Two major category errors have caused untold grief for many
November 7, 2016
Overall, a helpful book. A lot of work went into it. I found echoes of my own key writing and teaching points. Yet it breaks my heart that, by making two major category errors in this book, Francis Chan has brought untold needless grief to many.
First, Francis Chan tells a heartbreaking story based on his 100% certainty that his mother went to hell. I believe we should not presume to say with certainty that a specific individual went to hell. Only God knows that for sure. Therefore, I believe Francis Chan is making a serious category error. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal to us whether or not they turned to Him in their final minutes, hours, days (knowing that in this life we very well may not know, though God has answered that prayer with certainty a week after the death of a patriarch in my wife's family).
The second major disappointment with this book? Francis Chan says that a person who dies without hearing about Jesus Christ goes to hell. I believe that's an even more serious category error. There are degrees of divine revelation. Even Scripture teaches that. Those degrees of revelation bear directly on the question of who does and doesnt go to heavenand who does and doesnt go to hell. A family member with Downs Syndrome doesn't know the difference between an Elvis impersonator and the real Elvis who died decades ago. He also doesn't know who the real Jesus is, let alone know the Gospel, let alone believe, let alone follow Jesus Christ. So, this family member is going to hell? No, of course not. The Judge of all the earth will do what is right. Whether genetically or geographically, many can't opt into faith in Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean they're all going to hell anymore than my first grandchild who died twelve years ago.
Again, it breaks my heart that, by making these two major category errors, Francis Chan has caused untold needless grief to countless thousands of readers.
While no one likes the thought of loved ones going to Hell, this is a conversation that needs to happen, and be taken more seriously. This book provides the information and tools needed to have this conversation in a way that helps to see the importance of the material, without the Hellfire and brimestone type teaching that has scared so many from the church. Most importantly, this book looks at the eternal hope that can be found even in such a difficult subject. Very well thought out and written. A great tool, which I will be sure to use in the future.
It is my strong preference to read, talk, and think about Heaven, but it is essential that we also know about Hell. I want to have a proper understanding of Hell for a host of reasons. I read about it regularly in the Good Book, people often talk about it unbiblically, I teach about it occasionally, and Jesus has saved His people from it eternally. I want others to know what it means to call Jesus the Savior of the world therefore I need to learn about Hell. Erasing Hell helped with that.
Erasing Hell is the third Francis Chan book I have read. Like thousands of others, I have greatly benefited from reading his books as well as listening to his sermons. Francis Chan can make challenging topics more understandable, and he has a knack for getting people from both ends of the spectrum to listen. Preston Sprinkle is new to me, but I think he's alright since he rolls with Chan.
Erasing Hell did not get my juices flowin' like some of Chan's other books (Crazy Love and Forgotten God), but the book is solid. Erasing Hell came largely in response to Rob Bell's Love Wins, and Chan and Sprinkle respectfully refute some of Bell's unorthodox teachings. Regardless of whether you are a fan of Bell's teachings, Chan and Sprinkle provide a profitable book about a not so easy topic. You may not always agree with what Chan and Sprinkle say, but they speak humbly and in a manner that can appeal to both seasoned and beginning theologians. Below is how the book is organized.
The book Love Wins by Rob Bell provoked this much better book on a neglected doctrine. Bell conforms to the secular culture, which has pretty much abandoned belief in any sort of afterlife, but most definitely does not believe in hell, since all this wonderful self-esteem training in our schools (the ones that can't teach math, science, and writing) has made people think they are so darn wonderful God jolly well BETTER welcome them to heaven. Some might call that "wishful thinking," but unfortunately, if hell is real, well, it might be a tad risky (to say the least) to deny it.
The authors write well, and they certainly do a better job at interpreting the Bible than Bell did. Actually, as they point out in the book, "interpretation" isn't really even a factor in the doctrine of hell, for Jesus most definitely did believe in it, as did his disciples. Liberals like to focus on what Jesus said about God's love - which is fine, except they choose to ignore his many pronouncements about sin, God's anger, and the Final Judgment. These aren't popular teachings today, but the author's point out that the Christian's duty is to study the Bible and learn the will of God, not to pick and choose doctrines that make us comfortable. The gospel has NEVER made people comfortable, and wasn't intended to. Essentially it's a rescue story, one that some people embrace but that most reject. As Jesus himself said, he came to call sinners, not to call those convinced of their own righteousness.
The authors point out that in Paul's one sermon to a non-Jewish audience (the people of Athens, Acts 17), he preaches on divine judgment - even though he's aware that most of the pagans listening to him don't share the Jews' belief in hell. Revealing, isn't it? Paul claimed to be "all things to all men" as he preached the gospel, and in Acts 17 we see him quoting a Greek poet to provide a nice "hook" for his pagan audience - but he still insists on sticking to the core of the gospel: repent, turn to God, for the day of judgment is coming.
I doubt this book would convince anyone who is already a committed universalist - i.e., one who parrots the familiar line "I don't like to think of God as wrathful and judgmental . . ." That kind of person will simply dismiss the authors' arguments in this book as "biased" (also "hate-filled" and "mean-spirited," those useful words that are used so well to shut down debate). However, if you or someone you know is "on the fence" regarding this doctrine, the book may well push you over to the pro-hell side - or, to put it more positively, make you appreciate God's mercy and forgiveness in providing a means for us to spend eternity in his presence, not separated from him.
As I was reading this, something struck me: the authors clearly believe in hell, yet they do not see God as cruel and malevolent, nor does believing in hell make a person cruel and malevolent. Some of the best Christians I've known believed firmly in both heaven and hell. Unbelievers and liberal Christians somehow just can't hold the two ideas in their minds at the same time - God of love and mercy, God of judgment. But there's no getting around the New Testament: Jesus and the apostles had no trouble seeing the same God as both just and merciful.