Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Erasing Hell

Last Easter all three of Francis Chan's books went up on the kindle store for free, so I couldn't turn down that deal (although I already had Crazy Love). After reading Love Wins, I thought it would be good to read Chan's Erasing Hell to see what he says. Head and shoulders, this book is a better one on hell  This book is kinda response to Love Wins, as Bell is quoted and cited a bit, but the book is also about Chan's own struggles and his study/journey into what the Bible says about hell.

Chan takes what the Bible says seriously but he is also frank with what he thinks and feels. He doesn't want to believe in a hell, he doesn't like the idea of it and if he was God he wouldn't have a hell. Despite his own longings and feelings Chan sees the topic of hell as an important one to get right, as he says in the intro:
If I say there is no hell, and it turns out that there is a hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist! If I say there is a hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantically warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real! When it comes to hell, we can’t afford to be wrong. This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders, and move on. Too much is at stake. Too many people are at stake. And the Bible has too much to say.
So Chan sets out to look at the issue of hell regardless of his desire to erase it. He looked at what Jews in the first century believes about hell, what Jesus said in that context about hell and what the first generation of Christians were taught about hell by the writes of the New Testament letters.

Throughout the book there are footnotes showing his own studies and references so you can see where Chan is coming from and to it look up for yourself (which he encourages you do). In the introduction Chan names five scholars who ran over this book to make sure he was accurately saying things that agreed with scholarship and also this book is co-authored by (Dr) Preston Sprinkle who Chan said did most of the research work.

Despite all these degrees going over this, Chan connects what he is saying to real life, which is a great strength of the book. Hell is not presented a some abstract idea or theory that has no implication. Chan wrestles with his findings with the day to day life and the implications with the people around him in the Starbucks where he wrote the book. He implores the reader to check out what he is saying for themselves, to pray and wrestle with the issues, and not to consider if they want to believe in a God that he is presenting, but if they could believe in this God.

Near the end of the book Chan summaries his findings:
I don’t know what your life is like or what hardships you’ve faced. I don’t know what your thoughts on hell are, or whether or not you’ve been attacked or manipulated with threats of hell in the past. All I know is that from my best understanding of Scripture, hell is a real place for those who choose to reject God. Yet God is not licking His chops looking for any poor soul that He can send to hell. In fact, the opposite is true: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezek. 18:23; cf. 33:11).
And so we all have a choice before us. Choose life or choose death. God asks you to turn from your ways and live.
Chan looks into both positions of universalism and annihilationism and shows why he doesn't hold to them. There is also a helpful appendix where he answers some FAQ's that some people have on hell. Unlike Rob Bell, Chan presents his ideas on hell clearly and with footnotes. You know where he lands, and you know his own struggles with these ideas. If you are going to read a book on hell, then this would be the one I recommend you pick up.

Related links
The youTube promo of the book with Chan saying some of the things in the book and his approach to it
Crazy Love - another one of Chan's books I have reviewed
Love Wins - the book by Rob Bell that Erasing Hell responds to


  1. You might be interested in this interview with Dr. Preston Sprinkle: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-5-erasing-hell-with-preston-sprinkle and http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-6-erasing-hell-with-preston-sprinkle-part-2. Although Dr. Sprinkle, like Chan, believed in the traditional view at the time Erasing Hell was published, he now leans heavily toward annihilationism.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for posting on my blog and for those links. That was interesting to know about Dr Preston. Like you said about 10 mins into the first link, in the book they seemed a bit open to the idea of annihilationism stating that the text is not exactly clear for eternal punishment. They did make me think about how the text could be emphasising the "destruction" or "death" aspect for eternity and not some sort of active torment.