Chan would love to erase hell out of the Bible, especially after watching his grandmother die, convinced she would be in torment for eternity. He struggled with it.
He decided to write a book about hell. It scared him because so much was at stake. “Too many people were at stake.” (15) He prayed and fasted to prevent his own desires from twisting Scripture to gratify his own personal preferences.
Chan says his book is much more than about hell. “Its a book about embracing a God who isn't always easy to understand, and whose ways are far beyond us; a God whose thoughts are much higher than our thoughts; a God who, as the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things...has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases.” (17) Since His thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, “Expect, then, that Scripture will say things that don't agree with your natural way of thinking.” (17)
With that introduction, Chan moves on to distinguish what we want to believe and what we could believe, given biblical evidence. He looks at universalism as well as what the “will of God” means. He investigates Jewish literature to get a sense of the concept of hell around the time of Jesus (which Jesus and N.T. writers did not “correct”).
I was surprised that, “there's no evidence from the time of Jesus that the Hinnom Valley (gehenna literally means “Valley of Hinnom”) was the town dump.” There is no “archaeological evidence that this valley was ever a dump.” (59) The first recorded suggestion is from a rabbi in the thirteenth century, and then only as an analogy. Chan shows that Old Testament passages reveal that the Israelites engaged in indolatrous worship there, sacrificing children to Canaanite gods. It became a fitting analogy for God's place of judgment. Jesus lived and taught in the era of this understanding of gehenna and “His views stand in line with the dominant first-century Jewish view of hell.” (74) Chan thoughtfully goes through Jesus' comments on hell. “Jesus chose strong and terrifying language when he spoke of hell. I believe He chose to speak this way because He loves us ans wanted to warn us.” (86)
Chan then reviews what the New Testament writers said about hell. While Paul never used the term he did address the fate of the wicked, writing of eternal wrath, indicating “God will severely punish those who don't bow the knee to King Jesus.” (103). John's vision of wrath in Revelation is terrifying and is “forever and ever.”
Chan reminds his readers that the threat of hell is important to Christians too. Jesus threatened hell to those who curse their brother (Matt. 5:22), to those who thought they'd end up in paradise but, in fact, didn't know Jesus (Matt. 7:22-23). James writes about the use of the tongue and Revelation speaks to being lukewarm.
Chan works through Rom. 9:22-23, “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” to show His mercy and glory. He reminds us that our perspective is not God's. Out thinking is inferior to His. “Everything about Him and all He does is perfect.” (133) It may be impossible for us to figure out God but we must not submit Him to our reasoning. God is not embarrassed by His actions. “It's time to stop apologizing for Him and start apologizing to Him.” (138) “...[W]e need to stop explaining away hell and start proclaiming His solution to it.” (146) He urges his readers to make sure they are reconciled to God and are not in danger of hell.
Chan is hard hitting but he is humble. This prayer will give you an idea of his heart:
“Please forgive me, Lord, for wanting to erase all the things in Scripture that don't sit well with me. Forgive me for trying to hide some of your actions to make you more palatable to the world. Forgive me for trying to make You fit my standards of justice and goodness and love. You are God; You are good; I don't always understand You, but I love You. Thank You for who You are.” (139)
Chan writes, “As I have said all along, I don't feel like believing in hell. And yet I do. ...I joyfully submit to a God whose ways are much, much higher than mine.” (141)
Chan's book is slim, a mere 150 pages (less when you subtract the pages of footnotes). Add to that an appendix of FAQs and a bibliography. Certainly you have the time to read such an important book.
Discover more at www.ErasingHell.com.
Francis Chan has a BA in youth ministry and an MDiv. He was in youth ministry for six years and senior pastor for sixteen. He is a church planter and Bible college founder. He is on the boards of World Impact and Children's Hunger Fund and travels extensively on mission trips. He is a popular teacher, speaker and author (Crazy Love, Forgotten God). He and his family live in California.
Preston Sprinkle has a PhD in New Testament. He has taught biblical studies in England and Ohio and currently in California. He has authored many scholarly articles and worked on several books. He currently serves on the pastoral staff of a church in California, where he and his family live.
David C Cook, 171 pages (plus an excerpt from another of his books).