Monday, July 18, 2011
Review: Erasing Hell by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle
Is there a hell, and will anyone really go there when they die? The thought is terrible, and it is one of the hardest things to swallow for most people trying to conceive of a loving God as Christianity tries to present him. It doesn’t make sense to us. If God loves us, why would he send us to hell for not believing in him in this lifetime? If we could just have another chance when we face him after death, then surely seeing him with our own eyes would be more than convincing for us to change our minds, so why won’t he give us that? How is that fair? How is that God showing us he loves us? On a smaller scale, why would God send me to hell for telling a lie if that was the only bad thing I ever did in life? Would God really send a good person to hell? What does that mean for the people I love the most?
Hell is a terrifying concept in anyone’s mind, but what if we’ve gotten it wrong? Those are the kinds of questions asked by author and pastor Rob Bell in a controversial book LOVE WINS, and the kind of questions author and pastor Francis Chan tries to answer in his latest book ERASING HELL. I haven’t read LOVE WINS, so I can’t speak authoritatively on it, but it seems that the controversy surrounds Bell’s cryptic proposal that punishment in hell may not last forever and that, in the end, God’s love wins over the hardest of hearts. Though Bell never makes this statement outright in the book, his belief seems to be that, in the end, everyone ends up in heaven. That sounds great. If that’s true, then we don’t have to worry about hell, or about believing in Jesus for that matter because God will win us over in the end.
But, as Francis Chan points out, on this issue, we can’t afford to be wrong. People’s eternal destinies are at stake. Chan with co-author Preston Sprinkle take us on a journey through the biblical text as well as what the Jews in Jesus’ time believed about hell to show us what Jesus confirmed about hell in his own teaching. It turns out that hell is a reality that Jesus wanted to make very clear to people, and for good reason. Jesus and the biblical authors warned about hell so often because they wanted to prevent people from going there. In fact, Jesus suffered and died as punishment for sin so that no one would ever have to suffer for their sin in hell themselves. But, as the book clearly shows, sometimes people reject Jesus and what he’s done for them, and they take on the punishment for their sin on their own in hell. In all this, the authors reveal a God who loves people enough to warn them about hell and give them a way out of it, but it must be chosen in this life. After all, changing our minds after death when we’re in hell would only be coercion and not a genuine faith in Jesus.
Chan and Sprinkle’s journey through the text is very compelling, highly accurate, and thoroughly sobering in light of what God says about us and the people we love and the people we see everyday. If hell is real, then there are people all around us everyday who are on a trajectory toward it, and Christ followers cannot, with integrity, stand by and not do something about it.
The book seeks to answer…
What the Old Testament taught about hell
What Jews of Jesus’ day believed about hell and whether Jesus refuted or confirmed their beliefs
What Jesus said about hell
What Jesus’ followers said about hell
Why it should matter to us
What we should do about it
Chan’s writing style, as always, is warm and inviting. As you read, you can sense the emotion poured out on the page as he was writing, revealing a deep passion for Jesus and the people he loves throughout. The book was a thoughtful look at what hell is all about, and I came away from the book just wanting to love people more, to show them that Jesus loves them and died so they wouldn’t have to go to hell. Christians often turn people off to following Jesus by coming off as judgmental and unloving when they speak of hell. But, as I read Chan’s book, I felt that it was clear that Jesus talked about hell so much because he wanted to drive us to show people the way out of hell. He wanted to keep people from going there. The reality of hell is meant to shake us out of apathy, to understand why people need Jesus and his sacrifice, and to lovingly lead people away from hell and to a relationship with Jesus that results in eternal ultimately satisfying life.