Erasing Hell – Review

Posted April 15, 2012 by Jim
Categories: Books, Theology

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Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity and the Things We’ve Made Up

Erasing HellAlthough it is not explicitly stated, Erasing Hell is a calculated response to Love Wins, a controversial book released by Rob Bell in early 2011 (my review). Erasing Hell has a lot of quotes from Love Wins and draws attention to Rob Bell and another of his books, Velvet Elvis, several more times. Erasing Hell was also released at the height of the brouhaha surrounding Bell’s book.

Erasing Hell is really a well-written book. It is an easy read that flies by. This being the first book of Chan’s that I have read, I would definitely pick up another. His writing style is a dream to read.

There are, however, some issues that were hard to overlook. The first is with responding to Love Wins, which was clearly written to those who have left the Church, find themselves disenfranchised with the theology of a wrathful God, or are heading in that direction. Erasing Hell, on the other hand, presents arguments that are directed at Christians who are already firmly attached to conservative theology. Having made the transition from conservative to liberal theology, Chan’s arguments would not have held me very long.

Francis Chan (as most good writers) presents his arguments as solidly proven fact that are far beyond dispute. The problem with that is most of his points are, indeed, arguable. Some quite readily. Take the example of annihilationism, which is thrown out by the authors without much discussion, but is, in fact, quite defensible and is seen by many as without the problems that plague eternal conscious torment, the theory promoted wholeheartedly by this book.

By ‘All’ You Really Only Mean ‘Some,’ Right?

In chapter 1, Chan writes,

You’ve got to figure out from the context what “all” means. For instance, when Mark said that “all the country of Judea” and “all the people of Jeruselem” were going out to be baptized by John (Mk 1:5 NASB), he certainly didn’t mean every single individual in Judea – man, woman, and child. “All” here simply denotes a large number of people.

I will confess, I’m not exactly sure what to do with this reasoning. It sounds plausible but I intend on looking at this issue and logic more carefully soon. Perhaps I will devote a post just to this topic. If you have any insights or further questions about it, let me know.

Kingdom Theology vs Salvation Theology

Another major problem that I have with Erasing Hell (and many books by other conservative Christians) is that, in my opinion, they have a poor grasp of Kingdom Theology. I think that everyone has heard it said that Jesus did not come to say ‘the Kingdom of God is ready when you die,’ rather, he proclaimed, ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ Francis Chan seems to suggest that we need to get it right in his life so that AFTER we die, we can enter into God’s Kingdom.

To put that idea forward is to totally miss the point… Jesus came to usher us into a Kingdom life NOW. To start reaping the rewards NOW. To begin to share that fullness NOW. With everyone single soul on Earth. Now, not later, not after we die, but right NOW.

Jesus totally shook up our understanding of how this universe works. So much so that the line between “Earthly reality” and “Heavenly reality” has been blurred. What I have not understood, and may never understand, is how people can feel, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our bodily death is the end of our ability to live for and choose God.

The Heart of the Issue

Chapter 6 is where this book gets really good. Everything comes together at a focal point. This single point is the crux of Chan’s process. No matter what you think about any of the previous theology, assuming that there is a God who made the universe, our planet, and every one of us, surely He then has the authority to do whatever he pleases, right? Is God always in the right solely because of his unsurpassed intelligence and power?

I, for one, will make a stand for God always being in the right. That said, what Erasing Hell proposes for God appears morally flawed. Therefore, either God is not in the right or it is Chan who is incorrect in his assumptions. Chan makes room for this possibility, though:

What would you do if [God] chose to… create vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction…? Refuse to believe in him? Refuse to be a “vessel of mercy”? Does that make any sense? Would you refuse to follow Him? Really? Is that wise?

This, to me, is an incredibly disturbing series of questions. God is worthy of belief because of his inherent goodness. This willy-nilly destruction simply because, “it pleases God,” is the reason we reject Zues, Vishnu, and Mammon. It is also the reason history looks negatively at people like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.

To suggest that God is so without mercy, so bent on joyful destruction is to paint him into such a repulsive personality that He’d probably prefer the company of those ruthless dictators and gods.

Erasing Hell is a must read for anyone wrestling with the idea of eternal conscious torment for unbelievers but it must be advised that it should also be tempered with a reading of Love Wins and purified with much prayer and soul searching. I am glad that I read Francis Chan’s book but I cannot bring myself to root for the God that he portrays.

A Better Atonement

Posted March 25, 2012 by Jim
Categories: Books, Theology

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Tony Jones‘ latest book is actually a collection of recent blog posts in which he discusses theories of atonement, that is, how we as humans are reconciled with God. The eBook brings all of these relevant posts together along with some new matierial.

In this book, you’ll find three sections. First, a discussion of the doctrine of original sin and why we should reject this. Second, a defense of an actual bodily death and resurrection of Jesus. Lastly, Tony takes a tour of several historical theories of atonement, discussing each in turn before suggesting his preferred theory.

I appreciate that he includes “a caveat: It must be noted… that atonement is not, nor has ever been, a topic of Christian orthodoxy.” Pointing out that none of the ecumenical councils dealt with atonement to clarify proper understanding and thereby not limiting the Christian faith to a single interpretation.

I have spent a fair amount of time in recent months studying atonement to resolve issues I have been thinking about. If you have questioned the theology or the rationale of the mainstream western belief in penal substitution I would highly recommend picking up this book. Right now it will only set you back $2.99 and if you have an Amazon Prime membership you can borrow it for free.


Survivor Spirituality

Posted October 30, 2011 by Jim
Categories: Theology

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For the last two years my wife and son and I get together with my parents every Wednesday to watch Survivor. Every season there is someone who makes an attempt to play the game ‘like a Christian.’ This year there is a kid named Brandon who, while doing the same thing, has gone off the deep end. His insistence on playing Survivor without lying or backstabbing (which includes keeping secrets because that is deceptive) not only drives me nuts as a Survivor fan but is also worrisome as a Christian.

Brandon also happens to be Russell Hantz’s nephew. If you don’t know who that is it can suffice to say that he may be the most deceptive scummy cast-member to ever play the game. Despite my dislike of Russell, I much prefer seeing him rather than his hapless nephew. The major problem is that Survivor is not a game that is supposed to be played ‘like a Christian.’

It is rather like saying, “I’m going out to play football with my buddies but, unlike them, I will play like a Christian and not hit anyone.” Or playing poker ‘like a Christian’ and not being deceptive about your hand. First, I don’t think that God even cares about who wins a reality game show. Secondly, I think that if you’re going to play Survivor ‘like a Christian’ then that means you should play by the rules. Fortunately for Christians who have their head operating correctly, that means it’s OK to lie and deceive and even knock someone down in a physical challenge.

Slaving for God

Posted August 10, 2011 by Jim
Categories: Uncategorized

We all know the Parable of the Lost Son. The rich kid gets money from his dad, runs off living it up, then when he runs out of money he hires himself out to make ends meet. He is so hungry that he is tempted to eat the slop he is feeding to the pigs. The text says that he wants to, not that he does so clearly things are so bad he is either afraid of being punished if he is caught eating food for the pigs or just that he so cannot afford to lose his job that he is willing to starve himself. Either way this is a bad situation.

So, fast forward and we know that he heads for home to beg for forgiveness. His father welcomes him with grace (not at all like God will do with us since our conservative dogma teaches us that God will scold us for squandering our gifts and then throw us into a fiery hell. But, I digress, that is another post) and has a party thrown in honor of his son’s return. When the older brother hears what is going on, he has a bit of a tantrum. The father comes out to calm him down and the older son utters this great line, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.”

Have you ever wondered how the younger son would have reacted to overhearing this conversation? Maybe, “Gee, I certainly don’t deserve much here, but I could teach you a lot about what ‘slaving’ means, bro.” Or, “Wow, you look pretty good for ‘slaving’ all these years. I mean, I can’t even see any of your ribs. Here, check this out, you can see all of mine.”

So often in church we, God’s children, are compared to the younger son. Return to your father in heaven and he will accept you. Much more often, though, I think we are more like the older son: Wait, God can’t take him, he’s rich and greedy, she’s Muslim, they’re gay! Here we are, slaving away for God and the kingdom. We’re carrying our cross in a fanny pack everywhere we go and they think they can just waltz into God’s favor?

They don’t deserve it!

The next time you think that someone isn’t worth of God’s favor you should remind yourself that it is not our favor to dispense and God has plenty to go around.

How Much Does God Love Him

Posted May 17, 2011 by Jim
Categories: Uncategorized

In my last post I asked, “Do you believe that Jesus would have suffered and died on the cross if he was only saving one person? Does God love you that much?” Today, I would like to ask a similar question.

Do you believe that Jesus would have suffered and died on the cross if it was to save only one person? Even if it was someone you have never met? How about one person in another part of the world? What if Jesus suffered at Calvary and died a bloody death on a Roman cross for this guy?

How Much Does God Love YOU?

Posted May 6, 2011 by Jim
Categories: Uncategorized

Do you believe that Jesus would have suffered and died on the cross if he was only saving one person? Does God love you that much?

What If Everything We Believe Is Wrong?

Posted April 20, 2011 by Jim
Categories: Uncategorized

*** Let me say at the outset that I am NOT some Nazi sympathizer or Hitler devotee. What happened prior to and during the second world war was nothing short of horrific. ***

We can talk about Love Wins and Rob Bell and Heaven and Hell and Salvation but, deep down, there seems to be a caveat. People who do things that are really bad will certainly roast forever in a lake of fire, right? Sort of a who’s who of the baddies. Hitler, Stalin, Vlad III, Pol PotRobespierre, ad infinitum throughout history.

In a previous post, Spiritual Dashboard, I talked about sin being more of an indicator light showing us that we have lost our way, than it is a gauge of how bad we are compared to others. This story could be told of any number of people besides Adolf Hitler. Those who lead the crusades or the Popes who directed them. Those who played commanding roles in the Inquisition or witch hunts or genocide. Any event that has had widespread condemnation has, at its root, someone who thought they were doing the right thing, but who was ultimately on the wrong side of history.

Rob Bell talks in the pre-release video for his new book Love Wins as well as in the first chapter about whether Gandhi is in Heaven or Hell. I think that we might be able to extend this thought further. How much does God love us, his creation?

Jesus told a story that is recorded in Luke 18. Two men go to temple to meet God. As one begs God for mercy in his spiritual destitute, the other is confident in his arrogance. To whom did God show forgiveness? When Adolf Hitler faced God, in all of his holiness, I imagine that Hitler would be overwhelmed by his actions. Falling prostrate at the face of God’s glory, weeping in the horror of the atrocities carried out at his command. Overcome with grief.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.


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