516 of 547 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2011
After watching the promotional video from David C. Cook Publishing I was excited to read a book by an author whom I deeply respect and even admire for their previous emotional & challenging works. After watching the video I expected Erasing Hell to be a exegetical and challenging study of the topic of hell from a Biblical perspective by an author passionate about the truth.
I had expectations when I started reading Erasing Hell. Were my expectations correct? Yes.
Francis Chan and co-author, Preston Sprinkle (whom Chan admits did . . . "the majority of the research" pg. 11) do a phenomenal job of examining the context of scripture and presenting the Biblical truth about the realities of hell. This book is a sobering reminder of how we as Western Christians and the Western church have watered down the language of hell to appeal to our own comfort, when in reality the words that Jesus and others used in the Bible are both intimidating and clear: Hell is a real place and many people will go there.
WHAT I DIDN'T LOVE
Maybe I missed the point but after watching the promotional video I was expecting Chan & Sprinkle to present their own Biblical study of hell, which they did, however I did not expect them to spend so much time challenging the book: Love Wins by Rob Bell. I am not 100% sure why I did not expect this from Chan, but regardless it was my expectation. In no way do they "bash" Bell or throw him under the bus like many other Evangelical authors, pastors and leaders have been doing over the past few months, but they definitively challenge quotes, thoughts and passages of scripture directly from Love Wins. Although this challenge does not overwhelm the entire book, in the seven chapters of Erasing Hell there are 87 footnotes, fourteen of these footnotes directly reference Love Wins, all within the first three chapters. The fact that Chan & Sprinkle have done this make the book relevant to it's counterpart and possibly irrelevant to the general population of readers. It makes me wonder if this book will be relevant in a few years when Love Wins fades off the bestsellers lists.
Another minor thing that bothered me was the cover. I know it sounds petty, and I might just be that in this scenario, but the fact that the cover of Erasing Hell resembles another book by Rob Bell, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, leaves me wondering why they choose the design they did. Maybe it was just happenstance but I wonder the context of why it was chosen.
Lastly, and more importantly the one thing I struggled with from Erasing Hell was the fact that the authors spent so much time emphasizing the context of scripture. Context can be a great thing, in fact it may just be the most important thing other than the words themselves, but when it came to the chapter titled: "Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?", the authors provide numerous references to first century authors yet they provide very little context to the passages they reference. At the end of the chapter I wrote: "I feel like I am supposed to take their word for it, but I know nothing about the context of the passages the authors quoted."
WHAT I LOVED
Maybe I shouldn't use the word love. It is too nice. Hell is not nice, and nobody, myself included should love a book that frames up the realities of what hell is about. After reading this book some may want to use words like: sobering, humbling, motivating and convicting. Chan & Sprinkle do a great job of intertwining truth and emotion. Some authors write only from an emotional perspective, others only from a knowledge-based point of view. Hell is difficult topic to wrestle with, but manipulating the conversation to make us feel comfortable is both irresponsible and selfish; however, so is forgetting that peoples lives are at stake. Chan and Sprinkle make this point clear on many occasions: "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." Pg. 14/15
The one thing that I struggled with most from Rob Bell's book was context. The exegetical study of the passages of scripture seemed sloppy at best. Erasing Hell flips that on it's head. If context is everything, as one of my professors always pointed out, then Chan & Sprinkle have done the groundwork for the reader to lead them to a solid conclusion based upon research and Biblical truth. I am grateful to the authors for the sincere effort to present both sides of the argument in context.
After reading Erasing Hell, I am deeply challenged by the honesty, transparency, and conviction that Chan & Sprinkle write with. As a reader I am left wrestling with what I believe about hell and how far I am willing to go to know & share the truth. "Coming face-to-face with these passages on hell and asking these tough questions is a heart-wrenching process. It forces me (us) back to a sobering reality: this is not just about doctrine; it's about destinies." pg. 72
The reality that destinies are at stake makes my stomach turn. It turns Francis Chan's stomach and it should turn yours. Hell is tough to read about, study or talk about. However, we must read about it, talk about it and study it. I agree with the authors that hell is too important to get wrong, so if you have read Love Wins you MUST read this book. If you haven't read Love Wins but you are curious what the Bible says about hell, then I highly recommend you pick-up this dynamic book from Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle.
"While hell can be a paralyzing doctrine, it can also be an energizing one, for it magnifies the beauty of the cross." pg. 148
230 of 254 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2011
I picked up Chan and Sprinkle's book on hell and read it in a day. As other commenters have noted, it is not a bad book. But, it also is not a compelling read either. It appears to have been written as a counter to Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" and, in that sense, it presents some notable rebuttals to some of Bell's points. But, unfortunately, after reading it, I felt like I had not actually read a whole book, but only a "Cliff's Notes" version. Too often, I got to the end of a chapter or a section and thought "where's the rest of it?" There were many points that were tossed out there interestingly, but then not expanded on. I was often left wanting more on the subject and feeling like I had just gotten a summary rather than an analysis.
To me, Chan and Sprinkle were not really attempting to explain hell in more detail, but only to rebut a few limited points from Rob Bell's book. As such, it should not be subtitled "What God said about eternity, and the things we've made up." Rather, it should be something much more limited and simpler, like "Rebutting some misconceptions about hell." That is really all it does -- although I do think it does that effectively. But, to give the impression it is a more detailed discussion of hell is not really accurate. Perhaps this is because Chan and Sprinkle are wrestling themselves with where they come out on understanding hell. From comments in the book, they clearly give both annihilationism and eternal conscious torment views a fair seat within orthodoxy. And, although Chan clearly supports eternal conscious torment, he also goes to some length to indicate that annihilationism is a possible view from an exegesis of the scriptures. (in all honesty, the book would have been better if it discussed this issue more)
At times, though, it appears that Chan and Sprinkle do the very thing they warn against. Namely, they read scripture in a way that supports their theology rather than taking it at face value. For example, in chapter 1, they discuss 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and the meaning of the passage that says "God wants all men to be saved." They say that "all men" must mean "all kinds of men" because surely God is not telling Timothy to pray for every person on earth in verse 1, where Paul encourages prayers for "all people." I think Chan and Sprinkle twist the passage to fit their theology. There is no reason the passage cannot mean what it says - namely prayers should be offered for everyone. In the passage, Paul is not telling Timothy himself to pray for everyone by name. Rather, the passage is directed to the church and the point is that we are to pray for the whole world. Namely, we are called to love the whole world, and not just some people. It is not impossible to pray for the whole world. There is no requirement that we pray by name for everyone! For example, I can fulfill that passage by praying something to the effect of "God, bless our president, our senators, and give them wisdom. And, not only them, but I pray that everyone throughout the world would come to know you." Boom! Just like that I prayed for everyone! I am not trying to be trite, but I am just trying to show that reading "all kinds of men" into that passage is simply a theological gymnastic exercise to try to fit into a certain theology, rather than taking it for what it appears to say on its face. One reaches the "all kinds of men" interpretation usually to try to fit into "reformed" theology - not because anything in the passage demands "everyone" or "all men" to mean anything less than what it says. Call me crazy, but I think God really meant what He said - namely, He wants me to pray for everyone and He wants all men to be saved! This is only one example, but there were plenty of other examples throughout where it appears that Chan and Sprinkle offer a weak interpretation designed to match their theology rather than to take the passage at face value.
But, all that aside, I still agree with most of their rebuttals of Bell's book and think that this book would have value if used specifically as a rebuttal to Bell's book. I just don't think it has much value as a stand-alone book on hell.
BTW, to be clear, I am a big fan of Chan and very much liked Forgotten God and Crazy Love, so please do not mistake me for a "hater!" :-)
131 of 149 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2011
I had some trepidation about even reading Erasing Hell, let alone reviewing it. Part of that stems from a desire to not continue to tread the same ground, over and over again. The rest of my uneasiness came from another (greater) concern: Am I spending too much time thinking about hell? Worse, am I turning thinking about it into another academic exercise that doesn't really have any impact on my life?
If you're concerned about that tendency in your own life, you'll be thankful to read Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up. Here, Francis Chan and co-author Preston Sprinkle offer a foundational understanding of what Scripture actually says about hell while explaining why it actually matters.
In case you were wondering, yes, this book is a direct response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. Chan and Sprinkle interact heavily with the former work, carefully addressing the significant issues raised in its pages in Chan's now-trademark conversational style.
One of the big questions in the Love Wins controversy centers on whether or not Christian universalism and the opportunity for post-mortem salvation is defensible from Scripture. The authors quickly move through a handful of the major proof texts offered in defense of universalism to focus on to the larger issue of post-mortem salvation. In their search for proof texts in its defense, they found exactly none.
"No passage in the Bible says that there will be a second chance after death to turn to Jesus," they write on page 35. "And that's frightening . . . because the idea of an after-death conversion is the most important ingredient for the Universalist position. It makes or breaks the view."
Chan's horror that anyone would offer the possibility of post-mortem salvation without explicit biblical reference is palpable, particularly when some passages explicitly speak against this view (see Luke 13:22-30, Hebrew 9:27 among others). Indeed, throughout the book, Chan's emotional investment into the subject matter forces us to confront our own attitudes toward doctrine. He not only believes but feels the truths of Scripture deeply, in a way that sometimes I find lacking in my own life. It's not an appeal to emotionalism vs. intellectualism, but it's the fruit of head knowledge that has become heart knowledge.
Have you ever noticed how there are some things in Scripture that you never really pay attention to until someone points them out? An area like that for me is Jesus' teaching on hell. He speaks repeatedly of the judgment to come... and no one questions Him on it. It's as if they had a pretty solid grasp of what He was talking about. Chan and Sprinkle suggest a reason for this:
The authors offer several passages, ranging from second century BC to first century AD Jewish sources that clearly indicate a strong belief in hell. "In fact, so ingrained was the belief in hell among first-century Jews that Jesus would have had to go out of His way to distance Himself from these beliefs if He didn't hold them" (p. 49). Jesus was certainly not one to shy away from necessary controversy, yet the fact that He didn't on this point is telling. He did not distance Himself from these doctrines because He had no need to--He believed them, as did His contemporaries.
This was probably the biggest "Oh yeah..." moment I've had reading a book in a good long while. Not because it necessarily taught me anything completely new (although it certainly gave me a greater understanding of the context in which Jesus lived and preached), but because it gave a greater appreciation for what is clear within the gospels. Jesus believed in hell, as did those to whom He preached.
Chan and Sprinkle likewise proceeded to debunk a common argument used in the debates surrounding hell--gehenna. Most of us have heard (and possibly even written or preached) that gehenna was the town garbage dump. However, the authors share, this is a myth that gained traction c. 1200 AD in the writings of David Kimhi, who incidentally, lived in Europe, not Israel--and "even [he] saw it as an analogy for the place where the wicked will be judged" (p. 60). The Hinnom Valley was, according to 2 Kings 16:3, the place where the apostate Israelites offered child sacrifices to the Canaanite gods Molech and Baal; by Jeremiah's time, it became synonymous with the place where the bodies of the wicked would be cast. But there's no evidence it was ever used as a garbage dump.
Throughout Erasing Hell, Chan and Sprinkle return to a consistent theme, that of letting God be God. "God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases," they write. "And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3. Because at the end of the day, our feelings and wants and heartaches and desires are not ultimate--only God is ultimate. . . . Expect then, that Scripture will say things that don't agree with your natural way of thinking" (p. 17).
Nowhere in the book is this better exemplified in chapter 6's discussion of Romans 9:22-23. As they look at this uncomfortable text of Scripture, they repeatedly come back to the reality that God can do what He wants.
"I often hear people say, "I could never love a God who would..." Who would what? Who would disagree with you? And do things that you would never do? Who would allow bad things to happen to people? Who would be more concerned with His own glory than your feelings? Who would--send people to hell?" (p. 132)
The absurdity of this idea, that God is somehow answerable to us, when we look to Scripture is clear. And it should cause us to weep at our own arrogance. This was a difficult passage for me to read as I don't like to think that I am guilty of this, but I know that I am. I hate the idea of hell, yet it's there. I'd love for it to go away, but it won't. And all I am able to do in light of it is submit myself to the reality that God is greater than I am--and my questions, while not unimportant, must be submitted to His Word.
Prior to reading Erasing Hell, I had some concerns about how the authors' would present their case. What would be their tone? I suspect many of us would admit that there have been times when our tone has been full of truth, but perhaps lacking in love. And perhaps the best way to describe the authors' tone would be to say that it felt as though they were urgently pleading for repentance--both to those of us who have erred in turning hell into a mere intellectual exercise as opposed to a life-altering doctrine and to those who have rejected hell (and perhaps even Bell himself). In this the authors show that they are living in light of the book's closing words:
"God extends mercy to us all now, He wants us to know Him now, He urges all of us now to be reconciled to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. This door is open now--but it won't stay open forever." (p. 150)
The urgency of this plea cannot be overstated, neither in the tone of the book or in our need to extend God's mercy through the proclamation of the gospel. Our responsibility, if we embrace the historic understanding of hell as presented in Scripture, is not to spend our time in endless debates. Our responsibility is to plead with those who are separated from God to flee from the wrath to come. Our responsibility is to plead with those who confess faith in Christ yet emphasize His mercy at the expense of His judgment to examine the Scriptures with fresh eyes.
Chan and Sprinkle are right when they write that people's destinies--their eternal destinies--hang in the balance on this issue. We dare not take our responsibility lightly. I am extremely thankful for this reminder from Erasing Hell; I trust that as you read it, you will be as well.
89 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2011
First, I have to commend Chan for the tone of his book.* One major detraction for me in reading and rereading Love Wins is Bell's (sometimes not-so) subtle jabs at New Calvinist theology. Even though I agree with a lot of Bell's jabs, they're subtle and feel underhanded. If we're going to talk about it, let's just put it out on the table. To Chan's credit, he does this for the most part. He directly cites Bell (and other authors with whom he takes issue), and even applauds Bell a few times.
It seems at the outset that Chan is going to nuance his arguments carefully, and pay great attention to detail. He says, for instance: "It's important to understand that Universalism comes in many shapes and sizes. This is why we have to be careful about slapping the label Universalist on people who say that everyone will end up being saved. The term Universalist is about as specific as the term Baptist. If you call someone a Baptist, all you've said is that they don't baptize babies--beyond this, it's pretty much up for grabs.... It's important, then, to understand that Christian Universalists believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ and Christ alone. There's nothing untraditional about this. The difference is that they believe people will have another chance (or many chances) after death to believe in Jesus and be saved."
These are a couple of really good, charitable distinctions Chan offers to the larger conversation happening right now. Frankly, they're distinctions that no one else who's got a big beef with Love Wins is making. I applaud him for trying to steer the tone of the whole discourse in a healthier (and more Christlike) direction.
Chan calls for humility on the part of everyone involved in the conversation, and he models that attitude throughout the book (though not consistently; see below).
A section of the book I found particularly good was Chan's exploration of the term gehenna (the most common New Testament word for Hell). He argued persuasively that Bell relies too heavily on later Rabbinic sources to build his picture of Hell. This is a criticism that has often been lobbed at Bell (and more academic New Testament scholars). Chan argues convincingly that while the Valley of Hinon (Gehenna) may well have been the city dump, it occupied a much more important space in the first-century Jewish imagination as a metaphor for judgment.
Finally, Chan's passion came across clearly in the pages. The same has been said loudly and often by Bell's critics (phrases like, "He's clearly writing as a pastor who is tired of doing funerals" and the like). Here, though Chan's passion seems to be for the Bible itself rather than for persons to whom he's ministering. The closest he gets is observing the people around him at Starbucks while he's writing the book.
That said, he does offer a pretty good chapter about what the doctrine of Hell ought to mean for Christians. Though he notes that most statements about Hell were directed at insiders - Jews or Christians, he doesn't follow this line of thought any further. Even so, he offers some great reminders that Hell is reserved for everything from harsh words to wealth at the expense of others. He observes, for instance: "Jesus preaches hellfire against those who have the audacity to attack a fellow human being with harsh words. It's ironic--frightening, actually--that some people have written books, preached sermons, or written blog posts about hell and missed this point completely."
A problem with the book is its focus. Is this a direct response to Bell's Love Wins? It's been marketed that way. But the book begins as a more general exploration of the doctrine of Hell. But then Chan lobs a few shots at Bell, and quotes him directly. So which is it? Ultimately, this lack of focus damages the credibility of Chan's arguments.
When he sets up straw men, is he specifically teasing out arguments Bell makes in Love Wins? If so, he doesn't represent Bell's position fairly. If not, then why cite Bell so often as a poster-child for the views he's combating? For instance, early in the book, Chan says, "I don't want anyone to go to hell. The fact is, I would love for all people to stand before Christ on judgment day and have a chance to say, 'They were right all along, Jesus.'"
Bell never says anything like this in Love Wins. Neither do any other authors Chan cites. So against whom, exactly is he arguing here? Chan's tactics don't help the conversation along. Rather than taking Bell's (and others') statements and questions as serious challenges, we're left to wonder if Chan read the same Love Wins as the rest of us. Or why he bothers to bring it up at all if he's not going to engage the book's central points.
Another glaring problem with Erasing Hell is Chan's inconsistent handling of Biblical texts. He's often very good (though nowhere near as poetic or artistic as Bell). But often enough, Chan is flat-out awful.
Take his discussion of 1 Corinthians 15:22, for instance. Paul says, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."
Focusing only on the back end of the text, Chan argues: "The verse by itself could mean that everyone will end up being saved, but the context doesn't support this interpretation. When Paul says "all will be made alive," he's clearly thinking about the resurrection of believers at the second coming of Christ."
He goes on to argue this from Paul's use of the word `all' in later verses clearly to mean believers that in this verse, the `all' who will be made alive in Christ must also refer only to believers. But a foundational rule of interpretation is that we start from the inside and work out. Do only believers die in Adam? No, of course not. So the `all' in the first half of the sentence has a different meaning from the `all' in the second half of the sentence? Maybe. But Chan doesn't address that. He skips over it, ignoring it through some clever selective quoting.
Nor is that the only place Chan oversimplifies or simply ignores portions of texts; I found his handling of Paul's sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill particularly awful. Which isn't ironic at all.
Mistakes like these cast a suspicious light on the rest of Chan's work in the Scriptures. Ultimately, he seems to be doing the exact thing Bell's critics claimed: reading the Scriptures through a lens that helps him to see what he already wants to see.
My biggest problem with Chan's book is his seeming inability to be self-reflective. Not once does he acknowledge his own influences or biases.
Chan assumes an air of final authority because his reading of the Bible is absolute and uncontestable.
He says of his observations, "Everything I've said thus far seems clear to me from Scripture."
Chan beings by writing about how much he agonized over writing the book, over not wanting to get this stuff wrong. He challenges his readers to pray as they read (which I did). This is the same thing the Mormons do when they ask you to read the book of Mormon. The problem is that when we read the Bible isolated from a healthy diversity, we can't hear the Spirit speak to us. We only hear people who already agree with us. Chan mentions several times that he only used `conservative' commentaries. No surprise his views come out so traditional - he already agreed with his `conclusions' and only listened to people who did too.
Chan's reading of the Scriptures (like all of ours) is bound to a particular perspective he doesn't (can't?) see, or at least doesn't acknowledge. He assumes, for instance, that the Bible's picture of Hell develops over time, but not the Bible's image of God, somehow. We are allowed to confess that the picture of Hell in the New Testament is different and better than the sheol of the Old. But God's character isn't more fully revealed in the New. Whatever attributes and characteristics God displays in the Old must be uncritically smashed into the character of Jesus. Why? Chan doesn't answer. He doesn't seem to see a conflict.
Something Bell got right in Love Wins is that this discussion isn't really about Hell. It's about the Character of God.
And here, Chan suffers most of all. He doesn't seem to have a clear, compelling picture of God. Chan's God is distant and incomprehensible. We can't question, we can't wrestle. To do so is an affront to God (the Bible's Wisdom literature be damned, apparently). Jesus' incarnation doesn't seem to offer us much help. We are left only to tremble in fear and hope we don't wind up in Hell.
At this point in the conversation, Love Wins offered some excellent reflections on just how complicated this issue is in the Scriptures and in our conversation.
Chan says, for instance,
"God is love, but He also defines what love is. We don't have the license to define love according to our own standards and sensibilities."
Fine... I agree. But Jesus did define Love for us in John 15:13: Love is giving up his life for his friends. And then Jesus modeled that by giving up his life for his friends. This has some serious implications for the discussion of the character of God and the nature of Hell, but Chan doesn't seem to take this seriously as an insight into God's character. (Whereas Bell does.)
Or, take Chan's claims about God's other attributes. Chan claims that the attributes of God the Bible lists - just, holy, loving - are all true, but that God's justice, holiness and love are not at all like ours. If that's true, then why even use those words? They become meaningless. We can't have real conversations about God's Justice as the source for human justice if those concepts are radically, unapproachably different. But if they're similar, if in fact one derives from the other, then we end up where Bell does, in a complex conversation about God and Love and Justice and Holiness and how that all plays out. We take the Bible, we take our own experiences of God, and we listen to others' perspectives and we all try to make sense of it all, all the while confessing we probably won't in any lasting sense.
Which brings us back to Chan's take on the Bible. For Chan, the Bible is the final word. God will broker no further discussion or questioning. The problem is that Chan's god - at least in Erasing Hell is a small, tribal god. He loves penal substitutionary atonement and is absolutely sovereign when it fits Chan's arguments (otherwise, we totally have free will). Chan tells us we just have to take the Bible (and by extension, God) at its word. But what he means is that we have to take Chan's reading of the Bible (and by extension, Chan) at its word. And that's the insurmountable problem in Erasing Hell for me.
Bottom Line: Chan's book seems rushed to press. He brings virtually nothing new to the table, and doesn't offer much to the conversation you can't get from watching the video. Skip it.
Have you read the book? What do you think of Chan's position? Of his attitude towards Rob? Is this book ultimately helpful or hurtful?
*Even though there's a coauthor, Chan notes early on that they wrote the book in Chan's tone. So I'll only address him in the review.
38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2011
After reading Rob Bell's "Love Wins" and then hearing this book was coming out as a response to it, I eagerly pre-ordered it. While I'm very sympathetic to Bell's position, I really wanted Chan to swing the pendulum back for me and help me balance out my own thoughts.
I ended up disappointed. While I thoroughly admire Chan's heart and attitude, he made some big mistakes in his logic (in my opinion).
First of all, Chan was way too dismissive of the "ultimate reconciliation" passages, in my opinion. He just sort of brushed them aside. For example, he quotes from 1 Corinthians 15 "in Christ shall all be made alive" and proceeds to say that "all" can't possibly mean "all". However, the significant thing about that passage is that the phrase he quoted is the second half of a parallelism. The verse says "AS IN ADAM ALL DIED, SO in Christ shall all be made alive." (caps mine for emphasis) This lends a lot of weight in figuring out what "all" means because no theologian or Bible teacher (including Chan) believe that only a small subset of humanity died in Adam. It's very hard grammatically to define the first "all" as "all" and the second "all" as "some". Furthermore, he says that the passage in question talks about enemies being defeated. However, the passage defines those enemies, and they are not necessarily unbelievers. They are, in fact, systems and powers. So, it would appear that Christ defeats the world systems and tears down those systems of power, and in the process makes "all" alive by freeing them from those powers and principalities. Even more interesting, the LAST enemy to be defeated by Christ, according to this passage, is death itself. Chan completely glosses over this and throws the passage out as not possibly referring to universal reconciliation.
To further complicate the situation, after exploring several "ultimate" passages and then attempting to restrict their scope, Chan then turns around and says that the Bible offers not even a HINT of the idea that all will eventually be saved. This is, in my opinion, circular logic. The reality is that those passages DO offer a hint of that idea, whether you think the idea is right or wrong. It IS hinted at in the Bible. So it's not necessarily fair to explain passages that hint at universal reconciliation away, and then say that the Bible doesn't hint at it. If it didn't hint at it, you wouldn't have to explain those passages away. And you certainly wouldn't have to resort to redefining the word "all" to do so!
I won't bore you with my complete analysis, but let me point out two other things that were very disturbing to me.
First, Chan actually makes that statement, with regard to how we might feel about a God who sends people to hell, that he (Chan) sometimes has been like a kid trying to hide his drunken father from others. The very fact that Chan used this metaphor should send up a red flag about his thinking. If that's the best analogy he could come up with, he might want to rethink what he really thinks about his heavenly Father.
Second, Chan has a section near the end of the book where he addresses some FAQ about God and hell. He asks the question about God being love. Then he goes on to say that while God is love, God defines love and we can't hold God to OUR definition of love. Therefore, from God's perspective, and since God himself defines love, sending people to eternal conscious torment in hell might actually be love, according to Chan. Here's the huge problem with this: God defines love for us in the very Bible that Chan says should form the basis of our beliefs. It's found in 1 Corinthians 13. And in that definition of love, we find things like not holding to any record of wrong, love enduring, staying faithful, etc. Nowhere in that definition of love do we see an allowance for retribution or final banishment of others to eternal conscious torment.
Bottom line: Easy read, made some good points. Faulty logic, and falls way short of settling the issue or even fully responding to other points of view. I love the guy's writing style, and I so appreciate his attitude and attempt at being true to revelation and not full of himself. But he failed to convince me of his major thesis, which is that the Bible clearly teaches a real hell that is eternal (either in terms of annihilation or eternal conscious torment) for all who reject Christ in this life.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2012
It must have taken incredible courage, fortitude and pain for Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle to defend a Christian doctrine so unpopular that even they can't stand or fathom it. Authors of Hell books have sometimes, understandably, suffered breakdowns, and in all sincerity my prayers are with them.
Their motives seem noble (they want to save people from experiencing the unimaginable), and their gracious tone in addressing their theological opponents is exemplary.
Chan and Sprinkle do a good job in showing that Hell (by which they mean the post-Second Coming Lake of Fire) is real, and is worth avoiding at all costs. However, they state that there's at least a remote possibility that Hell doesn't last forever, and that the fire, worms, and darkness probably aren't literal, and there are probably degrees of punishment in Hell. This should bring at least a little comfort (and truth) to many readers.
But I believe they, and traditional Christianity, are mistaken about Hell probably lasting forever, and about Christ ultimately failing to "save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
I only have room to discuss one specific disagreement, and that will be whether the possibility of post-mortem salvation (aka "second chances") has biblical support. Page 35 states: "There is no single passage in the Bible that describes, hints at, hopes for, or suggests that someone who dies without following Jesus in this life will have an opportunity to do so after death."
I believe these scriptures say otherwise ...
SODOM RESTORED (!) -- "I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them ... And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before" (Ezek. 16:53,55). In verses 47-55, the pronouns "their" and "they" identify the restored individuals as being those who were destroyed in Gen. 19 because of their detestable deeds (Ezek. 16:50) and for other reasons (Ezek. 16:49). They will first need to be punished and purified in God's refining Lake of Fire, but this will be "more tolerable" for them than for some others (Matt. 11:24).
DRY BONES LIVE -- "Then he said to me, `Son of man, these bones are the WHOLE HOUSE of Israel. Behold they say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off."' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, `Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graveS, O my people... And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, O my people. And I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live... Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord'" (Ezek. 37:11-14).
UNTIL -- "I tell you the truth, you will not get out UNTIL you have paid the last penny." (Matt. 5:26).
THE FORGIVABLE SINS -- "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not ... either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:31-32). These verses strongly suggest that all sins except one, including blasphemies against Christ, will be forgiven in the NEXT age if they're not forgiven in this age.
LIMITED BLOWS -- "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with MANY blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with FEW blows" (Luke 12:47-48a).
SAVED THROUGH FIRE -- "If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be SAVED, but only as one escaping through the flames" (I Cor. 3:12-15).
BAPTISMS FOR THE DEAD -- In I Cor. 15:29, Paul addresses -- and does not condemn (per se) -- the Corinthians' practice of being baptized for the dead.
But this practice would have been absurd if, as the authors contend, one's fate is sealed at death. Also, prayers for the dead were almost universal in the early church.
THE DEAD HEAR THE GOSPEL AND LIVE -- "For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may LIVE IN THE SPIRIT according to the will of God" (I Peter 4:6). (Also see Psalm 68:18, Isa. 9:2b, Zech. 9:11-12, Matt. 12:29, Eph. 4:8-10.)
WHO IS THE BRIDE TALKING TO? -- "The Spirit AND THE BRIDE say 'Come!'" (Rev. 22:17a) -- The bride is the church, and is in the New Jerusalem in Rev. 22. So who is the bride's "Come!" appeal addressed to? The setting continues to be the Rev. 21-22 new heaven/new earth age, since verse 22:17c refers to the "water of life," which was introduced in Rev. 22:1, and it's the Rev. 21-22 bride who is speaking -- not the "church" or the "lampstands." Verse 22:17c appears to rule out Christ as being the verse 22:17a addressee, since it asks "all who are thirsty" to "Come." The unavoidable conclusion, it seems to me, is that by process of elimination, it must be addressed to those in the Lake of Fire, located outside the city gates (Rev. 22:15), which never close (Rev. 21:25).
DEAFENING SILENCE -- The first 2/3 of the Bible is completely silent about Hell, and the last 1/3 uses the ambiguous-at-best word "aion" and its derivatives to describe Hell's duration. This makes no sense if (a) God is love and (b) eternal torment is true. There would have been clear and dire warnings on almost every page. For instance, why did Noah infinitely understate the penalty when he warned his neighbors only of a worldwide flood and not of ET?
EVENTUAL UNIVERSAL SALVATION EXPLICITLY TAUGHT -- Finally, I Cor. 15:22,28, Rom. 5:18-20, Rom. 11:32,36a, Col. 1:19-20, John 12:32, Isa. 45:23, 57:16, Lam. 3:22,31, Rev. 5:13, and Psalm 145:10a and many dozens of other verses look very much like they teach eventual universal salvation, and thus imply second chances.
One day God will wipe away every tear (Isa. 25:8, Rev. 21:4). If only Francis Chan had realized what this implies; namely, eventual universal salvation.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2012
What I loved:
What I loved about "Erasing Hell" was Francis Chan's humility and sincerity. If you are wanting to take a look at the different theologies of hell I would recommend this as a book to read to get some insight into the traditional view (which after much prayer and study I don't agree with). I recommend it because Chan is honest in admitting he doesn't know for certain and is not critical of people who think differently. Many other authors I have read can come across very negative and dogmatic about what they believe when in truth there is a lot of substance behind other views too. Though I don't agree with many of Chan's conclusions, I think it is important to understand the different views and "Erasing Hell" is a good, honest read concerning the traditional view.
I also think he does a great job of showing how its important for us not to just believe what we want, but what the Bible actually teaches.
What I didn't love:
I think a lot of the teachings in the book were taught humbly and sincerely, but i think a lot of them are sincerely wrong. For example Chan talks about how Jesus talks about people going to hell for not assisting the poor, or doing other Christian works. But the gospel teaches that we are not saved by works, but faith. Yes, Jesus did make statements that said otherwise, but Jesus was born under law which is important to understand. The New Covenant was not ratified until He died. The Law was given to prove our sinfulness and Jesus amplified the Law to leave us all without excuse so we would recognize our need of a Savior. For this reason many of Jesus' teachings contradicted the epistles. Without understanding this, even Christians might walk away from Chan's book feeling afraid of going to hell. But we know we should not be afraid because we as Christians have the Holy Spirit who is a seal guaranteeing our salvation.
I think in portions of the book Chan was trying his best to be sincere and honest about what he believes the truth is, but this doesn't make his conclusions right. I only say this as a warning especially for newer believers not to just take his findings as definitely accurate. I think this is a great book to read on the journey of understanding what hell might be, but I wouldn't make it my final resting place on the subject. Keep searching and read strong presentations of all the perspectives and their theology.
There is a lot more that goes into the study than just a few New Testament verses. The subject is very rich in the Bible from beginning to end. If you want to really come to an informed belief, study all the perspectives. Also to be considered are studies on the mortality of the soul, and also the Resurrection.
If interested in searching more on the subject:
A couple books I will recommend are "The Fire that Consumes" and "Hell a Final Word" both by Edward Fudge. "The Fire that Consumes" is a great book if you want to read a very in depth study on the topic of the final state of the wicked. The author concludes that he believes the view of annihilationism. I fall somewhere between this view and conditional immortality which are both very similar.
Ultimately when we pursue truth it will set us free when we discover it. Don't be scared into believing a perspective because youre afraid of God being mad at you for getting it wrong. Paul prayed in Philippians that our "love would abound in all knowledge and discernment." This means the motivating heart behind all truth is love. Love casts out fear. Fear is in opposition to love and makes true discernment difficult. I say this not to suggest that judgment isn't real, but to encourage you that you are safe in God's love to explore the truth of hell and honestly question what you have always believed until you feel convinced by the Holy Spirit that He has revealed the truth to you.
I hope this review helps you!
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2013
Lots of straw man arguments, poor exegesis, and leaps of logic. So disappointing. As someone who was undecided as to the hell issue and reading a lot of books, one thing that convinced me there is no eternal conscious torment is the poor quality of this (and others) book's arguments. They actually lost me with this book and if they want to convince genuine skeptics or seekers, they need to step up their game. If they want to get together and gleefully bemoan the heretics around them, then the book is perfect.
25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2011
According to Francis Chan, I really do. I was one of those people who waited in eager anticipation of the new Chan/Sprinkle book, Erasing Hell, because I was simply captivated with intellectual curiosity. The controversy ignited by the release of the Rob Bell's Love Wins promotional video and the twitterverse erupting in response that culminated on the cover of Time magazine was literally a cerebral feast for me. The countless blog posts, response books, and thoughtful post-mortem articles about what we learned as a community were added brain gravy.
I read Love Wins before I read Erasing Hell, more so because I thought Chan and Sprinkle were writing a response to it. It turns out that they did and they didn't - Erasing Hell was much more than that.
While I was intellectually satisfied by finally reading Erasing Hell, I was also deeply convicted that prior to reading it, I missed the whole point. Shaping theology for 21st century and sound exegetical interpretation wasn't the point. The fact that people are going to hell is.
As I said earlier, Erasing Hell is and isn't a response to Love Wins, and I don't believe it was intended to be. The approach to the areas of Bell's book that begged for correction, namely that Gehenna was the city dump, hell is a place for correction and purification, and the gates of the New Jerusalem are eternally open and waiting for those released from the fire were addressed with in a spirit of love and correction with respect. By chapter 4, roughly mid way through the book, there are no overt references to Love Wins.
Chan and Sprinkle then focus on what is really at issue - there is a real hell where people who are living all around us today will go if they don't accept Jesus and start living differently.
"We can't be wrong on this one."
"When it comes to hell, we can't afford to be wrong."
"Don't forget to tremble."
Structured like a Pauline epistle, Erasing Hell first sets out and corrects the erroneous doctrine of the day, pressing into scripture and scholarship with equal intensity as Chan and Sprinkle refute the more dangerous aspects of the point of view expounded by Bell. Before moving into the exegesis of the new testament teachings of Jesus, John, Peter and Jude, they ensure that the 1st century foundations for understanding the content of the teachings was laid, most notably that for 1st century Jews, hell was punishment as a result of God's righteous judgment, would have been a given, which added the appropriate heaviness to the expounded teachings of Jesus and his followers.
Chan and Sprinkle then urgently explain how we should not only think differently in light of this information, but live differently. With the same level of loving admonition that Paul wrote to the Ephesians in the later chapters of that epistle, they go on to paint solemn warnings for Christ's church today.
To say that the imagery of hell in this context is sobering is an understatement. Judgment. Punishment. Wrath. Lake of Fire. Utter darkness. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether or not this is an eternal destiny or final annihilation isn't ultimately decided by Chan and Sprinkle (although Chan admittedly leans towards the everlasting and eternal view vs. destructive), but considering the imagery, I, like the authors, have a new appreciation for the cross and Jesus, and his willingness to endure that horror and agony for me.
And at this point, I repented - "God wants us to do more than intellectually agree with scripture, he wants us to live in light of them." Chan and Sprinkle make sure that the reader understands that this is life and death - most likely in perpetuity - and this subject impacts the fate of every person that has ever breathed on this planet. I am encouraged to grieve, mourn and rejoice and live my life in the beautiful tension that is created by knowing, and serving and loving a God whose ways are so much higher than ours.
Hell is real, judgment and wrath aren't pretty, but God is God, and he is good, even when we can't understand His ways.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2013
I appreciate the truthfulness and humor of the opening line in the preface: “If you are excited to read this book, you have issues.” That is, however, as far as my appreciation goes. If Chan & Sprinkle, or anybody else for that matter, would take their own advice “Believe what is biblical” then the research and conclusion of this book would be rejected. It is unbiblical! And this is a serious issue of which the author’s appropriately write, “…we can’t be wrong on this one.” Unfortunately, however, Chan & Sprinkle are wrong.
It is safe to assume Chan & Sprinkle mean well and their care and concern is caught throughout the book, but the basis of scholarship and reasoning is unacceptable and the conclusion is simply absurd! While there is debate among many about the emphasis of the Bible, what is clear is that the Bible is not about how to go to heaven. Conversely the Bible is not focused on, or in any significant degree emphasizing who goes to hell (an eternal place of torment). Having such a fundamentally erroneous base in beginning any such study as this one is a slippery slope to errant, destructive and devastating conclusions (such as found in this book).
The most reckless error of this book are the baseless and exaggerated conclusions that the influence of a couple of books, non-canonical books I might add, had such an influence on first century Judaism that Chan & Sprinkle could make statements like: “so ingrained was the belief in hell among first century Jews that Jesus would have had to go out of His way to distance Himself from these beliefs if He did not hold them”, or “From the passages cited above (Chan is referring to his quotations from 4 Ezra, 1 & 2 Enoch, 4 Macc., 2 Barnabas), one thing is clear: First Century Jews believed in hell.” In fact Chan and Sprinkle say that this belief was “nearly unanimously held.” And then if that was not enough they go on to write: “This is undeniable. This is the first-century Jewish view of hell.” Not only are Chan & Sprinkle’s interpretations of these non-biblical books worthy of validating, they are overestimating the impact of books written from a time period estimated around 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. And this overestimation, which cannot be verified and should be highly suspect for a number of reasons, plays a large and significant part in their interpretations of what Jesus actually said about hell (Chapter 3) as well as the rest of the Bible. This is clearly seen in the statement: “Jesus grew up in the world of beliefs described in the last chapter. He would be expected to believe the same stuff about hell that most Jews did. And if He didn’t—if Jesus rejected the widespread Jewish belief in hell—then He would certainly need to be clear about this.”(p.73) This is a baseless statement accompanied by faulty reasoning. The premise in the book is that this view of hell deduced from non-canonical books was the predominant view of first-century Judaism and since Jesus lived in this day He would hold the same belief. Establishing the fact as a premise that this was the predominant first-century view is completely ridiculous. To say that books such as 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, etc. which were only written around the time of Jesus would gain that much traction in first-century belief when the time frame for such a development is very narrow and imprecise. In addition, in a society which was fairly illiterate and lacking speedy reduplication/publication means these books would not have been widely circulated.
If this was not the predominant first century view then what Jesus believed and taught would be solely deduced from the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament, even by Chan & Sprinkles admission (see bottom of page 50), did not speak about hell, then for Jesus to speak about something such as hell it would require explanation. But He does not explain His reference to Gehenna or Hades because the Old Testament was the basis of His belief as it was for first century Judaism. Additionally, Jesus did contradict first-century Jewish beliefs, but He always did so by an appeal to Scripture…not the book of 4 Ezra or 1 Enoch/2 Enoch. The images and words used by Jesus were understood, and expected to be so by Jesus, because they are taught in the Old Testament…it is just that they are not describing a place called hell: a place of eternal torment. Chan is reading/finding in these passages what he is looking for not what they are saying. Once again, he should follow his own advice (see page 15).
What is most damaging about Chan & Sprinkle’s work is the conclusion found in Chapter 5: What Does This Have to Do with Me? What is ironic is that the question is correct but the conclusion is wrong because the interpretations are so off base. Many of these passages are for us and are intended to admonish us to “live holy lives”(p.118), but not for fear of spending eternity separated from God and His love. Chan & Sprinkle link our eternal destinies to what we do: feeding the poor, how we speak/use our tongue, social justice, lukewarmness and passivity, etc. In their words, “Racism, greed, misplaced assurance, false teaching, misuse of wealth, and degrading words to a fellow human being—these are the things that damn people to hell…belief in hell should rescue our complacent hearts from the suffocating grip of passivity.” (p.124) The passages which speak of Gehenna, Hades, fire, destruction, perish, etc. are to admonish us to live holy lives by faith so that we will not undergo any of God’s chastisement/punishment. This is exactly what Jesus meant and what people understood. Only two chapters in the whole Bible deal with the eternal state: Revelation 21 & 22 so the emphasis of the Bible cannot be eternity, but time: what God has planned in time and for His creation and creatures on this earth. The destruction and chastisement that Jesus often spoke of, as did other apostles, are what many could face for not walking in harmony with God, for not being righteous in their lifestyles. This judgment is temporal, not eternal. This was the predominant view of Jewish people in Jesus’ day, and it is more than likely the predominant view of Jewish people today. What do we know about hell as an eternal place of final torment? Not a hell of a lot! I do not recommend this book to anyone. Study the Scriptures with open minds and hearts. Check everything you read or hear against the Scriptures. Save your money on this one!