Rob Bell’s Love Wins created a firestorm of controversy for several reasons. It was a hugely debated book among Evangelical Christians due to it’s liberal teaching in regards to salvation. And those who wrestled with the question of a loving God and the presence of hell embraced the book because it was willing to ask the questions that many books would not.
In Erasing Hell, Francis Chan wrestles with many of the same questions, but in a manner that is clearly distinct from that of Rob Bell – Chan may be repulsed at the notion of hell, but he is willing to embrace God at all costs. He places himself in submission to the Scripture, and clings to his Sovereign God.
Do you want to believe in a God who shows His power by punishing non-Christians and who magnifies His mercy by blessing Christians forever?
Do you want to? Be honest.
Do you want to believe in a God like this? Here’s my gut-level, honest answer:
No way. I have family and friends who reject Jesus. I do not want to believe in a God who punishes non-Christians. Okay, maybe He should punish extremely wicked people – that makes some sense. But punishment in hell for seemingly good people, or those who simply chose the wrong religion? That feels a bit harsh, at least according to my sense of justice.
But let me ask you another question. Could you?
Could you believe in a God who decides to punish people who don’t believe in Jesus? A God who wants to show His power by punishing those who don’t follow His Son?
Now that’s a different question, isn’t it? You may not recognize the difference immediately, but read them again and you’ll see that these two questions – do you want to? versus could you? – are actually miles apart.
The problem is that we often respond to the second question because of our response to the first. In other words, because there are things that we don’t want to believe about God, we therefore decide that we can’t believe them.
And from that point, Chan wrestles through the issue of hell – seeking his answers from God’s Word – emotionally pained by it’s reality, but theologically convinced of it. He repeatedly confesses to the struggle within his own soul, and his past attempts to shave off the sharp edges of God’s truth.
The New Testament writers didn’t have the same allergic reaction to hell as I do. Perhaps they had a view of God that is much bigger than mine. A view of God that takes Him at His word and doesn’t try to make Him fit our own moral standards and human sentimentality. A view of God that believes what He says, even when it doesn’t make perfect sense to me.
Whereas Love Wins rejected the historical, orthodox understanding of the doctrine of hell, Erasing Hell returns to the Bible and discovers that hell is real, hell is terrible, and that God – despite our gut-level response to the first two discoveries – is good and just. This theme runs throughout the book, and to my mind, is one of the commitments that distinguishes it from Bell’s (even though Erasing Hell grew out of a response from Love Wins). While Bell redefined God and re-interpreted the Bible in an effort to align God with his understanding of love and justice, Chan seeks to redefine his understanding of love and justice in order to align it with God’s Word.
We must come to a place where we can let God be God. We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how he is going to deal with people.
However, throughout history, many theologians have sought to answer questions regarding hell and eternity. What sets this book apart from other doctrinal works is Chan’s repeated emphasis that this is not a doctrine to be debated and considered, studied and argued. This is something that should motivate us to share the Gospel, because to recognize the reality of hell is to recognize that real people will go there – and that should move us to action.
The thought of hell is paralyzing for most people, which is why we often ignore it’s existence – at least in practice. After all, how can we possibly carry on with life if we are constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment?
Yet that’s the whole point – we shouldn’t just go on with life as usual. A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel as it did for Paul, who, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” persuaded people to believe (2 Cor. 5:11). We not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled – as with all doctrine – to live differently in light of it.
Perhaps you’ve wrestled with the reality of hell. You are one of the thousands who struggle with the notion of a loving God sending people to hell. Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell is the best book (apart from the Bible itself) that I could recommend to you on the subject. He shares your disdain for the place, but ultimately trembles and submits himself (and his theology) to God’s Word.