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Erasing Hell: A Book Review
"Hell is the backdrop that reveals the profound and unbelievable grace of the cross. It brings to light the enormity of our sin and therefore portrays the undeserved favor of God in full color.” ~ Francis Chan
Hell, the hot topic
Hell is a hot topic (no pun intended) in the Christian world today. Is knowing there is a hell important? Does it really matter if we believe in hell? How can a God of love send people to hell? Do we get a second chance if we go to hell? Does everyone go to heaven? Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle have worked hard at giving accurate biblical answers to these questions and more. The results are compelling
Erasing Hell and Erasing Hell Workbook
Francis Chan's Feelings on Hell
Preston Sprinkle did most of the extensive biblical research on this uncomfortable topic. And although the biblical truth is the most important goal in writing this book, we have the unexpected blessing of hearing Francis Chan's heart. Humble and transparent, he confesses that he doesn't like believing in hell; doesn't even like to think of it. It hurts him to think that his loved ones and friends would end up there, and admittedly, he has danced around it in his many years as a pastor. Says Chan, "I would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture."
Prior to writing this book, Chan was discomforted when he read Rob Bell's bestselling book, Love Wins. As he read it he kept thinking, "Maybe he has something here, I hope what he's saying is true." But Bell's belief that all people go to heaven didn't ring true with his (Chan's) understanding of Scripture. He grappled with his emotions and previous understanding of hell, preceding and during the writing of Erasing Hell. Rather than setting out to be the leading expert, with all the arrogance and pride that goes along with that, he simply wanted to know and understand what the Bible, specifically Jesus, taught on hell. In his introduction, Chan encourages us to "Test all your assumptions against the precious words God gave us in the Bible." And setting the example, he does just that. With humble determination, and a willingness to put aside all feelings and preconceived notions, Chan, with Sprinkle's help, jumped into God's Word with both feet.
Chan's Heart on Hell (9 minutes)
Second chance? Darkness, fire, Gehenna?
Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle address one of the current beliefs that when an unrepentant sinner dies, they will get another chance at heaven with the idea that hell is only a time-limited season of correction. Although he admits he would love to believe that, a careful examination of the Scriptures, particularly Christ' words, reveals that hell is a place of retribution and punishment. Which then naturally leads them to examine the idea of hell being permanent and eternal.
In addition, the author's explore the idea of hell being a place of "utter darkness", "fire" and "torment," as Jesus often said. Are these figurative metaphor's, or the real deal? Sprinkle and Chan were surprised to find that the Bible was a bit nebulous on certain aspects of hell that they previously believed were absolute, and the opposite, that the Bible was very clear on things they once believed to be not very clear.
One particular section that I found interesting was when the author's address Christ's typical references to hell, with the translated word "Gehenna." He points out that it is often believed by pastors and Bible scholars alike, that Gehenna refers to the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom. Chan's and Sprinkle's extensive research into this issue bring surprising results. They said they could not find any historical garbage dump in that location. But it once was a place in Old Testament times where child sacrifice occurred by throwing the babies into the fire.
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"If I were God..."
What particularly struck me with Erasing Hell is Francis Chan's discussion on how we (and that includes himself) have a tendency to say "If I were God, I wouldn't do that." Thinking that way, we assume that if we wouldn't, then God surely wouldn't. We hear all the time "If God is a loving God, why does or would he send people to hell?" At that, Chan brings us to Isaiah 55:9 where God says, "My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts are not your thoughts." In other words, we need to understand that we are not God and thus cannot understand why God chooses to do what He does. But that He has the right to do it. He brings up the clay challenging the potter found in Isaiah 29 and Jeremiah 18, as well as when Job asked God the "Why?" question and God answered "Where were you before the foundation of the earth."
Jesus didn't speak of hell so that we could study, debate and write books about it. He gave us these passages so that we would live holy lives. Jesus evidently hates it when we tear into our brothers or sisters with demeaning words, words that fail to honor the people around us as the beautiful image-bearing creatures that they are.”
― Francis Chan,
Chan and Sprinkle on Rob Bell's Love Wins
Unlike many critics of this book, who accuse Sprinkle and Chan of making Erasing Hell a rebuttal to Bell's Love Wins, I felt Bell's book gave Chan a moment of pause (actually more than a moment) to consider what the truth about hell is. It seems Francis Chan really wrestled with God on this issue, not to manipulate God into his own desired way of thinking, but to find the truth and accept it. Love Wins brought him to understand the vital importance of knowing the biblical truth, and to consider his responsibility to know and proclaim that truth. To leave the questions unanswered would be to place the eternal destiny of people in jeopardy.
Erasing Hell is an easy and short read. Chan's writing style is refreshingly simple. You won't find a lofty, scholarly presentation with big words and an attitude of being the "expert." You won't feel like you're sitting in an doctoral theology class. The back of the book has an appendix with FAQ's, which is an additional, and appreciated help to readers.
God is sovereign
The author's of Erasing Hell are two honest, truth-seeking men, humbly presenting a vitally important, uncomfortable and controversial subject. In the end, we find out more about God's sovereignty; God's greatness and our smallness; that God is sovereign and we are not; that His way is right, even when it doesn't make sense to us. And in that vein, we can be reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6 which says "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path."