After the uproar in the evangelical community a few months ago surrounding Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" I wasn't all that eager to read another book on the doctrine of Hell. I heard of Francis Chan's new book "Erasing Hell," but frankly, I'm not a fan of Chan's writing style. The reviews on Amazon are not that strong. And yet, I found a copy sitting in my mailbox at church - left by a friend asking me to skim it and share my thoughts. So I read it, and found to my surprise I thought it was very well done.
Erasing Hell is co-authored by Preston Sprinkle, a professor with a Ph.D. in New Testament. Their goal in writing this book? "to answer the deepest questions you have about eternal destiny. Like you, sometimes they don't want to believe in Hell. But 'We cannot afford to be wrong on this issue.'" They describe it as a book not about arguments, or doctrine, or being right, but a book about the character of God.
Table of Contents
1. Does Everyone Go to Heaven?
2. Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?
3. What Jesus Actually Said about Hell
4. What Jesus' Followers Said about Hell
5. What Does This Have to Do with Me?
6. "What If God ...?"
7. Don't Be Overwhelmed
Other reviewers commented that in this book Chan takes pot shots at others, carries a very arrogant tone, and that merely presents a response to Bell's book that doesn't stand on its own. I really did not find this to be the case at all. I find a Chan that is extremely gracious towards others, humble, glad for having been challenged to study the Scriptures to seek the truth, challenged by his own lack of love, and passionate about wanting others to know Christ. (I thought he was far more gracious and humble here than in Crazy Love, for example).
Chan and Sprinkle make a strong case for the existence of a real hell that is eternal and not empty. Chan admits he would not like this to be true, but that neither Jesus nor his followers nor the majority of theologians throughout the history of the church give us much hope that it is not. Repeatedly he reminds the reader: this is not about doctrine, but the destinies of real people - people God loves. The final chapter leads off with "We are not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled - as with all doctrine - to live differently in light of it." He then spurs us on toward a greater sense of urgency about sharing the cross, the solution to the problem of sin.
Is it a perfect book that answers all questions and removes all doubts? By no means. But it is definitely a solid and accessible book of interest to those who want to better understand this important doctrine, and/or those who are confused by what they thought they believed upon reading Bell's book. If you want to be thoroughly challenged in your understanding of Hell and be awed by a God who is naught but love, if you like a book to raise more questions than it answers, by all means read Love Wins. But if so, do not let it be the only book you read on this subject! (Another recent book in this area that comes well recommended is a direct response to Bell's book - "Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's Love Wins" by Wittmer and Horton. It's a gracious response written from the perspective of two systematic theology professors.) There are a host of issues in Bell's understanding of Scripture and teaching on hell that simply cannot be ignored. Erasing Hell is a good counterpoint that treats both Scripture and authors with opposing views fairly - and a book that stands on its own merit. Are Chan and other traditional evangelicals wrong? I sure hope so! Really, I do. But I think their position is the one best supported by Scripture and a holistic view of the character of God.
"Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity and the things we made up" is available at Amazon and other retailers.