Francis Chan’s book on hell is a no nonsense treatment of a very difficult subject. Chan pulls no punches and addresses the subject of hell in a direct and very thorough manner. His examination of hell is rooted in the scriptures and Chan goes book by book, verse by verse to carefully see what the Bible says. It is not a theological text but it is also not a puff piece that lacks intellectual rigour.
Chan doesn’t study hell from an academic ivory tower. Throughout the book, he agonizes over it. At the start, he recalls witnessing the death of his grandmother who was not a Christian:
Even as I write that paragraph, I feel sick. I would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture.
Chan begins by reviewing the writings of contemporary Christians, such as Rob Bell, who deny hell’s existence or who don’t believe God sends anyone there. He wrestles with their arguments and examines them against what the Bible says. Ultimately, he finds their arguments unconvincing and their justifications falling short of what biblical text is saying.
He then proceeds to examine what the entire Bible says about the subject, starting with the Old Testament, what Jesus had to say about hell and what the rest of the New Testament writers wrote. He even goes into great detail on what the Jewish nation in the first century thought about hell in order to give context to Jesus’ teaching on the subject.
Chan’s grand sweep of the Bible leads him to an unmistakeable conclusion: hell is for real and people are there and headed there. Chan’s analysis reveals that almost every book in the New Testament speaks about hell or God’s judgment on those who refuse to believe. Hell and God’s wrath against sin is not relegated to a single obscure verse but crops up throughout the scriptures.
Chan is not happy with this conclusion but he knows it has to be faced and acknowledged. He warns us:
Expect then that Scripture will say things that don’t agree with your natural way of thinking.
This is a theme he keeps emphasizing in his book: even though there are things in the Bible that we may not agree with or like, doesn’t mean they are not true. Nor does it give a Christian an automatic exemption from believing it and obeying it. I noted this also in my essay A Few Burning Thoughts on Hell. As Chan says towards the end of the book:
I don’t feel like believing in hell. And yet I do.
Chan submits himself to the authority of scripture, even if he doesn’t feel like it. In treating the subject manner in this way, he provides a major service to the church in his book. The Bible is not a set of options that we can pick and chose from. It is the very authority of God that is to be submitted to. As he writes,
It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace.
Chan’s approach not only applies to how we view hell but everything else the Bible talks about. He also writes:
The more important question is not whether or not you want to, but could you believe these things, if in fact God says they are true?
In the current age where evangelical ambivalence towards biblical authority seems to be more common place, Chan’s exhortation on the matter is a refreshing change.
Chan wrestles with the question of the duration of hell. Do people experience its punishment forever or only for a time until they are annihilated? He concludes that he leans on the side that says it is everlasting but that he is not ready to claim it with complete certainty. Although he points to scriptures that seem to imply a limited duration, he shows much greater scriptural evidence that it is everlasting. It leaves a bit of a curious question on why there is some uncertainty when Chan has already shown overwhelming evidence.
Erasing Hell is a sobering book but a very important one. It should give every Christian pause as to what it means in how they live their lives and how important the gospel really is to their lives. As Chan says:
When it comes to hell, we can’t afford to be wrong. This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders and move on. Too much is at stake. Too many people are at stake. And the Bible has too much to say.
Four and a half out of five stars.
2014 © Ed LeBlanc