Francis Chan

In recent years, certain topics have become verboten in Christian circles in order to be “seeker friendly” and avoid speaking Christianese (i.e. using traditional Christian terms or phrases to communicate meaning) and one of the biggest off-limit topics is, “Hell.” Indeed, Author and Pastor Rob Bell released his book, Love Wins which calls into question the existence of Hell. If Bell doesn’t open the door to Universalism, he at least goes to the front step.

Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell is in part a response to Bell’s question as well as other critiques of existence of Hell.  Preston Sprinkle co-wrote the book with Chan, lending a scholarly presence to the work. Chan and Sprinkle take on some of the arguments popularly used against Hell (such as the Sheol was a garbage dump theory) as well as examining the words of Jesus both in scripture as well as in the context of his time.

If all Chan had done in the book was to make the case for Hell, the book would be nothing out of the ordinary. Indeed, it would probably be superflous. However Erasing Hell stands out for two reasons.

First, is the heart of Frances Chan. Many books and sermons on contentious scriptural issues have all the love and compassion of an online political screed. Chan writes of hell and those going there in a heartbroken compassionate way, as he wrestles with the question of Hell and its implications.

Second and perhaps more importantly, Chan turns his attention to a much larger question than Hell, Why do American Christians feel the need to censor God? Chan is painfully honest as he admits that for years he tried to “cover for God” by avoiding unpleasant parts of scripture. Chan calls Christians to a deeper understanding and respect for God and who He is. Chan writes:

Our God is not a person who is slightly more intelligent: His thoughts are infinitely higher than ours. Knowing that the gap is so large, shouldn’t we put our energy towards submitting rather than over analyzing?

The challenge to trust God and let Him be who He who He is provides the core message of Erasing Hell and it’s one that’s much needed today.

3 comments
  1. That sounds like an interesting book.  Incidentally, I would like to point out something that would shock most modern Christians.  I first learned about it 10 years ago, and it completely shocked me.  

    What did the Early Church teach concerning hell?

    There are tons of articles that discuss this, but here are a couple short (but telling) excerpts:

    There were at least six theological schools in the Church at large. Of these six schools, one, and only one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihilation of the wicked. Two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It is also true that the prominent defenders of the doctrine of universal restoration were decided believers in the divinity of Christ, in the Trinity, in the incarnation and atonement, and in the great Christian doctrine of regeneration; and were, in piety, devotion, Christian activity, and missionary enterprise, as well as in learning and intellectual power and attainments, inferior to none in the best ages of the Church, and were greatly superior to those by whom, in after-ages, they were condemned and anathematized….

    Previous to A.D. 200 three different opinions were held among Christians–endless punishment, annihilation, and universal salvation; but, so far as the literature of the times shows, the subject was never one of controversy, and the last-named doctrine prevailed most, if the assertions of it in literature are any test of its acceptance by the people. For a hundred and fifty years, A.D. 250 to 400, though Origen and his heresies on many points are frequently attacked and condemned, there is scarcely a whisper on record against his Universalism. On the other hand, to be called an Origenist was a high honor, from 260 to 290. A.D. 300 on, the doctrine of endless punishment began to be more explicitly stated, notably by Arnobius and Lactantius. And thenceforward to 370, while some of the fathers taught endless punishment, and others annihilation, the doctrine of most is not stated. One fact, however, is conspicuous: though all kinds of heresy were attacked, Universalism was not considered sufficiently heretical to entitle it to censure.

    As I said, I was absolutely stunned to learn this.  Whatever conclusions one comes to, I think it’s very important to learn what the Early Church believed in regard to many different things, because in general, I think they had a far better understanding of the Scriptures than we do–or probably ever will. One reason is that they understood the ancient language of the Bible far better, because it wasn’t “ancient” to them. 🙂

  2. Huh?  Where did I say that I know the Bible better than the Early Church did?  Like many others, I’ve just wanted to learn more about what they believed.  

    As far as what the Bible says, I do not have a Bible that was written in the original language.  There are a lot of problems with modern translations.  Also, exactly where in ancient Judaism is the doctrine of eternal torment to be found?  Where did Moses warn the Israelites about eternal torment?

    You brought up the word “aionios,” and that’s a key point.  But it’s not that cut and dried–there’s a lot of disagreement over the translations of that word, even among Greek scholars.         

    My main point is that since the Early Church did not consider disagreements about eternal punishment heretical, why should we?  There were dozens and dozens of things that the Early Church considered heretical, but this issue was not among them.  They felt it was fine to have honest discussions and disagreements about it.  

    So, whatever conclusions one finally comes to on this issue, I think it’s fine (and healthy) to ask questions.

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