I would like to do a chapter by chapter review and commentary on Francis Chan’s book “Erasing Hell.” I recently read and reviewed “Love Wins” by Rob Bell, and thought this would be a good follow up to that. I went into this book quite a bit more hopeful, and so far, Chan is living up to that hope.
Right from the introduction, Chan gives some clear warnings. It’s not about what I want, but what the Bible says, and when it comes to the subject of hell, we need to be cautious. “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 much to say.” (pg. 14-15) Hell is real, and Chan says we need to take it seriously enough to study it, learn about it, and weep over it. So let’s dive in.
Chapter 1 – Does Everyone Go To Heaven?
One of my biggest critiques when it came to Bell’s book was his constant habit of quoting verses without dealing with their context. Chan seems to have a problem with this too, as he starts right out dealing with Bell and other Universalists, talking about the passages they use to defend their position. He demonstrates how their proof passages are not really that at all, if looked at in their immediate context.
Chan uses Philippians 2 as an example, showing the context of the phrase “every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” He points out the verses in chapters 1 and 3 which speak clearly of those whose “end is destruction.” If all you have are three verses from Philippians, there might be some argument to be made for universalism. However, we have a lot more of Philippians than that, and we are called to rightly divide the word of God, not divide the word of God so we can be right. An important distinction, to say that least.
Not only this, but Chan points out that Paul is quoting a passage in Isaiah, which also speaks of the destruction of the wicked. Huh, context and cross referencing? Now that’s some innovative thinking!
My biggest worry, though, in reading Chan’s book is that I know he’s a pretty staunch Calvinist, meaning he believes that God’s sovereignty doesn’t just mean all-powerful, as I believe, but all-determining, which I don’t believe. So I was a little concerned when, on page 30, Chan says that God gets everything he wants. Thankfully, Chan finds balance by pointing out the difference between the “moral” will of God and the “decreed” will of God. Chan says that God has a “moral” will, which is that none will go to hell, but that this will doesn’t always happen because God gives the chance for us to choose. However, there is also the “decreed” will of God, which means there are some things which God decrees, which wouldn’t be morally pleasing to Him. Quite frankly, Chan seems ambiguous on this point, at the very least. Perhaps he’ll clear himself up as we go along in the book.
So for clarification, let me state my belief on the will of God, and how His sovereignty plays into my thoughts on our eternal destiny. I don’t believe God gets everything He wants, because I believe God created us to love, and love is a choice. Therefore, God had to allow us to not love Him in order for our love to be genuine. If this is the case, there will be some who break God’s heart by rejecting Him, and they will end up in hell. This is often called the “permissive” will of God. God doesn’t want me to sin, but still gives me the ability to do this, because He loves me and wants me to love Him in return.
Chan ends this chapter with the crux of the matter. “…there is no single passage in the Bible that describes, hints at, hopes for, or suggests that someone who dies without following Jesus in this life will have an opportunity to do so after death.” (pg. 35) Now that’s a bold statement, but one that Universalists have to deal with.
In Love Wins, Bell claimed he used all the passages which dealt with hell. After listing a few of them, Bell says “Anything you have ever heard people say about the actual word ‘hell’ in the Bible they got from those verses you just read.” I said in my review that he fell short of actually using every passage. There were Old Testament passages he left out, but one of the most important New Testament passages on hell actually answers the question of a second chance, after death, and whether hell is a reality for those who aren’t ready for Him. One passage he ignored was Matthew 25:1-13.
Bell goes so far as to suggest that God could never say “Door’s locked. Sorry. If you had been there earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late.” The passage I mentioned above actually says something similar. Chan points this out same phrase by Bell out, and gives another passage to deal with it; Luke 13:25-28. Both of these passages clearly point out that we can indeed be shut out, and once that happens, the doors will not be opened.
Well, this book has been good so far. More to come, I’m sure.