Giving and the Disciple

One of the characteristics of discipleship is giving. Disciples are called to make giving a part of their spiritual lives, whether it is through the giving of their time, talents, etc.  One type of giving that continues to be a point of sensitivity and even embarrassment in the church is the giving of money.  A key reason for this is the tele-evangelism scandals of the 1980s where glitzy and over the top television evangelists made incessant and heavily emotional appeals to their viewers for money.  The appeals were often mixed with emotional tears and pleas that if they didn’t receive X amount of dollars by the end of the week, they would be forced to go off the air.  By and large these appeals worked, until two of these tele-evangelists ran into scandals with one of them sent off to jail while another was defrocked by his denomination.

The end result was shame and disgrace brought upon not only these television ministries but to the church overall.  Their practices reinforced the stereotypical view amongst skeptics and critics that churches are filled with lying, cheating hypocrites who only want people’s money to feather their own nests.  The response from Christian pastors and preachers was to duck for cover when it came to talk about money.  Pastors refrained from preaching sermons on giving as many feared it would give the impression that they were just being greedy, like those fellows on TV.  As a consequence, teaching on the spiritual discipline of giving was lost on a whole generation of Christians who grew up not knowing what it was all about.  The after effects of those dark days in the 1980s still lives on, with many Christians not making giving a priority in their spiritual lives.

Despite those horrific scandals, the teaching of scripture on giving still lives on and disciples of Jesus are still called to give to others in order to show generosity. (2 Corinthians 9:6-15).  In this essay, I’ll go over some basic principles of giving that a disciple should consider.

Be Generous and Cheerful

When it comes to giving money, the first question many disciples ask is how much?  That is an understandable question and, although the Old Testament teaching to the nation of Israel was to give a tithe of ten percent of their wealth, the New Testament teaching to the church defines no set amount.  In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus points out the rich putting their wealthy gifts into the Temple treasury while a poor widow puts in two small copper coins.  He notes that the widow put in more than all the others because they gave out of their wealth.  It was not a sacrifice to them but, to the widow, it was a great sacrifice as she gave out of her poverty and put in all she had to live on.  Although the ten percent tithe is a reasonable starting point, Jesus teaching on the subject and the rest of the New Testament should give the disciple pause and to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. Factors such as sacrifice, generosity and cheerfulness in giving should guide the disciple in deciding how much to give.

Be Consistent

Another factor, which is even more important than the amount of giving, is being consistent in giving. Are you giving consistently, be it weekly or monthly, out of your regular income?  Consistency is key because, regardless of how much you give, you are reinforcing a habit of giving where the release of your money to others becomes a regular part of your spiritual life.  You do not hesitate about giving and you often don’t even think about it as you do it.

Consistent giving enables the recipients of your generosity to count on your giving to plan their own lives and ministries around it.  You are not simply throwing your money into the wind but giving to help those in need live their lives and conduct their ministry of aid to others.  In effect, you are partnering with them in their various enterprises and being ministers of God’s grace to them. Giving is a solemn responsibility.

Be Focused and Committed

In order to be consistent, a disciple needs to be focused on what charities to give to.  While one cannot give to every worthy cause and ministry out there, a disciple can focus on a few and give consistently and deeply to them over a long period of time.  Be committed to giving to a charity over the long term, especially if you believe in what they are doing and if you are benefiting from their efforts, such as your own local church.  Such focus and commitment by disciples will help keep charities and ministries healthy and enable them to serve others over the long haul.

Disciples of Jesus should not hesitate about giving their money. It should be an integral part of their spiritual lives, like regular Bible reading and prayer.  In the same way, pastors and teachers should not be shy in teaching about giving, from the pulpit, the classroom or the coffeeshop.  Disciples need to learn, understand and apply this spiritual discipline in order that the church of Christ is built up to do the work Jesus commands her to do.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

 

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The Difficulties and Delights of Fellowship

Hebrews 10:24-25 says:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This passage, along with several others in the New Testament, commands disciples of Jesus Christ to actively engage in having fellowship with other disciples. Fellowship is a critical component in the life of a growing disciple and is something that needs to be constantly attended to and nourished.

But fellowship can be a difficult thing, so much so that many Christians minimize their exposure to other Christians. Many come to church on a Sunday, if they do at all, sit in the back and leave as soon as it is over in order to avoid having to talk to anyone. The reasons for this vary. Some have had very bad experiences with other Christians, to the point that they don’t trust getting involved in any church. Some have difficulty in relating to people in general and thus feel they are incapable of developing close relationships with other believers. Most, however, don’t engage in any form of in-depth fellowship because they couldn’t be bothered. They keep at arms-length with other believers, not wanting to be burdened with being involved in other people’s lives, mainly because they have opted for the culture’s radical exaltation of the Self and all the comforts it brings.

Yet, this is not the way of a disciple. Those who follow Christ are called to live in communion with, not only Jesus, but also His Body, the church. This doesn’t mean just showing up on a Sunday morning. It does mean intentionally living lives that help, encourage and build up other disciples. It can be difficult and messy at times but the purpose of fellowship is to build up others in order to glorify Christ.

Yet what does fellowship look like and how are disciples of Jesus to do it? I highlight three aspects of fellowship that disciples need to keep in mind.

Remove the Roadblocks

The first is, identify the roadblocks that are keeping you from spending time with other Christians. Are you the Christian who couldn’t be bothered and is more interested in spending time with yourself or your closed inner circle? Do you have a fear of closeness with other people? Have you been seriously hurt in the past? All these, plus more, are serious roadblocks that prevent disciples from engaging in the lives of other believers.

Once you have those roadblocks identified, you need to get the bulldozer out and start removing them from your life. Serious roadblocks require a bulldozer of the quality of Jesus. Ask Him to remove those barriers and the grace to engage with other Christians freely and sincerely. If you are fearful, ask for courage. If you are tongue tied, ask for wisdom. If you are self-absorbed, ask for humility.

Talk About Jesus

The second aspect is to make sure you talk about Jesus. Fellowship is not about a simple hi, small talk and then good bye on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, it is very easy to spend much time with other believers and never talk about Jesus. Disciples should be asking: How He has been working in your life, how He is speaking to you in the Scriptures, etc. It is easy to talk about the little things but never mention His name in the course of conversation! But what is the primary reason Christians get together? It is because of Jesus. If Jesus or anything related to Him is not talked about in times spent with other disciples, the quality of fellowship is superficial.

But this implies that each disciple is already walking with Jesus day by day and trying to cultivate their personal relationship with Him. If fellowship with Jesus is poor, than fellowship with other believers will be equally as poor. It shouldn’t be forced but come naturally and that can only happen if one’s relationship with the Lord is sincere, both in good and bad times.

Love One Another

The third aspect is to cultivate a genuine desire to care for the welfare of other disciples in Christ. This is where true fellowship shines and demonstrates to the world that we are really disciples of Jesus Christ, if we love one another (John 13:35). When you talk to other believers, how much time do you spend asking them how they are doing versus how much time you talk about yourself? When a disciple needs to talk about a difficult issue, how willing are you to find the time to talk with him? When they are in need, will you help to meet that need the best you can? If you are not intentional in caring for other disciples, you are not doing real fellowship. We are often afraid to offer help or invite them out for coffee just to chat. Disciples need to over come these roadblocks and make that call, send that e-mail or make that invitation.

This is not easy and entails some risk. It may mean letting ourselves become vulnerable to others and taking the risk of being hurt. But all disciples still have the sin nature and are imperfect this side of heaven, so this should be no surprise. This is one of the costs of discipleship. Yet, it is a call that our Lord is making to His church: to love one another.

Fellowship is not all risk and doom. As disciples strive to practice true fellowship, its rewards and blessings are sweet and encouraging to weary souls. Recall those times when you were down and another disciple helped to pick you up. This is what fellowship is all about and why the church needs more of it.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

Bible Reading for the Disciple

In my previous essay, The Decline of Bible Reading, I commented on polling in Canada that revealed a serious decline in Bible reading amongst Christians. In that essay, I noted two key ways the church could address the problem. In this essay I discuss how a disciple of Christ can make reading the Bible an indispensable part of his spiritual development and life.

Be Committed

The first key step involves creating a hungry heart. A committed disciple must be committed to the Word of God and must possess a strongly held belief that the Bible is critical in one’s relationship with Christ. All disciples know that in their heads and give intellectual assent to the concept but does that belief go further to penetrate their hearts and permeate their lives?

The cultivation of that attitude towards the Bible is dependent on the disciple leaning on the power of the Holy Spirit to create a hunger for God’s word and undertaking a few basic spiritual exercises to create the environment for that hunger to thrive. There needs to be a commitment to walk in the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit and a commitment to practice spiritual disciplines that together move a disciple to always be seeking to feed upon the Word.

So how does one get that hunger? One way is to look at your life and see if there are other things your heart and soul are feeding on for fulfillment and meaning, besides the Word of God. Do you hunger more for that promotion, that hobby, those clothes, that status, that political activism, that desire to change the world rather than change yourself? The list could go on but the principle is one of self examination. Are there things that you hunger more for in your heart than the Bible? If you find your heart has a larger feeding tube to something other than the Bible, it may be time to either cut off that tube or start putting some clamps on it and start enlarging the pathway to the Scriptures.

Be Consistent

Routine may be seen as dull and boring and generally looked down upon by those advocating a more exciting lifestyle. But routine is a key success factor for consistency and consistency is necessary in getting into the Bible on a regular basis.

Ideally, the disciple should be reading the Scriptures at least once a day, every day. For most people, this can only happen if Bible reading is incorporated into a regular routine, so regular that it becomes a life long habit.

There will be times when routine is upended due to special circumstances such as travel, but even then, a disciple must be diligent in carving out time for Bible reading. Travel can even be a better time to read the Bible, such as while waiting for a flight in the departure lounge or taking extra time to read an entire NT book instead of watching an in-flight movie.

Whether you read in the morning, in the afternoon or at night, really doesn’t matter. What counts is finding a sufficient length of time to read the Bible on a regular basis so that you are reading it daily. Try to find a time when you are not rushed and when you can read it thoughtfully.

Be Creative

Normally, disciples will read a chapter a day or follow a reading plan of some type but, over time, this can become too repetitive and even dull. It is easy to get stuck in a reading rut where the Scriptures seem uninteresting and one winds up reading the Bible more out of a sense of duty rather than a means of communion with God.

That is when it is time to get creative with Bible reading. Break up the reading routine with some simple things to change the pace or set some new reading goals. A common one is to read the Bible in an entire year. One can use a reading plan but once I read the Bible in a year, backwards. Instead of the standard starting in Genesis, I started in Revelation and read each book in reverse order.

Another idea is to read the Bible in a different translation rather than your favourite one. This has the dimension of providing a different perspective on your reading of the Scriptures. My go to translation is the New International Version (NIV) but lately I have been reading in the New English Translation (NET) and enjoying its study notes as I read.

Read the seemingly difficult books, such as Leviticus or Ezekiel, by first reading an introduction to these books from an associated commentary. That way you can gain some background information that can help you understand the text better.

Another way to shake up your reading is to use an audio version of the Bible. Instead of visual reading, try hearing a book of the Bible. This may not become part of your regular practice but it will definitely act as an interesting change of pace.

Daily Bible reading is important and sounds simple but it is harder than it appears. That is where the application of the three principles of being committed, consistent and creative can help a disciple on the pathway to solid Bible reading.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

The Ultimate Price

I have not published anything on this site since June of last year. I came very close to shutting it down as I was running out of inspiration on what to write. I had thought I was going to write essays on the intersection of religion and culture based on related news that was happening at the time but nothing was coming to me.

But I’ve received inspiration to continue on but focus more closely on providing essays on Christian discipleship. Future articles will deal with the subject on a more practical level than before, with shorter articles on what discipleship is about and what it involves, based on my personal experiences and what I have learned from others. I realize this narrows the scope of the site somewhat, as it will be geared towards those who consider themselves disciples or followers of Jesus Christ and wish to grow in their relationship with Him. That being said, my hope is that it will provide some insight for everyone to see what goes on in the life of a Christ follower.

Let me start with the theme of following Christ when it is darkest. This is appropriate given that it is Good Friday as I type this essay. On the day of his crucification and death, Jesus was abandoned by all his followers, save just a few who stood by him near the cross as He suffered. All but one of his twelve closest disciples were nowhere to be found at Jesus’ darkest hours. Just hours earlier, Peter had denied Him three times. Before that, Judas betrayed Him and handed Him over to the authorities to be killed. Others had scattered and ran away in fear.

But a disciple of Christ is not supposed to abandon his Lord, at any time. To follow Him means a life long commitment to Him, no matter what the cost. This is easier said than done. But how many who claim to be Christians actually understand this?

The cost to follow Jesus can seem somewhat academic to those of us who live in the comfort of the West. I cannot write about it sufficiently enough to properly capture it. I do want to illustrate it with a real incident of about twenty or so young Christian men who were brutally executed for their faith a few years ago. They were Egyptian Christians who were working in Libya and were capture by radical Islamists. Their families in Egypt were fervently praying that they would be released but when it became apparent that their deaths were imminent, many started to pray that they would remain strong and not abandon Christ in the darkest hour of their faith.

The radicals released a video of the captured Christian men on a beach somewhere in Libya. They were on their knees with a masked executor behind each of the men with a sword in hand ready to execute them. The men could have saved themselves then and there by renouncing their Lord. But they did not and each of them died as a martyr for their faith. Although greatly saddened, their families rejoiced that their men did not abandon their Lord, knowing that they would see them again in His kingdom.

Seeing the images of those men about to be killed, because they refused to abandon their Lord, haunts my thoughts from time to time. These men paid the ultimate price for their faith. This is what it means to follow Christ. Only a heart totally devoted to Jesus, in love and faith and dependence on Him, can truly follow Him.

Jesus once said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” To be a Christ follower is not a trivial thing. It demands our very lives. May those of us who are disciples of Christ reflect deeply on the sacrifice Christ paid for us and on the sacrifice these Egyptian disciples paid for their Lord.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

Separation of Christian and World

PEI Vacation Day 3-1008The Christian’s relationship with the world has always been a complex and rocky one. In theory it seems straight forward and clear. In John 17:14-16 Jesus prays to the Father about His disciples:

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”

In His prayer Jesus outlines the relationship between His disciples and the world. Jesus describes his disciples as being not of the world or not of the world’s system of beliefs and views. The disciples were given a different worldview, one that is centred on Christ. The difference is so striking that Jesus acknowledges that the world has hated them because they are not of the world any more.

The divide between Jesus and His disciples and the world is strong and clear. The two are by nature so different that a gulf of animosity exists between them. Yet, Jesus prays that His disciples not be removed from the world but that they be protected from the prince of the world, Satan. Like it or not, disciples of Jesus Christ must live in the world with this tension until He comes again.

The Cover Of Christendom

Not too long ago, it was easier for Christians and the church to live in the western world since Christians had more in common with the culture in which they lived. This was mainly because the culture drew much of its own formation from Judeo-Christian teaching and tradition. Even though people would not consider themselves religious, they still had a basic respect for the church and the Bible. Basic Christian morality was widely incorporated into the laws, institutions and basic practices of society. There was a time when almost everyone went to church, when the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in public schools and stores were closed on Sundays.

The key reason why it is getting harder for Christians to live in the western world is because of the collapse of Christendom. Western Christians have had it easy over the centuries by living in the world without being openly rejected and persecuted by the world as Christendom provided the foundation for that ease.

Today, broad acceptance of Christian values has turned into indifference, dismissal or even outright hostility. Christians in the west are continuing to find themselves in an environment where they must tread carefully while trying to live out their faith in the public square. Not only has the world discarded Christian values and beliefs, it seeks to actively discredit them and to portray Christians as harmful and dangerous bigots whose religion must be kept in the closet. A growing number of secularists believe that Christianity must never have a seat in the public square again.

Many churches and Christians have reacted to this sudden shift from accommodation and respect to rejection and hostility by doing what 1 John 1:15 tells them not to do. They reverse biblical teaching and embrace the morality of the world that is in contradiction to the plain teaching of scripture in order to gain the acceptance of the world. This has taken place in the areas of the value of human life, sexual morality, the reliability of the Bible and even the nature of Christ. This has been particularly noticed in churches that were once solidly biblical for centuries but who have rapidly abandoned certain key doctrines by replacing them with the world’s key doctrines.

Such churches should look to the historical record of Christian liberalism. Its main focus over the past few centuries has been to shape Christianity into the mold of the world, thinking that this is its future and that the world will be more accepting of Christianity. However, the liberal Christian experiment has failed massively in this regard. Churches that have gone down this path have found their membership in steep decline while the world considers them more and more irrelevant anyway. Liberal churches may be escaping the axe of persecution for now but their pact with the world system is sending them down the spiral of spiritual oblivion.

Living in the World

How can orthodox churches and Christians in the west live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in an environment that ignores them and displays open hostility towards them?

The first step is to continue to be faithful to the Word of God and to Jesus no matter what happens. The western church needs to look at her brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world who are being persecuted for their faith but who have not bent their knees to other gods. Jesus has made it clear that those who love him will be hated by the world (John 15:18-19). Western Christians have forgotten this because of the cover of Christendom but with that cover rapidly disappearing, they are now discovering anew what Jesus was talking about.

The second step is to live in the world by loving its people and not its system. Much has been written on this subject and it is not easy to do but it is what Jesus Himself did when He walked the earth. He interacted with and loved people who were lost and hurting while calling out the world system everyone was trapped in. He calls on His disciples to do the same by loving and serving people genuinely even if they are indifferent or hostile to Christianity, while challenging the world system they embrace. This is especially difficult in the west today as most westerners believe you must accept the belief system of a person in order to accept them. However, the gospel of Jesus teaches that humans are much more than the values they find their identity in; they are made in the image of God.

The third step is to live prophetically in the world by living the out the gospel in a manner that is pure and loving while being prophetic at the same time. Christians must declare to the people in the world that there is a better way than the false gospels of the world.

The fourth step is to remember the promise that this tension will not last forever. As James wrote:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Decline of Biblical Authority

St John the Baptist ShrineAuthority: The Dirty Word

In his 1974 book, The Authority of the Bible, John Stott opens his book with the following:

“Authority is a dirty word today – dirty, disliked, even detested. I doubt if any other word arouses more instant aversion among the young and the radical of all kinds. Authority smacks of establishment, of privilege, of oppression, of tyranny. And whether we like it or not, we are witnessing in our day a global revolt against all authority, whether of the family, the college, the bosses, the church, the state or God.”

With the chaos of the cultural revolution of the 1960s firmly in his rear view mirror, Stott’s opening paragraph summarizes the attitude and worldview of modern society when it comes to the general principle of authority. Over the past 40 plus years since this book was published, the dirtiness and disgust of authority has been successfully passed on from the Baby Boomers to successive generations and has been firmly rooted in the western cultural ethos of the 21st century.

As a result of that cultural revolution, esteem in the reliability, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible by the wider culture has eroded dramatically. Once upon a time, people who hardly went to church or rarely read the Bible, held the Scriptures in great esteem. This general submission to the authority of the Bible was one of the hallmarks of the cultural force of Christendom upon much of the West. With the rapid collapse of Christendom, the general belief in the authority of the Bible has collapsed as well.

Authority: Challenged since the Dawn of Time

Simply stated, biblical authority is the recognition that what the Bible says is not only true but authoritative in that it must be obeyed over the wisdom and authority of Man. The Bible is authoritative in that it is the Word of God and reveals the character, wisdom and will of God. Because God is omnipotent, omniscient and all holy, He is worthy of humanity’s worship and obedience. As a consequence, God has authority over Man. If the Bible is the divine will God communicated to Man, it too has authority over Man. The Bible itself claims authority every time it says “Thus saith the Lord God”. When God speaks, humanity is to listen and adhere.

The challenge to biblical authority is nothing new and in fact goes back to the dawn of humanity, in the Garden of Eden, where Satan’s first words to Man was “Did God really say?” Satan’s first words were a sly and subtle attempt to discredit the authority of God’s word. The consequences of Man’s rejection of the authority of God’s Word in the Garden were catastrophic.

Throughout the history of Old Testament Israel, the authority of the Word of God was constantly challenged by the Israelites who regularly flouted that authority through their disobedience. Again, the consequences of the rejection of God’s authority were disastrous for the nation.

Authority: A Collapsing Belief

Biblical authority has collapsed in mainline liberal Protestant denominations and is collapsing in evangelical churches at an alarming rate. In mainline Protestant denominations, that rejection is based on a common consensus that the Bible is a flawed and very human set of documents. The writings are errant and thus lack the full and complete inspiration of God. Because of this belief, that the Bible is more human than divine, it is subject to the judgment of Man in determining how far its authority and reliability can go. In reality, biblical authority in mainline circles no longer exists as it is always trumped by the authority of human wisdom and the need for ancient scriptures to accommodate the desires and whims of modernity.

Mainline liberal Protestants have few qualms about admitting this publicly and many believe it is necessary to dispose of such authority in order to make the Bible and Christianity more attractive to the outside world. Theologian Marcus Borg believes the church needs to adopt a post-critical naivety view of the Bible where its accounts are true but their truth doesn’t depend on facts. In his view, we all do our own picking and choosing of what is authoritative in the Bible anyway, but we must do it responsibly, prayerfully and as a community. Borg’s approach sounds reasonable and even humble but in divorcing truth from facts, he is creating a “relative” truth while still retaining Man as the chief authority over the Bible but in a more politically correct and less arrogant fashion.

Although some evangelicals are courting the mainline liberal Protestant view on biblical authority, others are doing so in a manner that attempts to retain an appearance of submitting to its authority. Instead of saying the Bible is a flawed document that no longer merits our total submission, such evangelicals are using the tools of exegesis and hermeneutics to show that the interpretations of the “difficult” parts of the Bible are not what we originally thought they were. Thus, the evangelical is able to proclaim the authority of the Bible and acknowledge submission to it but at the same time develop an escape hatch to evade those sections that are too repulsive to be submitted to. Thus the tools of exegesis, hermeneutics, cultural studies, etc. are used to develop novel interpretations that defang the authority of the Bible in selective and convenient ways.

One can say the difficult passages of the Bible are an issue of hermeneutics and, in many cases, this is the real issue. However, it is interesting to wonder if deeper motivations are at work to use novel interpretations to dispose of the unpleasant passages. Is it any coincidence that the current re-interpretations of biblical passages on sexual morality within evangelicalism are occurring at the same time the sexual revolution is reaching its high water mark in western culture?

Cultural pressures on western evangelical churches are enormous, pressures that are influencing and forcing churches and Christians to abandon the clear teachings of Scripture and embrace the spirit of the age. But western churches can learn something from churches in parts of the world where Christianity is under great persecution. Last year, a group of young Christian men were videoed kneeling on a Libyan beach just before they were to be beheaded because of their faith in Christ. Their lives could have easily been spared. All they had to do was renounce Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. Yet, they did not. Instead, they submitted to the authority of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:32-33:

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

They paid for that submission to authority with their very lives. Can we in the west do any less while we bend the plain meaning of biblical texts that we don’t want to submit to and believe in?

The game of using novel forms of interpretation to dispose of unpleasant biblical passages can be addressed by a direct question. If it could be proven to the ultimate satisfaction of any rational believer that a particular passage of scripture means something that we do not like or believe in because it sounds so anti this or anti that and is offensive to our ears, would we still submit to it? If our answer is no, then there is no point in debating exegesis or hermeneutics. It simply means that we do not want to obey God in everything He desires. If this is the case, we need to question how much Jesus is really Lord of our lives and how much we are truly faithful in submitting to His Word.

The authority of the Bible is critical for the future of the church and for the world the church has been sent to with the gospel. If the church is to totally compromise in this critical area, she will become a part of the world and the hope of the good news of Jesus will flicker out.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

Hell Revisited: A Book Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle

erasing hell - Google SearchFrancis 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.

Does he?

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