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