inREVIEW — Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things We Made Up, by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle

by Lee Buford on July 14, 2011

The debate surrounding the reality and truths of hell continues to ignite conversation and debate, especially in Christian circles, and Francis Chan’s book is the latest offering on the table. Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity and the things we’ve made up, co-authored with Preston Sprinkle, was written to examine what Scripture teaches relative to the subject of hell, and ultimately for the purpose of providing some clarity on the debate at hand.

Is it a response to Rob Bell’s highly publicized and debated Love Wins? Yes and No. Yes in that Chan and Sprinkle clearly address and rebut the opinions of Bell’s book in numerous instances. No in that this book goes beyond the specific focus on hell to expose more about the character of the One, Sovereign God with whom all ultimate authority rests. After viewing the video trailer and writing about the book’s upcoming release I must say that I was looking forward to the read, and admittedly I had some big expectations for the book.

I am a fan of Chan’s writing style and have enjoyed his previous books, Crazy Love and Forgotten God. I perceive him to be a man, husband, father, and pastor with great compassion for people and even greater passion for the Lord Himself. I trust that most people would agree that this book is reflective of such character, in both style and content, as Chan pours his heart out for the sake of not missing on this one, even to the point of humbly acknowledging his lack of understanding or answers where applicable along the way.

Following the introduction, the book is divided into seven chapters; each followed by a detailed section of notes, references, and further insight, and concludes with a section devoted to “Frequently Asked Questions”. (There’s even a sample chapter from Forgotten God included at the end.) The chapters are as follows:

  1. Does Everyone Go To Heaven?Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?
  2. What Jesus Actually Said about Hell
  3. What Jesus’ Followers Said about Hell
  4. What Does This Have to Do with Me?
  5. “What If God…?”
  6. Don’t Be Overwhelmed

Hell is a difficult topic for many of us…a discussion that is often avoided in light of our human desire to repress and avoid things that we don’t want to talk about or, perhaps even more, things we don’t want to believe. Chan very candidly confesses that “part of me doesn’t want to believe in hell” (p. 15), or that hell will be the destiny for many real people, friends and family alike. Many of us have grown up with certain biases and/or understandings and beliefs that may or may not be rooted in Scripture, and on the very next page he echoes what I believe to be the foundation from which we must approach and pursue truth in Scripture:

“Let’s be eager to leave what is familiar for what is true. Nothing outside of God and His truth should be sacred to us.”

Chan and Sprinkle provide an initial overview of Universalism, noting that, despite some differences, all Christian Universalists agree that post-death “there will be another chance (or and endless string of chances) to choose Jesus” (p. 35). The authors then go immediately on to say, “No passage in the Bible says that there will be a second chance after death to turn to Jesus.” This particular issue, along with the validity and reality of people landing there for eternity is where the real tension exists and, likewise, where the crucial truths must be uncovered, understood and communicated to a world in need of the truth. Real truth! And this is where I think the book excels.

I found three chapters, “Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?”, “What Jesus Actually Said about Hell”, and “What Jesus’ Followers Said about Hell”, to be very informative and “eye opening” in certain instances for me. The authors did a great job of researching, understanding, and communicating the relevance of the context in which Jesus lived and spoke to the ultimate understanding and interpretation of His Word, specifically as relates to what He had to say about hell.

Chapter after chapter unfolds, topics and questions alike, with Chan and Sprinkle presenting the relative Bible texts, contexts, and references to make their case that, indeed, hell is real and it is not a place where anyone wants to spend eternity. There are sections of the book in which I would’ve liked them to go a bit further in presenting some examples and drawing some conclusions on a bit deeper level. One such area was in the chapter “What If God…?”, where the authors hone in on Paul’s words in Romans relative to the Potter and the Clay, but fail to venture far enough out to get into the treacherous waters of Predestination, Election, etc., noting that we must ultimately “come to a place where we can let God be God” (p. 131). The points herein are valid and consistent with the text, and I realize that chasing down certain trails would not necessarily be in line with the intended topic of the book for argument or space sake. But I would have liked to have seen them explore that in a bit more detail in light of the debate and questions over choice and free will as they relate to the ultimate destiny of each of us. In several similar cases I felt like the conclusions were a bit rushed or incomplete, not to the point of being detrimental to intended purpose of the book, but to the point that I was left wanting more than the chapter provided.

Commendably, the final chapter concludes with an essential question… “Are You Sure?”, pointing the reader to the gospel and the fact that, without it, we all face eternal torment in hell…the very real consequence of eternal separation from God for those who don’t know Him.

In summary I think this book is much needed, well-written, and very informative as to the truths God has revealed about hell through His written Word. Chan and Sprinkle do an excellent job providing the necessary context to be used as a sufficient, biblical lens, through which Scripture must be studied to ultimately and rightly see and hear what God intends us to grasp. I encourage you to read it and let the truths of God’s Word be the basis for what you believe and, as a result, for what you go and do with what He reveals to you. In the end, as Chan writes,

“We need to stop explaining away hell and start proclaiming His solution to it.” (p. 146)

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron Krumpos July 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm

In 2011 world population will reach 7 billion (vs. 3 billion in 1960). There are now approximately 2.2 billion Christians. Chan and Sprinkle seem to be saying that 4.8 billion people may be facing eternal hell.
Concepts of afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Not all Christians agree on what happens after death in this life, nor do all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or other believers. Rebirth, resurrection, purgatory, universalism, and oblivion are other possibilities…none of which can be proven.Mystics of all faiths have more in common than the followers of their orthodox religions. True mystics realize that eternal life is here and now, it does not begin after mortal death. The age of Earth is said to be 4.5 billion years, of the Universe 13.7 billion, yet few humans live to be 100. Relatively, this lifetime is a mere speck.Scriptures are subject to interpretation; people often choose what is most beneficial for them. Lives are different, why not afterlives? Reality is what it is, whether we believe, think or desire otherwise.

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Lee Buford July 21, 2011 at 12:34 am

Ron, while it is true that there are many differing opinions relative to the subject of hell, as Chan emphasizes in the book, the importance of getting this one right cannot be overstated. And, while each of us is entitled to our own opinions, our opinions and interpretations mean very little if they are not in agreement with what God says about the reality of hell. He will be the final, just judge of all men according to His Word, regardless of all the interpretations, and thus the acknowledgement and acceptance of His saving grace is far more important than our debates over what “might be” if one dies separated from Christ.

“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you,and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Corinthians 6:2

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