DISCLAIMER: If for some reason you don’t want to know what conclusion they reach…you shouldn’t be reading a review of the book!
Anyway, you can’t be a 22 year-old evangelical Christian who has a Facebook without having heard the buzz about Francis Chan’s new book, Erasing Hell (written with Preston Sprinkle). How many of my Facebook friends posted this youtube video in May and June? I don’t know, but I know the answer is along the lines of several.
Now, I read the book (it ended up getting released last month instead of July 5th). As should surprise absolutely nobody, they conclude that Hell is…a place of eternal torment! Yes. But despite the fact that I disagree with their position, I actually think the book is a worthy read for other reasons.
Firstly, I should emphasize that I do not recommend the book for its biblical case for eternal torment. Not only did they not convince me, they barely gave me as much as a second thought (a single footnote about Matthew 25:46 looked like something worth looking up…then I did and it was no big deal). In the 100 pages or so devoted to exegesis, they don’t say anything new. If you’re looking for a good traditionalist book to prove eternal torment…there are none. However, there are plenty that are better than this. If you’re looking for a good biblical case for traditionalism, and you already have a book about Hell on your shelf somewhere, you don’t need to spend another $12 to get this one. It’s the same passages used in every other book, article, webpage, and free pamphlet about Hell and how it’s a place of eternal torment. As far as biblical exegesis goes, there was really no reason for this book to even be written. Any book on Hell (like Robert Peterson’s Hell on Trial, Robert Morey’s Death and the Afterlife, or Hell Under Fire by Zondervan publishing) would make the same arguments from the same verses, and they would probably do it in much greater depth.
Why Do I Recommend It?
Despite my disagreement with Chan and Sprinkle regarding their overall conclusions about Hell, how they go about it is a good example of the attitude that we as believers must take with the scriptures, and ultimately, with a perfect God who’s ways do not always line up perfectly with what we might think is best.
First of all, Chan begins the study with this: “Don’t believe something just because you want to, and don’t embrace an idea just because you’ve always believed it. Believe what is biblical. Test all assumptions against the precious words that God gave us in the Bible”(115). If we took that attitude of humility and openness to God’s teachings, then we might find the truth of God revealing itself to us like never before.
In the book, especially in the beginning and in the last 1/3 or so, we are repeatedly reminded that God is the one who is perfect in every way, and we are not. We are the creation; God is the creator who is bound and limited only by righteousness and His own nature, which are one in the same. The attitude taken throughout this book about God’s relation to man is best summed up by Isaiah 55:8-9, which is quoted in the book:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (ESV)
Along these lines, Chan and Sprinkle make some important insights. As is brought up in the video, there are all kinds of examples of God doing things that we wouldn’t do were we God. They bring up a string of examples, and I think that this is important. It helps us to remember that, to varying extents, we are used to this already. At some point we have all had to submit to the truth of God, even when it was against what we thought was right. Having grown up outside of the church, this was more the rule than the exception for me when I first came to know Jesus, especially for the time that I too was a traditionalist.
Ya know, Islam may be the religion whose name means “submission,” but as followers of the living God, as those who confess our sinfullness and imperfection in light of His perfection, we as Christians are the ones for whom submission is the part of everything we do. Accepting God’s judgment of the lost is simply one more part of that.That is the central theme of the book. God is our creator and master of all. We must submit to Him in all things and in all ways, and we do so not just because of His power, but because, unlike us, there is no evil in Him (Psalm 92:15). And yet it is hard, and it is not natural. As Chan asks while observing some of what God has done throughout time, “Could you love a God like this?” (137).And yet, he also reminds us: “Ultimately, thoughts of God should lead to joy, because those same thoughts designed the cross – the place where righteousness and wrath kiss” (136). Those of us who have been redeemed can indeed love a God like that.
Chan and Sprinkle are wrong about what Hell, but they are not wrong about how to approach God in finding the truth about Hell or anything else, and that matters so much more. Do not read Erasing Hell because you think it will accurately tell you what the Bible teaches about Hell. I thought about writing a point-by-point rebuttal of their case for eternal torment, but then I realized that I already had, and it’s called “The Bible Teaches Annihilationism.” Do read Erasing Hell because it’s a convicting reminder of what it means to follow God.
Chan, Francis and Preston Sprinkle. Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We Made Up. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2011. Print.
English Standard Version (ESV Bible). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/English-Standard-Version-ESV-Bible/>
(Originally published 07/19/2011: http://3-ringbinder.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-surprising-review-of-erasing-hell-by.html. Immaterial changes have been made).