Erasing Hell – What God said about eternity, and the things we’ve made up
“It’s rare that a book mixes straight-from-the-heart talk with diligent citation of Scripture.” – Randy Alcorn
“But the same Jesus who gave heaven a five-star rating also described an otherworldly chamber of horrors…hell.” – Joni Eareckson Tada
“Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle raise the questions we all have about this very critical topic and respond with biblical integrity and a commitment to truth, as well as incredible compassion for people.” – Dan Kimball
“He feels the weight and horror of the reality of hell and yet avoids the error of lapsing into mere humanism, all the while providing a well-reasoned defense for the view of Scripture on the subject.” – Britt Merrick
I purchased this book just a short time after it was released, but it took me a long time to get through it. For that, I’m grateful, because the subject matter required much time, consideration, and ultimately a willingness to align myself and my thinking with God’s Word on the matter. The book addresses the reality of Hell, provides extensive biblical support not only for the existence of Hell but also addresses widely debated specifics about Hell, and draws the conclusion that there is simply no way that we, as believers in Christ, can believe in such a place and not be changed forever in how we love people and point them towards Jesus.
The book begins with this incredibly convicting line:
“If you are excited to read this book, you have issues.”
Let me tell you why I appreciate that. Erasing Hell was released shortly after another extremely popular book on the same topic, Love Wins. Author Rob Bell infuriated many with his presumptions on Heaven and Hell and his interpretations of Scripture. Thus, when I heard Francis Chan was going to write a book about Hell, I was thrilled and excited to get my hands on it, failing to see that I was missing the point entirely. As Christians, we can far too easily get caught up in theological debates, and miss what is at stake – human souls. The truth of the matter is that Hell is a very real place, a place of torment that many are headed towards. The topic should wreck me, not excite me. The knowledge of this place of torture should propel me towards loving my neighbor as myself and sharing the love of Jesus with everyone I know. But it hasn’t, up until now.
What I’d like to do with this book review is simply go chapter by chapter and highlight for you the parts that have changed me forever. I pray that this teaser is enough for you to get the book for yourself. I’ve rarely come across such a compelling read, one that radically transforms my faith and recharges my commitment to love the Lord my God with all that is within me AND to love my neighbor as myself. I would encourage you in this: do not just believe what you’ve been told or what you’ve always believed. Believe what is biblical. So, here we go.
Chapter 1 – Does Everyone Go to Heaven?
Have you ever been to a single funeral in your entire life where the person who had passed wasn’t in heaven? Seriously, think about that. I’ve never attended a funeral where the pastor didn’t proclaim that this person was now in a better place, with Jesus. And who wouldn’t want that to be true? There’s not a single person in history (and I mean that) that I would wish hell upon, much less a loved one. But do all people really go to heaven?
This chapter addresses the widely accepted view called Universalism. In a nutshell, this view holds that God will save everyone and it goes so far as to argue that Scripture teaches this. Some have gone even further to assume that not only will all embrace Jesus, but they might even do so after death. The authors do an incredible job of not only presenting both sides but providing extensive biblical support that apposes this view.
Chapter 2 – Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?
What image comes to mind when you hear the name Jesus? Is it a Caucasian male with golden brown flowing hair holding a white lamb? Interesting. Actually, Jesus was a Jewish man who grew up in the Middle East, probably looking as far from the above description as possible. Isn’t it incredible how we change things to fit our understanding of them or our perspective? This chapter addresses that we have done this with Hell as well. Since Jesus was the one who spoke of Hell in Scripture, it’s important for us to understand His culture and His context, not ours. Today, it is becoming more and more popular to believe in heaven but reject this idea of Hell. In reality, the belief in Hell was so ingrained into the thinking of the Jews that Jesus would have had to go out of His way in His teaching to appose those beliefs. And He didn’t. Chapter 2 does a thorough job of describing the first-century Jewish view of Hell and what Scripture says about it.
Chapter 3 – What Jesus Actually Said About Hell
Based on the content of chapter 2, we can know that if Jesus did not agree with that view of Hell, He would have needed to clearly argue against it…that is how commonly accepted it was amongst His peers. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment. Imagery of fire and darkness is often used to describe what Hell will be like. When it came to the topic of Hell, Jesus chose to use strong and terrifying words to describe it. I can’t help but believe that He did so in order to create a healthy fear within us that would cause us to avoid it at all costs. Jesus took Hell very seriously, and so should we. The chapter ends with this challenging thought: “We are bound by the words of the Creator, the One who will do what is right. The One who invented justice and knows perfectly what the unbeliever deserves. God has never asked us to figure out His justice or to see if His way of doing things is morally right. He has only asked us to embrace His Word and bow the knee, to tremble at His Word.” What Jesus had to say about Hell might be difficult at best for us to swallow, but He said it. Our job is to believe His infallible Word.
Chapter 4 – What Jesus’ Followers Said About Hell
Hell is now described in the biblical writings of the apostle Paul, Peter, and Jude. What I found to be interesting and terrifying at the same time is that although Paul never uses the word “Hell” in his New Testament writings, he makes more references to the fate of the wicked than he mentions God’s forgiveness, mercy, or heaven combined. That has to make you wonder. As difficult as it can be to discuss and furthermore to embrace God’s justice, wrath, and holiness, we cannot reject these attributes because He is just as much these as He is loving, forgiving, and merciful. In the book of Revelation, John goes on to describe the wrath of God’s punishment on those who reject Him. Although much of the church today seems to have this fear of addressing such difficult passages about the reality of Hell and who is headed there, Jesus’ followers did not have the same “allergic reaction” that we seem to.
Chapter 5 – What Does This Have To Do With Me?
This is where the rubber meets the road. Talk about conviction! So far, this book has been an incredibly biblical study on Hell. But, we can’t stop at intellectual knowledge. It has to change our hearts. As I read this chapter, my jaw hit the floor as I read over and over again what God’s Word has to say about who deserves Hell. Matthew 5 would suggest that Hell is reserved for those who slander their brother or sister. How many of you have done that? Or perhaps we should look at Matthew 7, where Jesus warns us that many who were certain they would enter heaven based on their laundry list of good deeds will instead be met with these tragic words: “Depart from me, I never knew you.” If that weren’t enough, this chapter goes on to address racism (and don’t be too quick to assume that you can escape this one), meeting the needs of the poor (a vital criteria of saving faith), those who teach/preach God’s Word, and the ever-increasing illness of the church today: lukewarmness.
Chapter 6 – What If God…?
This chapter forces us to face our own view of God. Is your view of God one that you conjured up all on your own, or is your view of God based on who He says He is in His Word? What if God did send people to Hell for rejecting Him? Does He reserve the right to do that because He’s God? And in doing that, does it make Him unloving? Romans 9 seems to asks the same questions in relation to the potter and the clay. Isn’t it absurd to imagine clay questioning the potter, challenging the potter on why he chose to form him in such a way? It seems absurd because it is. Yet, we do this with God. We assume that God is who WE say He is, and we fail in that. God never ceases to be loving, even when He acts outside of our understanding. How high is your view of God? We have to come to the place where we understand how incredibly arrogant it is of us to pick and choose which parts of God’s Word we will embrace as truth. Can we wrestle with God? Sure. Job did. But Job was also brought low when He demanded answers from God. Forgive us, Lord, for wanting to erase all the parts of your Word that don’t make perfect sense to us.
Chapter 7 – Don’t Be Overwhelmed
Seriously? That’s what I thought when I first read that chapter heading, but after diving into this final chapter, I was encouraged. This reality of Hell needs to rekindle the fire of passion that we need to have for the Gospel. Hell is real, and many are headed there. What are you going to do about it? Will you begin to take seriously the 2nd greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself? And who is my neighbor, you might ask? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Scripture would suggest that even your enemy is to be your neighbor. Let’s stop trying to explain away Hell, and let’s start offering God’s solution for it to a lost, hurting, and broken world.