Monday, July 18, 2011

Review - Erasing Hell

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
Appendix: FAQ

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.


Ron Krumpos said...

In 2011 world population will reach 7 billion (vs. 3 billion in 1960). There are now approximately 2.2 billion Christians. Chan and Sprinkle seem to be saying that 4.8 billion people may be facing eternal hell.

Concepts of afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Not all Christians agree on what happens after this life, nor do all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or other believers. Rebirth, resurrection, purgatory, universalism, and oblivion are other possibilities...none of which can be proven.

Mystics of all faiths have more in common than the followers of their orthodox religions. True mystics realize that eternal life is here and now; it does not begin after mortal death. The age of Earth is said to be 4.5 billion years, of the Universe 13.7 billion, yet few humans live to be 100. Relatively, this lifetime is a mere speck.

Scriptures are subject to interpretation; people often choose what is most beneficial for them.

Larry Baxter said...

Thanks for your feedback Ron. You're certainly correct that not all Christians (or other people of faith) agree on what happens after death - and that it's not something provable. It's an awkward and politically incorrect subject to talk about. If all faiths were basically the same, it would be irrelevant or spiteful to talk about hell. *If* however there is is a God who came to earth in the form of a man to reconcile people to himself, to not merely demonstrate a loving life but save them from an eternity separated from God, then it is not a subject that a loving Christian can ignore. This is the point of Chan's book. Bell, also a Christian who I believe genuinely loves God and cares about people, reached a different conclusion focusing on the "big picture" that God is love rather than the details of what many passages of Scripture suggest about God's character and mankind's destiny. I am hoping Bell's view (and to some degree yours) is correct, but my understanding of the Bible suggests it may not be. And that's not based on what is more beneficial for me (though you speak truth when you say this does often color our interpretation). I hope to see everybody in heaven :)