Thursday, July 07, 2011
In his latest book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan tackles one of the Bible's most difficult doctrines with sensitivity and humility. In the introduction of the book, Mr. Chan writes,
"The saddest day of my life was the day I watched my grandmother die. When the EKG monitor flatlined, I freaked out. I absolutely lost it! According to what I knew of the Bible, she was headed for a life of never-ending suffering. I thought I would go crazy. I have never cried harder, and I don't ever want to feel like that again. Since that day, I have tried not to think about it. It has been over twenty years" (pages 13-14).
The author understands the gravity of the doctrine of hell. He understands that the fate of people depends on our understanding of hell. If there is no hell and he warns people about it, he could waste his life scaring people about a destiny that does not exist. If there is a hell and he tells people to not be concerned about it, he could lead many people to a horrible ending.
In this book, Francis Chan defends a biblically orthodox view of hell. He rejects all forms of universalism. He describes hell as a reality of the future. He teaches that hell is a place of punishment, not a place of purification. He warns that it is eternal. (Mr. Chan, however, does recognize some degree of ambiguity concerning Jesus' statements about whether a soul is annihilated or whether it suffers forever in hell. He sides with the traditional view that a soul suffers forever, but admits that the other side makes arguments worth considering. In either case, hell is a horrible place.) He acknowledges that degrees of punishment exist in hell, although the details about those degrees are vague. He teaches that faith in Christ is essential to being saved from hell.
Perhaps the best part of the book came in the fifth chapter, where Mr. Chan detailed some of the implications of the biblical doctrine of hell. Here are a few quotes from Chapter 5:
"Jesus threatens hell to those who curse their brother (Matt. 5:22). He's not warning drinkers or smokers or murderers. Jesus preaches hellfire against those who have the audacity to attack a fellow human being with harsh words. It's ironic--frightening, actually--that some people have written books, preached sermons, or written blog posts about hell and missed this point completely...Whoever calls his brother a fool may find himself guilty of hell. Have you called your brother a fool lately? On a blog? On Facebook? Have you tweeted anything of the sort?" (page 118).
"And how about Matthew 7, probably the scariest passage on hell in the entire Bible?...The most frightening word is many. Jesus says, 'Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" (Matt. 7:22 NASB)...How will Jesus respond to your laundry list of Christian activities--your Easter services, tithe, Bible studies, church potlucks, and summer-camp conversions? Are you sure you're on the right side? What evidence do you have that you know Jesus?" (pages 118-119).
"Or take racism. The Christian church in many ages and in many places has stood on the wrong side of this issue, and it's damnable--literally. What's racism got to do with hell? you may ask. According to Jesus, it's got everything to do with it. In Matthew 8, Jesus smuggles a warning about hell into the context of racism and ethnocentrism (the belief that your ethnicity is superior)...We need to see the glaring contradiction in saying we believe in hell while making no effort to tear down the walls of racism and ethnic superiority" (pages 120-121).
"And what about the poor? While Jesus is ambiguous at times about the nature and duration of hell, He's crystal clear about the necessity of reaching the poor. Yet many hellfire preachers are overfed and overpaid, living in luxury while doing nothing for the majority of Christians who live on less than two dollars a day. Contrast that with Jesus, who in His longest sermon about judgment made helping the poor a vital criterion of who goes where...There's a literal hell, and helping the poor is essential. Not only did Jesus teach both of these truths, He saw them as necessary and interrelated" (pages 121-122).
Erasing Hell is a challenging book. It's a short book with numerous footnotes. It will motivate the serious Christian to believe the warnings of Jesus and the apostles and to live differently because of what they have said and written. It's very much worth reading.