Monday, April 22, 2013

Introducing Hell and Beyond

  

My father, Michael Phillips, has just released a fantasy about the afterlife titled Hell and Beyond. Modeled after C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, but with more explicitly universalist motifs, the book is being heralded by many as the next step in the Love Wins phenomenon. (At the moment the book only exists in e-book format and can be purchased on Amazon Kindle or associated e-readers here.)

Does hell last forever? Is God or the devil in charge of hell? What is the lake of fire? What does it mean to be saved? These are just some of the many questions raised in Hell and Beyond.

My parents recently came to visit us, and while they were here I finished interviewing my father about the book, probing him about the book's implied theology and anticipating some of the objections he is likely to encounter from more traditionalist readers. Over the next few weeks I will be publishing our interview in separate segments in order to invite you, my readers, to participate in the ongoing discussion. A Facebook plugin will be imported into each interview segment to facilitate a user-friendly discussion. Meanwhile, the entire interview can be downloaded at the following link:


An important disclaimer for readers of this blog is that I do not agree with everything in Hell and Beyond, nor do I subscribe to the larger epistemological and hermeneutical architecture on which the book's conjectures ultimately depend. At the same time, I think the book raises some important questions about the afterlife, and I hope to use Hell and Beyond as a platform to generate a vibrant dialogue both in this blog and in the wider online community.

To read all the interview segments as they becoming available, and participate in the discussion, click on the following link:


What Others Are Saying about Hell and Beyond

Eugene Peterson (author and public speaker):
“Michael Phillips skillfully immerses our imaginations in a detailed participation in what may be involved in ‘life after death.’ He neither defines nor explains. Instead, using fantasy as his genre, he takes us on an end run around the usual polarizing clichés regarding heaven and hell and enlists us in honest, prayerful biblical meditation. I highly recommend Hell and Beyond to anyone expecting to die, whether sooner or later.”

William Young, author of The Shack"

“Phillips has offered a breathtaking and important addition to the world of traditional theological allegory, joining Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and C.S. Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress...It is beautiful beyond describing and stunning in its impact. When I read Lewis and MacDonald, and now Phillips, I walk away wanting to be more than I already am, more consistent and true, more authentic a human being, more the child.”

J. Baxter Kruger (author and public speaker):

“Michael Phillips has done the impossible—written a thriller on hell. Hell and Beyond breathes the rarified air of George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons and Lilith, C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces and The Great Divorce, and Paul Young’s The Shack and Cross Roads. If you are ready, this book can bring hope to places long buried in your tears. It is brilliant and scary, fantastic and unnerving, evangelistic and terrifying—every word drenched in undiluted love. You will find yourself longing to be healed to the roots of your soul by Jesus’ Father.”

Gary Marshall (Indiana):

Although this is a fictional story, it does have great implications as to God's unbelievable mercies. Understand it is fictional but also understand it can give you a real good idea of how we cannot imagine God's power and desire that not one person needs to lose hope. He has plans for everyone no matter what you have done or whatever you are. Hope is our greatest ally and God has hope in immeasurable amounts for all!!!

Donald  M. Joy (Wilmore, KY) 

Michael Phillips is best known for his condensed translations of George Macdonald novels--all of which are empowered by MacDonald's characters and plots, but unleashed by Phillips' clarity.

Phillips has given us a treasure in Hell and Beyond much as C. S. Lewis gave us in The Great Divorce, Screwtape Letters, and Pilgrim's Regress. In Hell and Beyond, Phillips creates a spellbinding plot in which all of the unique people with whom the central character interacts are on their various journeys after their earthly lives end. Subtly, this fantasy is mostly about God as Creator Father, the gracious suffering of Jesus Messiah, and the gentle embrace of the Holy Spirit as the entire cast of Hell and Beyond responds to heaven's faithful wooing of every human vagabond to embrace integrity, honesty, and initiative and thus to live out creation's intention and to welcome the fire challenge that speeds their welcome into God's never ending holy community.
No doubt every reader will respond uniquely to Phillips' narrative, since each human journey follows a unique path. I welcomed the cleansing effects and empowering to embrace the transforming fire challenge that opens the door to ultimate intimate community forever.
Henry

Others have described the book well, it's not a controversial new take on the truth about Hell, it's a fictional speculative allegory. If you liked the way your assumptions were challenged if/when you read The Shack, you'll like this book as well. Extremely thought provoking. It was a little unpolished here and there but a much easier read than older allegorical classics like A Pilgrim's Progress or even the books by Lewis.

Caroline Wong (Ontario, CA)
This is a beautiful book about what happens after we die and it is the scenario that I had always wished for where everyone is given many chances to come home to God. I love the writings of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis and there are echoes of their thoughts and words throughout the book so that's an added bonus! They also appear as guides. Bonus!

This book will be offensive to most atheists and a lot of Christians. It was not meant for atheists and I doubt they would get past the first part. No doubt some would think they would live a very nice life with the community of one another on the other side of the flames. Do not hand this to an atheist and expect you've done your duty by them! This is not why the book was written. This was written for Christians, especially those who wondered about God's justice. Mercy triumphs over judgment and justice is all about redemption, reconciliation and restoration. How beautifully all these myriad themes come together in this book. How beautiful it is that we would want to do what was required whether paying the last farthing to leaping into the flames of the Father's heart.

I so hope that this is how it's going to be in the next aions. I so long to see everyone I love there and why not since I could never love them more than God?

Patricia Reilly:

Hell and Beyond will make you think about what eternity might really be like. This book left me smiling and really feeling like God truly loves us and has made a way for all of His creation to "be... perfect even as Our Father... in Heaven is perfect" in an eternal Kingdom with our Father who loves us and is "not willing that any should perish..." I loved it - and will definitely read it again... Soon!

Debra L. McNamara:

Reading Phillips' book is like looking at a theological ink blot. Love it and you will see the absolute love of the Father has sent its roots deep into your heart. Fear it...,hate it, and you will discover you believe the weight of sin exceeds the weight of glory. Much good will come from publishing of Hell and Beyond. However, it must survive the crucible of undeserved controversy.
F. Means (Oregon):
It is shocking to recognize rambling thoughts brought together in a more coherent format such as Michael Phillips' Hell and Beyond: A Novel. Who has not heard of near death experiences with the tunnel that leads to a bright light? Few speculate on what lies on the other side of those experiences. This story is like the starter's pistol that begins a race but the image of the straining runners is what keeps us watching the race to the finish. Where will we go from here?

David Black
A really great book worth reading! Really answers questions that one asks themselves. Be sure to get this book! I’ve run out of words.

Richard L. Pendleton
This book brings to mind a number of other Christian allegories such as Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' (which I did not much care for), Hannah Hurnard's "Hinds Feet on High Places", 'The Shack", and several of C.S.Lewis' stories such as the "Great Divorce" and "Narnia". I do not take it as theology but as a mind opener to possibilities. If it is read as orthodoxy, few would like it, I suppose. If it is read as an expander of our thinking about God and His creation.

I believe this is not only interesting and thought provoking but leads us into possibilities we would not tend to explore by ourselves.

I highly recommend this book to those who love the Lord and are willing to enter into thoughtful explorations.

Rachel Mueller
When I began to read the novel, I instantly wondered if it would go the way of Pilgrim's Progress, The Great Divorce, or A Case for Christ. Somehow Michael Phillips has managed to take all three ideas, insert his own brilliant wording, and produce a work of art that is truly refreshing. There are several moments where Phillips tackles the tough questions Christians and non-Christians alike wrestle with. "Is this hell?" "What about the devil?" "Does God really let people be separated from Him forever?" These themes, among others, create room for follow up discussions.

Though we may never truly know on this side of eternity what Heaven and Hell will be like, we're allowed the space to wonder and imagine what both of these places can actually contain. Phillips' use of imagery is so descriptive, I could often smell honeysuckle and feel the burn of the fire. Beyond the level of thought Phillips has placed on creating a modern day Heaven and Hell, is the honesty in which he looks at the message of the Gospel. There is a talent in being able to write to an atheist and a Christian with equal messaging.

As a Christian, it can be easy to get lost in the middle of "religious" duties and the things we learned as kids. Phillips gave me goosebumps when he stripped down religious jargon, fancy terms, and old school beliefs to bring back the beauty of the Cross. I wish I had more words to recommend this to anyone and everyone. I think it could be an excellent use to start a conversation with unbelieving friends. If you're a fan of any book dealing with the afterlife or just need a reminder of how magnificent the Cross really is, you will not regret your purchase and time spent reading!

D. Clark:

Michael Phillips has crafted a fantastic vision of that which might follow our time on this earth. He in no way proposes his writing as fact or doctrine, but as a catalyst to begin thinking about God in a much bigger way.

I recommend this book to all who have ever wondered about the things of eternity: heaven, hell, and beyond. To those who have been unsatisfied with a small vision of God and who are willing to begin to think about God in a much bigger way.

Karen Sutton
Thank you for writing such thought provoking book. The depiction of Heaven and Hell was fascinating, and just excites me more to be there someday with our Father! It will be so much more than I can even imagine. But, the best part of the book were the questions raised of how I'm living my life right now. I know the Spirit was speaking to me through my reading of your book, challenging me with many questions. How am I really dying to my "self" and seeking to truly know God? How am I seeking to truly know God's will and give up my own will to His? And so many more challenges. The matter of "choice" has long been a focus of mine, so I was interested how you emphasized it. Well done Michael. I will recommend your book to others.

Ken Anderson (Marion, IL, US)
I limit my reading of Fiction Christian material but this is a quick read from a well respected author so gave it a try. My wife has ready many other books from Michael Phillips and enjoyed them all. In this one, we are forced to think about our traditions and our futures. And, while fantasy, Phillips knows the human heart and walks us through the changing of one. I enjoyed having to think about whether the loving and merciful God on this side of Life is anything anything but loving and merciful on the other side of this. Good brain and heart trip. It challenges our assumptions held in our traditions but does not offend most of the things we hold dear. In this book I never felt like I was being indoctrinated or pushed to agree with all that is written but simply put into different environments than one we usually travel. If you can stand the challenge to our traditions, the book is a good thoughtful expression of Hell and Beyond. Reading the authors The Commands as a follow up to Phillips thinking and teaching

Richard G. Kirsch (Spokane, WA)
I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wondered how one might write "a novel" about Hell! I don't think there's another person alive today that could accomplish what Phillips has in "Hell and Beyond." 
I've read over a dozen nonfictional books about Heaven and/or Hell, but this is the first fictional book I've come across about Heaven and Hell that is invisibly drenched in nonfiction. Being an avid Bible student for over 40 years, I prefer theological subjects to be accompanied with Bible chapters and verses. This novel, however, is a refreshing surprise that I thoroughly appreciate. Phillips has allusively woven into this thriller so much truth from the Scriptures (without chapters & verses) that I have truly been captivated. To those who are familiar with the Bible, they will connect numerous Scriptures with the storyline. The ultimate truth on this topic, however, is left to each reader's personal conclusion.

Regardless of one's faith bias or whether one is familiar with the Bible or not, Hell and Beyond can provoke readers to search their hearts regarding the kind of lives they are presently living. This is an adventure that can reap far greater benefits than mere entertainment. Finally, another great novel with substance... and that, on a really hot topic, to boot!

J Young (Lakewood, CA, US):

I was skeptical in the beginning because fantasies are not my thing. But it certainly was a page turner. There were things I disagree with, of course. Revelation 20:5-6 indicates two resurrections, for if there is a first, there must be a second. The second being a resurrection of non-believers giving them another chance at being human, a thousand years after Jesus has returned to rule the earth. I also disagree with the weakening of the power of the work of Jesus which obliterated all sin forever, human effort cannot top that. However, the wonderful truth of the last three paragraphs of Chapter 23 and the whole of Chapter 24 brought tears of joy to me. Thank you. God is bigger than people can begin to imagine.

Ron Morgan:
Love this book. I am going to pass it around to whoever will read it. It makes me happy to read because it is so full of hope and God.

John Ward (Carmel, IN USA) :

Christianity's history is heavily laden with divergent suppositions on just about every "truth". The human trait of each seeing or understanding the same event and then reporting it with a unique narrative is never more apparent than the accounts recounted in the Gospels. Some divergent opinions do indeed fall into heresy while others are safely within God's rich story. Today there is a storm within the Christian community over "end time scenarios". This book is a participant in that storm. It is an enlarging and exhilarating picture of one man's end time. I have no doubt that deep within each of us there lay the hope that "none should perish". This books takes us to the heart of that very hope. To those who have an adventurer's heart for the things of God, this book will draw you page by page to new vistas. Is this or the traditional view of our end (in reality our beginning) God's view? I don't know and I suppose that neither does the author. What I do know is that God was very much larger in my mind upon completing this celebration of His unending love for me. Remember, some storms bring refreshing life to parched lands.


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