Yesterday I received Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle in the mail. I read it that same evening. I was, to be honest, riveted by their response to Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. With deep and respectable humility, Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle seek to faithfully and honestly confront both their assumptions about hell and what the Bible says about hell. The result is a book that very carefully examines the historical context of Jesus’ words about hell and what His followers said about this difficult topic in the rest of the New Testament.
What I appreciate most about this book is that the authors are emphatic about the fact that this is not a pedantic, scholarly, hair-splitting debate about a doctrine; hell is something we Christians can’t afford to be wrong about. If we claim there is no hell, and we’re wrong, then we’re sending people to a place we’ve convinced them doesn’t exist! Over and over, perhaps in every chapter, the authors remind the reader that we’re not just splitting doctrinal hairs here, we’re talking about the eternal destiny of people–some of whom we know and love.
Thus, with a profound appreciation for the weight of this topic, Chan and Sprinkle look at the key passages surrounding hell to arrive at a faithful conclusion–regardless of whether or not their initial assumptions are proven right or they win the argument. And, the authors openly admit that they don’t want there to be a hell; a sentiment I believe we can all agree with. But, like the authors say, our disliking of hell doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality.
There are two sections of the book that are perhaps the most valuable. First, in Chapter 5: What Does This Have to Do with Me?, the authors point out that many of the warnings Jesus issued about hell were to religious people. Jesus warned that “many” people would come to Him and say that they had done great things in His name, but He would reply “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt 7:23). This isn’t a warning to atheists, vegans, Muslim extremists, or _____________ (insert your favorite stereotypical villain here). It’s a warning to people who genuinely think they’re following God!
Second, and what resounded with me the most, is in Chapter 6: “What If God…?” where the authors remind us that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours that the difference is like the Heavens and the earth! The point being that it’s incredibly arrogant of us to think we can pass judgment on we think how God should run things. Is it possible that God has a more mature and developed sense of justice than we do? Here are some quotes that I found particularly thought-provoking:
- “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.” (Pg. 131)
- “Let’s not think that spending a bit of time meditating on the mysteries of the universe places us on a level that allows us to call God into question.” (Pg. 133-134)
- “The fact is, Scripture is filled with divine actions that don’t fit our human standards of logic or morality. But they don’t need to, because we are the clay and He is the Potter. We need to stop trying to domesticate God or confine Him to tidy categories and compartments that reflect our human sentiments rather than His inexplicable ways.” (Pg. 135)
- “It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption [the cross], even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for clay to do.” (Pg. 136)
Overall, I found this to be a very challenging and humbling book. I highly recommend it, especially if you’ve read Love Wins. You can’t walk away from Erasing Hell without being compelled to share the message of hope and salvation with everyone you meet. Because, like the authors repeatedly state, this is an area where we can’t afford to be wrong!