I found "Erasing Hell" by Francis Chan an excellent book. Mr. Chan does a great job of placing focus on Biblical truth and helping the reader find other resources that give reason to his views and what he has discovered; whether through scripture or other authors views concerning hell. In reading "Erasing Hell," the reader is provided with a wealth of thought provoking information that the reader can use to decide for him/her self concerning God's truth that many may spend eternity in hell. And if the reader even digs deeper in understand he or she can also find God's truth in His Eternal Love.
In a word, I found this book rather disappointing. The title is deceptive as this book seems to heighten awareness on the topic as opposed to erasing it. I found this to be a rather shallow work with much of the author's bias present in the pages despite his insistence that he left personal bias out.
The author had the good sense to quote such masters as Thomas Talbot but only in so much as it agreed with his own personal bias but he fell short of exploring Talbot's theological insights where they did not agree with his own. For instance, the author's perspective of eternal fire and eternal punishment are that they literally last forever whereas Talbot's view is that "eternal" is not a statement of time but of ownership. The author failed to explore these possibilities which is unfortunate. I found that the author seemed to have a bad habit of quoting portions of other author's statements for the purpose of reinforcing his own beliefs while, at the same time, making statements to try to discredit other aspects of those very same authors' beliefs, very unprofessional.
There are far more authorative works on this subject. Two such works would be Bradley Jersak's "Her Gates Will Never Be Shut" and Thomas Talbot's "The Inescapable Love of God."
I'm only half way through and I really like how Francis Chan approaches what the Bible says about hell as well as the references he makes with regards to the time the Bible was written. It's important for us 21st century people to understand how words were used back then. Francis looks at some tough questions, he makes it easy to understand and I like his honesty. Honesty will get me every time.
Chan would love to erase hell out of the Bible, especially after watching his grandmother die, convinced she would be in torment for eternity. He struggled with it.
He decided to write a book about hell. It scared him because so much was at stake. "Too many people were at stake." (15) He prayed and fasted to prevent his own desires from twisting Scripture to gratify his own personal preferences.
Chan says his book is much more than about hell. "Its a book about embracing a God who isn't always easy to understand, and whose ways are far beyond us; a God whose thoughts are much higher than our thoughts; a God who, as the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things...has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases." (17) Since His thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, "Expect, then, that Scripture will say things that don't agree with your natural way of thinking." (17)
With that introduction, Chan moves on to distinguish what we want to believe and what we could believe, given biblical evidence. He looks at universalism as well as what the "will of God" means. He investigates Jewish literature to get a sense of the concept of hell around the time of Jesus (which Jesus and N.T. writers did not "correct").
I was surprised that, "there's no evidence from the time of Jesus that the Hinnom Valley (gehenna literally means "Valley of Hinnom") was the town dump." There is no "archaeological evidence that this valley was ever a dump." (59) The first recorded suggestion is from a rabbi in the thirteenth century, and then only as an analogy. Chan shows that Old Testament passages reveal that the Israelites engaged in indolatrous worship there, sacrificing children to Canaanite gods. It became a fitting analogy for God's place of judgment. Jesus lived and taught in the era of this understanding of gehenna and "His views stand in line with the dominant first-century Jewish view of hell." (74) Chan thoughtfully goes through Jesus' comments on hell. "Jesus chose strong and terrifying language when he spoke of hell. I believe He chose to speak this way because He loves us ans wanted to warn us." (86)
Chan then reviews what the New Testament writers said about hell. While Paul never used the term he did address the fate of the wicked, writing of eternal wrath, indicating "God will severely punish those who don't bow the knee to King Jesus." (103). John's vision of wrath in Revelation is terrifying and is "forever and ever."
Chan reminds his readers that the threat of hell is important to Christians too. Jesus threatened hell to those who curse their brother (Matt. 5:22), to those who thought they'd end up in paradise but, in fact, didn't know Jesus (Matt. 7:22-23). James writes about the use of the tongue and Revelation speaks to being lukewarm.
Chan works through Rom. 9:22-23, "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" to show His mercy and glory. He reminds us that our perspective is not God's. Out thinking is inferior to His. "Everything about Him and all He does is perfect." (133) It may be impossible for us to figure out God but we must not submit Him to our reasoning. God is not embarrassed by His actions. "It's time to stop apologizing for Him and start apologizing to Him." (138) "...[W]e need to stop explaining away hell and start proclaiming His solution to it." (146) He urges his readers to make sure they are reconciled to God and are not in danger of hell.
Chan is hard hitting but he is humble. This prayer will give you an idea of his heart:
"Please forgive me, Lord, for wanting to erase all the things in Scripture that don't sit well with me. Forgive me for trying to hide some of your actions to make you more palatable to the world. Forgive me for trying to make You fit my standards of justice and goodness and love. You are God; You are good; I don't always understand You, but I love You. Thank You for who You are." (139)
Chan writes, "As I have said all along, I don't feel like believing in hell. And yet I do. ...I joyfully submit to a God whose ways are much, much higher than mine." (141)
Chan's book is slim, a mere 150 pages (less when you subtract the pages of footnotes). Add to that an appendix of FAQs and a bibliography. Certainly you have the time to read such an important book.