But if you're up for a challenge and dissatisfied by the dogmas, read on and be ready to see your faith reborn in a God who really does love you, wants the best for you and from you.

Because unlike the dolphins in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, God does not abandon humanity to face destruction alone. He's committed to us and to the world he made us for, here and in the hereafter. Hell may be the last word — but there's a word after that: love. And that's the word that counts.

Suggestions for Further Reading
There seems to be no end to the material that's been published about hell. These are just a handful of what's available. Although Amazon flag the IVP titles as "Hard to find" and subject to a surcharge, they should be easy to obtain from most Christian bookshops.
  • William Crockett (Editor) with Zachary Hayes, Clark H Pinnock & John F Walvoord
    Four Views on Hell
    Zondervan, Counterpoints Series, £11.99 |
  • Evangelical Alliance
    The Nature Of Hell
    Paternoster, £7.99 |
  • Edward Fudge & Robert Peterson
    Two Views Of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue
    IVP, £9.99 |
  • Bruce Milne
    The Message of Heaven and Hell
    IVP, Bible Speaks Today Biblical Themes Series, £9.99 |

Phil Groom, May 2005

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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