Review: Charles Watson's _Hell In A Nutshell_


(Note that this is the same as my current Amazon review for the book; which can be bought here.)

If someone is looking for a short, light, introduction to topics surrounding universal salvation, this offering by Charles Watson would fit the bill. I recommend it over Rob Bell’s far more famous “Love Wins”.

Since no review [at Amazon] has included a table of contents yet, I’ll do a quick copy-paste from a production pdf provided by the publisher for my review. (I also own a Kindle edition, bought at Amazon.)

Acknowledgments | ix
Abbreviations | x

Section 1: Preparation and Clarification | 1
Introduction: The Great Divide | 3
1 The Appetizer | 8
2 What’s What? | 14

Section 2: Lifting the Veil | 21
3 Heretically Orthodox Faith | 23
4 Expiring Grace and Mercy | 31
5 Deficient Love | 40
6 Unscrupulous Justice | 47
7 Grace, Mercy, and Love vs Justice | 58

Section 3: The Mystery of His Will | 69
8 Biblically Unorthodox Faith | 73
9 Perpetual Grace and Mercy | 81
10 Relentless Love | 91
11 Victorious Justice | 99
12 Grace, Mercy, and Justice in Love: Holiness | 110
Epilogue: Urgency | 115

Appendix A: Questioning the Gospel | 125
Appendix B: Proof-texts | 129
Appendix C [a summary report by Charles Slagel of one of his prison ministry sermons] | 140
Appendix D: Book Recommendations | 141
Appendix E: George MacDonald on Adoption | 142

I have added a description for Appendix C in square brackets [like this], since it is missing in my pdf, and also currently in the Kindle Edition. (The publisher may correct this eventually.)

There are fourteen short prose semi-sermons, about 130 pages total (including the Epilogue and Appendix A), which briefly touch on various topics without spending much time anywhere so that the reader will not become bored, occasionally returning to topics again later for a few moments. The author includes two sermons from other people, Charles Slagel and George MacDonald, in two of his appendices, for comparison. (One of the other appendices addresses forty non-universalist texts with a few quick questions each and occasionally some short comments. The address in Appendix A is intended to set up and justify this approach.) I didn’t personally find the topics distinct enough to sort the chapters into multiple sections.

If I sound a bit meh about the book, that’s because I’m a technician, and so I have a hard time evaluating or, really, even appreciating books written this way. I consider this my own defect, not a fault of the book.

Speaking as a technician, however, I consider this book better than Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”, or LW’s first half anyway, about which I am notoriously prickly! Charles’ technical mistakes are few, and tend to the trivial, for example mixing up the churches at Laodicia and Philadelphia – which I didn’t notice on my first read-through either! Even his three most problematic mistakes I found to be still correct in principle. They are, in other words, the type of mistakes common to earnest and appealing Sunday preaching: fixing them won’t hurt the points being attempted. And in the worst mistake, about whether a term appears in the Greek New Testament texts or not – Charles thought it didn’t but it does, which is a common mistake in this field – he himself toward the end of the book (albeit somewhat accidentally) introduces what would be a proper fix in accounting for the term’s NT usage: God’s punishments naturally intend both the good of the punished and also His own honor. (Consequently, using one or the other term doesn’t exclude each term being properly correct.)

In conclusion, then, I regard this book as, on average, better than Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”. I can’t say it reaches the same occasional heights, but neither does it (in my judgment) dive even remotely into the same inane depths. On the balance, Charles’ book remains consistently good quality, and for me that gives it an edge.