Book Review: The Skeletons in God’s Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler


The new book by Joshua Butler, The Skeletons in God’s Closet, is meant to be a sort of apologetics book answering the difficult questions that are posed by skeptics, and even believers, of the Christian faith. The questions include, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” and “Why is there so much violence in the Old Testament?” This includes topics like the holy war against the Canaanites and God’s exclusion of other religions from eternal life.

Though this book has some good insights regarding the nature of idolatry, sin, and historic references, it is ultimately problematic in that its interpretation of many of the questions raised is inaccurate and even heretical. For example, the Butler claims that the lake of fire is not a place where people receive eternal conscious torment, but rather “an apocalyptic symbol for the smoldering rubble of Babylon. It speaks to God’s judgment on empire, not the torture of individuals” (pg. 286). Other than the fact that this view is without any significant support from the Bible, early church Fathers, and the leaders of the Reformation, it is one that is speculative and based on poor interpretation of the text, especially in light of the other texts in which Jesus clearly described the nature of hell, as both eternal (like heaven) and conscious (like heaven) (Matt 5:22; Mt 10:28; Jas 3:6; 2 Pet 2:4). Usually when symbolism or parables are used, they are employed to highlight or elaborate on literal realities, not to be symbols or another “symbol.” Look at what the author even says about what hell is: “…not a chamber God locks from the outside against our repentant will, but a closet we latch from the inside through our unrepentant will, in our desire for freedom from God…” (pg. 100). Basically, hell is pictured as personal sin struggles that people are held captive to, rather than a place where God assigns those who have broken His law and sinned against Him.

The author even tries to downplay God’s “harshness” on the Canaanites, saying that Canaan’s brutal empire is being evicted from Eden. This means that the judgment on the Canaanites was not the “holy war” that was inflicted on them from the Israelite invaders by a God who approved such thing. As it regards the world religions and the possibility that they might be lost and judged for their rejection of the gospel, Butler hints at the idea of universal reconciliation, that by the end of world history, just the reconciliation itself will be a form of judgment on the religions of the world that have been guilty of idolatry (pg. 183).

A lot more can be said about the theological errors and interpretations of these questions, but when it all comes down to it, Butler tries to justify the God of the Bible by trying to heighten the loving, kind, and peaceful aspects of God while trying to rid of God’s righteousness, holiness, and justice. God is a loving and compassionate God, yet He is also just and righteous who has a zeal for His holiness. Sin and evil must be punished, or else God wouldn’t be good. He will by no means clear the guilty (Ex 34:8).

If Butler (or any other believer) has problems with the judgments of God because it seems offensive to him, then it only shows that He does not understand the holiness of God. If human judges send criminals to jail for offenses that they committed against the government, how much more should God, who is perfect in His being and morality? That is the whole point of all the judgments that are described in the Old Testament, and even the eternal judgment that is coming at Christ’s Second Coming. That is why earthly judgments (against the Canaanites) and eternal judgment of people are realities, whether we like it or not. I’m not admitting that my mind can fully comprehend the horrors of these righteous judgments, but if the Scripture says so, then we must trust in its words (as we also believe in the mystery of the Trinity, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, etc).

Although I wish I could have given this book a high recommendation (since it is provides some interesting insights on some issues), I ultimately cannot because of the fact that it gets so much of the interpretations wrong. It may satisfy skeptics, liberals, and opponents of the Christian faith, but is the gospel (or any Christian doctrine) really meant to do that? “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

This book (although well intentioned) does more damage to the cause of the gospel than simply telling the truth of Scripture the way it is. It is not only a false representation of God’s holiness and sovereign plan, but also on the inerrancy of Scripture (which includes the truth of Scripture’s perspicuity). No serious Bible scholar (whether it be John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper), or even simple laypeople, could read Scripture and come up with the interpretations and teachings that Butler put forth here, especially if you are abiding faithfully by the grammatical-historical hermeneutics. This book serves as an interesting study on the nature of alternative views posed by liberal believers, but that is all I can really commend it for.

Note: This book was provided free to me from I was not obligated to write a good or bad review, but only my honest evaluation.


This book reviewed by Steve Cha, author of Hollywood Mission: Possible: