121 of 138 people found the following review helpful
A Challenging Reminder that Eternity is at Stake,
This review is from: Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up (Paperback)
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.
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Initial post: Feb 12, 2012 1:58:09 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 12, 2012 1:58:39 PM PST
Michael Heath says:
Have you ever encountered a coherent compelling argument on how a moral person can celebrate the existence of a supposed god who supposedly condemns some humans to eternal punishment? Where I place great emphasis on the eternal.
I understand how people could submit to such a god if they believed such punishment was possible, but I can't understand how these believers can be both moral and celebrate such a god.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2012 6:30:57 AM PST
D. Smith says:
It seems to me that this book might be a great place to find such answers. Though I'm guessing you prefer to needle people's views on comment sections rather than read material that might challenge your conclusions.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2013 6:41:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 3, 2013 7:07:10 PM PDT
Sandra Sherwood says:
I can only speak for myself and reply based on my understanding of your question. First to assume a Christian is moral is to not understand the very cruxt of Christianity. I am a devoted follower of God, a sister of His Son Christ and will inherit an incredible eternity. That does not change for one moment the fact that each and every day I will struggle with sin, doubt , and the persecution I am guaranteed to experience for my choice to believe in The Almighty God. The difference for me is that I have HOPE, I have the gift of The Holy Spirit to guide my choices. I CHOOSE to submit myself to God because He has proven through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross that He loves me, and all of us. As a parent, I must say, there is not ONE person on this earth I would sacrifice my children for. So I am humbled beyond belief at the knowledge that the God of all Creation desires so deeply to have a relationship with us that HE provided a way... faith in Jesus. This gift of grace is free to all who will believe, and choose to live their life in pursuit of Him, and not our sinful nature. He did this knowing that more often than not, we would fail. But even there He provided a way to make ammends through confession. This is no cheap grace, not like we see peddaled in so many Western churches. God knows when your faking it, and He is clear on His feelings, and how those people will be dealt with. But to those who seek Him earnestly, faithfully and diligently, His mercy and forgiveness are without end. We are given free will... we choose to accept His grace, and face the persecution this world will heap on us, suffer even to death, but never deny Him and receive an inheritance of eternal value. OR we can reap your reward here, satisfy our every selfish desire, deny God's existence refuse to take Him at His word at our own peril and suffer eternal damnation. God CAN NOT sin; what He says is true . Does it make any sense that the God of all creation would reward those who choose to HATE Him ? To deny Him is to choose to hate Him, reject Him , and defy Him. I celebrate a God, who loves me, and forgives me. I celebrate a God who saved me by sacrificing His Son , so that I may live in eternity with Him. He is not condemning anyone, they are making the choice to be condemned. I am not moral, I am accountable. I am a Christian, that means I KNOW I WILL sin, I need The Holy Spirit each and every moment to help me be Jesus to other's, I can't do it on my own. It was only when I accepted the deeply flawed nature of my own humanity, that I was able to look upon other people through God's Eye's, instead of comparing my sin to other's and feeling inferior or superior depending on the circumstance. I was a slave to a false interpretation of God's Grace. It wasn't until I truly grasped the concept of God's Grace and Justification that I was freed. I hope you understand, and I wish that same freedom for you.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2013 8:03:13 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 3, 2013 8:37:40 PM PDT
Michael Heath says:
Me earlier, "I understand how people could submit to such a god if they believed such punishment was possible, but I can't understand how these believers can be both moral and celebrate such a god."
Sandra Sherwood responds, "First to assume a Christian is moral is to not understand the very cruxt of Christianity."
I never assumed any Christian was moral; reading comprehension is needed here badly. Please note my use of the "and" operator, which provides two conditions that need to be addressed. Instead I claimed no Christian can be moral if they also celebrate the existence of a god they believe created a universe where he intends to cause unimaginable suffering to some of his creation for all of eternity. That's a level of evil all of humanity is incapable of even coming close to wreaking. In fact causing unimaginable suffering to even one individual for all eternity is itself infinite evil.
You never did directly address my point but instead avoid and deny the point by depending solely on logical fallacies. For example you write, "So I am humbled beyond belief at the knowledge that the God of all Creation desires so deeply to have a relationship with us that HE provided a way... faith in Jesus."
You claim your supposed god provides a way to avoid his eternal punishment. What evil is this god of yours who you believe will punish some for all eternity? In addition, not only is there no evidence what you assert is true, millions of Christians have also claimed only their way of having, "faith in Jesus", will allow them to avoid the eternal punishment this supposed god plans for many humans; that other Christians who have a slightly different way of having, "faith in Jesus" are doing it all wrong and therefore they're condemned to Hell as well.
So why no clarity even amongst Christians? If this god is so powerful, why is he such a lousy communicator, powerless in his inability to reveal himself, and powerless to communicate his demands of us in way we can empirically, independently, and convincingly, validate? I have more power than such a god since, unlike it, I can easily provide convincing and independent validation of my existence while expressing my thoughts lucidly. And I'm just an average human being who isn't deluded by religious dogma; no god complex here.
So here we observe you creating a defectively narrow set of alternatives, two, when in fact Christianity is filled with sects, each with arguments their way works, where many of these sects also claim other Christian methods won't work. And then we have many other other religions also claiming their way is the only way to save oneself from the eternal wrath of some deity. So who is right out of this myriad of choices? Well, we do know this with certainty, none of you have any evidence at all, none, zip, nada. So you're all equal on this question, and all totally lacking as well.
In addition we also know that be even the most minimal objective standard of morality, any entity that could and would cause unimaginable suffering to another for all eternity is the very height of evil. We can aggregate all the evil humanity has wrought and it's still infinitely less evil than the evil you think your god will do to one individual. And this was supposedly a choice your god made prior to supposedly creating our reality, his supposed design baked in plans for him to condemn some of his creation to unimaginable suffering for all of eternity.
If you don't understand my argument, and I don't think you're capable of even confronting it given I've yet to observe even one Christian who believes in Hell do so; then at least try and construct a high standard of morality while also considering the implications of an entity who provides no evidence of his existence or his plans yet supposedly plans to punish some for all eternity.
Methinks you don't understand what morality and eternity actually are. And no, the Bible provides zero evidence of your god's existence, we know that collection of writings was done by primitive humans who weren't even capable of expressing a level of understanding regarding reality and morality that other human civilizations of their time had reached hundreds of years prior. And some of us, i.e., those of us who are scientifically and historically literate, have advanced way beyond their understanding of what reality actually is, in ways unimaginable to even the wisest people of that time.
I don't believe a hell exists of course. That's for two reasons, one is the there's no evidence such a thing is true. Secondly, the attributes you claim for your god are contradictory if one also asserts that same god who loves us also promises to punish his creation for all eternity. That's not a person capable of a mature form of authentic love, instead that's a particularly juvenile psychopath.
If someone in my family who loves me decided to disassociate themselves from me, I assure you no wrath will come to them, let alone eternal unimaginable suffering. That would be evil.
Posted on Oct 9, 2013 11:19:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 9, 2013 1:08:07 PM PDT
I clicked yes on, "Was this review helpful," because it answered the question on whether to buy this book or not. I will not be purchasing it because I don't want to read yet another Christian book that believes in a never ending punishment for those who do not believe in Jesus. In Rob Bells, "LOVE WINS," it is not stated that hell does not exist, but what it was created for and in (Revelation 21) the gates are alway open and never shut. I think "Love Wins," is a VERY simple (not exhaustive) book that may challenge the reader on his/her belief on what eternity means and brings to lite (not light) how silly some of our reasons in how to believe are.
I had what I call a Road to Damascus experience (too long to describe) that lead me to study scripture 6 hours a day for 2 years at the age of 45 (being a Christian from what seemed like before birth and in ministry for 16 years), and was shocked by the doctrine I was fed all my life. I was alway confused about the scriptures of "Every knee will bow, etc." and (Mat 7:21-23) about the MANY that were not allow into the Kingdom of God that stand before our Lord saying "But Lord, we did many miracles, cast out demons and healed in Your name, etc.", in which God says, "Get away from Me, I never knew you, you who commit iniquity" The only people who would do all those things in the name of Jesus or Yahweh....are Christians! I always wanted to know why God said what He said because I didn't want to be one of those Christians.
Hopefully, long story short - In my studies (Long before "Love Wins" was written) I learned to take in the SUM or the WHOLE of God's Word to understand Him, and not dissect scriptures to line up with what I was taught or believed (VERY hard to do and don't know if it can be done in human reasoning without the Holy Spirits direction - as we saw with the Religious leaders of Jesus day - who knew the scripture much more than anyone of us today - but totally missed the Son of God standing right in front of them. Does it cross anyones mind that we today can also fall into a wrong perspective? Especially after 2,000 years of translation have occurred?). One of the few words mis-translated in scripture can change the whole picture - one of those words for me was ETERNITY. Please study this word and not only from Religious scholars. Look up every scripture that uses the word Eternity (old testament is Olam - translated into Greek as Aion) This word was also used much by a plethora of historical scholars. So, if we want to get a sense of the New Testament meaning of Aion (Eternity/Eternal/Forever and ever), we need to understand the word it was translated from (Olam) in the Old Testament.
There is a linguistic site (not a religious biased one) that studies Ancient Hebrew writings and word Meanings (The language that God originally spoke to people) called, "Ancient Hebrew Research Center." This is cut and pasted from the site:
Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/
Eternity ~ olam
By Jeff A. Benner
In the ancient Hebrew words that are used to described distance and direction are also used to describe time. The Hebrew word for east is qedem and literally means "the direction of the rising sun". We use north as our major orientation such as in maps which are always oriented to the north. While we use the north as our major direction the Hebrews used the east and all directions are oriented to this direction. For example one of the words for south is teyman from the root yaman meaning "to the right". The word qedem is also the word for the past. In the ancient Hebrew mind the past is in front of you while the future is behind you (because it is not known yet), the opposite way we think of the past and future. The Hebrew word olam means in the far distance. When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam. The word olam is also used for time for the distant past or the distant future as a time that is difficult to know or perceive. This word is frequently translated as eternity or forever but in the English language it is misunderstood to mean a continual span of time that never ends. In the Hebrew mind it is simply what is at or beyond the horizon, a very distant time. A common phrase in the Hebrew is "l'olam va'ed" and is usually translated as "forever and ever" but in the Hebrew it means "to the distant horizon and again" meaning "a very distant time and even further" and is used to express the idea of a very ancient or future time.
A good book that is more exhaustive and scripture based is, "Hope Beyond Hell," written by Gerry Beauchemin (A Missionary Dentist), and is a FREE download without wanting any personal information (which speaks volumes to me) on his website www.hopebeyondhell.net. This book is mostly scripture and will save you much time on finding the scriptures that contain the word Olam and Aion in Chapter 1, which you can verify. If anything else, just read that one chapter - then if it strikes your curiosity, continue to read and get a feel for what Destruction/Destroy/words translated to hell/and many others....mean.
To answer my above question of wondering why our Lord says to the MANY (Many in scripture means majority) Christians to get away from Him, because we don't know Him and commit iniquity - I believe it is because of this one doctrine of Eternal (without end) Hell. This one doctrine taught by the majority, is the sole mis-understood doctrine that turns off the world from believing in the God of pure LOVE, as I see in every atheist statement/blog of how sick our belief is that we should call this God a God of Love. And they would be right!
I've heard many Pastors try to answer Matthew 7 of the "Many" - stating these Christians committed iniquity and were not true believers, which makes Rob Bells book Love Wins very humorous as he dissects the many ways people believe on how to be saved - and "Which one is it?" Another word mis-understood is iniquity. Christians think these people committed something horrible (and they did, but not what you think). This is also found on The Ancient Hebrew Research Center cut and pasted below which doesn't show the highlight word - so I'll put it in parenthesis:
Biblical Word of the Month - Iniquity
By: Jeff A. Benner
In Genesis 19:15 we find the word "iniquity."
And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters that are here, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. (ASV, Genesis 19:15)
Our modern Greco-Roman languages commonly use abstract terms, like iniquity. But as Hebrew is a concrete language, rarely using abstracts, we must understand the word "iniquity" from its Hebraic concrete meaning. The Hebrew word for "iniquity" is עוון (ah-von, Strong's #5771), which is derived from the verbal root עוה (Ah.W.H, Strong's #5753). This verbal root is found in the following passages.
He hath walled up my ways with hewn stone; he hath made my paths (crooked). (ASV, Lamentations 3:9)
Behold, the LORD will lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will (twist) its surface and scatter its inhabitants. (RSV, Isaiah 24:1)
Already we are beginning to see the "concrete" meaning in the Hebrew word that lies behind the English word "iniquity," it is something crooked or twisted. The first letter in this word is the letter ע (ayin). This single letter was originally two different letters when Hebrew was written with a pictographic alphabet; the (ayin) and the (ghayin). The ghayin is a picture of a twisted cord and is clearly the original letter in this word (for more on this subject of the ayin and ghayin see the AHRC article titled Letters missing from the Hebrew Alphabet).
As we have demonstrated, the verb עוה (Ah.W.H) means "to be crooked" or "to be twisted," therefore the noun עוון (ah-von), derived from this verb, then means "crookedness" or "twistedness." Let's return to our original passage and read this from a more concrete perspective.
And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters that are here, lest thou be consumed in the twistedness of the city. (ASV, Genesis 19:15)
This same noun is also found in the following passage.
And Cain said unto the LORD, My (punishment) is greater than I can bear. (KJV, Genesis 4:13)
Why the translators chose the word "punishment" for this word is a mystery because this translation implies that Cain was saddened by the punishment. The truth is, this word means twistedness, and he was instead saddened by his "actions."
So, when the Lord says, "You who commit iniquity," this is saying to me - You who twisted My Words to make Me out to be a vengeful God. And reminds me of: (2 Timothy 3:5)(Christians) Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."
Last but not least - Do I believe in a hell? absolutely! Just like I believe in punishing my dis-obedient child, believe in prison for law breakers, etc. - but it is parental (punishment in scripture means pruning of trees for better growth) in nature and is to correct/rehabilitate and will last UNTIL the heart(not just behavior) is changed.
The interesting thing is, we will not all come together in this debate or all the prophesies will not be fulfilled, as in the Many being turned away, - because I believe God (in His eventual saving of all mankind) is a great leveler as in "The last being first and first being last," (Bring the proud low and lifting up the humble) etc. Only a chosen few will understand The Mystery (How He will do it) spoken of in the New Testament - and will be the ones who assist God in the end to bring in the Nations. Have you ever thought about that? If all are saved in The Kingdom of God, who are the nations and who will we be ruling justly over?
Am I one of the chosen few? I don't know and I wouldn't dare claim I was because it would bring separation, arrogance (I'm a Christian and you're not - I will be saved, while you're are going to burn in hell - God help us!) and the thing that causes God to say, "Away from Me." I just want to keep my eyes on Him daily and live the example of Jesus the best way I know how with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to serve and uplift mankind (or anyone who crosses my path).
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