Book Review: Erasing Hell – What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up by Francis Chan
Author: Francis Chan
Publisher: David C. Cook
This is book 3 out of 4 from The Francis Chan Collection that I downloaded on Hoopla as an eBook. Before I started reading the book, I took some time to figure out what I knew about Hell. The little I was able to come up with was what I heard rarely spoken about in church or from others and was more to do with why I needed to do something to avoid going to hell. I realized very quickly that I had very little Biblical knowledge of Hell, and that is what Francis Chan walks you through with his book Erasing Hell. He looks at if there is a Hell and what it is and what it isn’t.
This book has a lot of research in it. While I don’t mind that, I know this type of “scholarly” book could be a turn off for others. For me, I like to see all of the research that was done to form an opinion. It’s also a great way to see who your favorite authors are reading and studying. Francis Chan begins by discussing the subject of if Hell exists by examining the types of Christians that believe everyone can be saved and the scriptures they use to establish their arguments. By doing this, it brings up an excellent point: context matters. Taking one verse or a piece of a verse to make it say what we want or so it says something that makes us feel good is irresponsible. This is one of the reasons I have made it a point to read whole books of the Bible in one or as few sittings as possible to understand the full context. One idea that I loved that Chan recommends was for the reader to forget all of our preconceived notions. Not only about Hell but also about Jesus. He admits how we can see Jesus and probably by default the rest of the Bible through our 21st-century eyes. Well actually, I think we see the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament as a previous time and use that as an excuse to why we don’t have to follow some of the commands. By giving us the background of a first-century Jew, we can better understand the context of what we are trying to study in the scriptures.
The next discussion on hell is if it is a place to go for correction or punishment. Chan uses Jewish text from the time of Jesus as well as scripture to conclude that it is for punishment. On whether it’s everlasting or not, Chan feels it is still up in the air and not an explicit agreement. He leans toward everlasting based on some scripture, but due to the possible confusion, he wants you to focus on Jesus’ original message when discussing hell: Avoid it. Chan didn’t want to say that hell was everlasting specifically, but it’s evident in the book of Revelation that it is. I wonder if he didn’t want to commit because Jesus didn’t say it explicitly? But if we believe that all of the Bible is God’s inerrant work that would include what John wrote in Revelation. I’ve read Matthew plenty of times (anyone else have great intentions to read the NT and start with Matthew only to come to a screeching halt at John? Just me? Okay), and many of Chan’s scriptures references about hell came from Matthew. I was shocked because I wouldn’t have been able to describe hell the way Jesus describes it. Why not? Because when taught about the gospel or doing a Bible study or even studying it for myself previously, I was taught to focus on the good things Christ wants for us and Christ Himself. I skim right through what happens when someone doesn’t obey and focus on what I need to follow. This is dangerous for me to do if I want to call myself a disciple. I need to understand what happens to unbelievers so I can explain it when spreading the gospel.
There is a particular paragraph in the book that spoke to my new feelings for the past 6-9 months. Something just hasn’t been feeling right with the go to church every week, and I’m called a Christian or read a daily devotional and life will work out mentality. It just seems like there was more to life that I was missing. Especially when I started to read and study the Bible for myself as the Bible recommends, that confirmed something was missing. This is why one of the things I found that I love doing is letting others know that they can read and study the Bible for themselves. It’s what is helping me through my sabbatical, and I look forward to what I am learning each day about God’s Word. So it sticks out when James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (3v1 ESV) and “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (3v5 ESV). It also sticks out because it, in my opinion, shows the danger of following those so blindly that are suppose to be leading and teaching us. How many take these passages so seriously? I think if more did, we would see more teaching coming from the Word of God and covering all aspects of it.
After laying out what he considered the facts about hell, Chan then turns his attention to what those mean for the everyday Christian. Chan feels like according to scripture, believers can still find themselves facing hellfire and brimstone. How? False teaching, greed, hate, our speech, amongst other things. This section is where my action steps would come from. What’s coming out of my mouth? What am I doing to combat hate? How am I helping the poor? I gave Erasing Hell 4-stars. The book did its job of providing a lot of details about Hell itself, why it’s a real place based on scripture and historical text, which led me to walk away with a better understanding of Hell after reviewing the scriptures for myself. It’s a place I want no part of, nor do I want those around me to experience it either. It’s my prayer that God helps me see what I can do differently to help those around me avoid Hell.
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