Monday, 29 July 2013

Erasing Hell: A Book Review

A couple weekends ago I read Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up,” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. This book was a quick, easy read; I think I went through in in only two or three sittings.

I enjoyed the book, and at the same time, I didn’t.

I enjoyed it because of what I perceived the authors trying to do; bring balance back to this lop-sided trend in many Christian circles today towards Universalism. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of it almost as a rebuttal to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” (Yes, I read that too).

The reason I didn’t enjoy the book was because of the reminder that, despite the growing trend to believing the contrary, the Bible does say that there will be many who will experience an afterlife in hell. That thought is both scary and disheartening!

As the authors say at the beginning of their introduction, “If you are excited to read this book, you have issues (p.13). Though intrigued by the title, I wasn’t exactly “excited” to read it, for it troubles me to think of friends and loved ones who will suffer such an eternity simply because of their rejection of Jesus. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that such a teaching is there within the pages of my Bible. Now, what am I going to do about it?
“Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’” (Luke 13: 23-25; NIV)
Chan and Sprinkle cite many Scriptures, such as the preceding one, in an effort to prove that the Bible (and Jesus Himself) does repeatedly teach a different point of view than the Universalist camp would have us to believe. They also delve into several of the key Scriptures that the Universalists use in an effort to try to prove their point of view, and in the process they show how in many cases those very verses were actually read out of context; an easy mistake for any of us to make if we are not careful.

Early in the book we are given a brief history lesson on the roots of Universalism and we learn that it likely had its genesis with an early church leader named Origen (ca. AD 185-254). Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will realize that I typically don’t put a lot weight on what institutional church systems say without first carefully thinking things through for myself, and as such I like the authors caveat in their endnotes,
“Origen’s views were deemed heretical at the fifth ecumenical church council held at Constantinople in AD 533. However, a great deal of politics drove this council, as well as other early church councils, so we shouldn’t consider Origin’s views heretical based solely on the decisions made at Constantinople.” (p. 39)
Chan and Sprinkle’s history lesson also reminds us that for over 1600 years after Origen (until the 1800’s), there was virtually no Universalist teaching in the church at all (p. 23). Clearly there’s a renewed interest in it today, and that is why I think Erasing Hell is such an important book. It is the proverbial “other side of the argument” that, I would argue, we must each at least consider before simply and blindly following the Universalist status quo that seems to be embraced by so many today.

Should you read Erasing Hell? If you’re considering the claims of the pro-Universalist camp, or if you’ve found yourself becoming a little lethargic on the subject of hell, then maybe you should read it. If doing so sparks a flame of concern for the eternal destiny of a lost friend or family member, then it was worth it. Maybe it will spark an urgency to share the love of God through Jesus with that person. Consider these lines from the back cover of the book:
This is not a book about who is saying what. 
It’s a book about what God says. 
It’s not a book about interpersonal theological issues. 
It’s a book about people God loves. 
It’s not a book about arguments, doctrine, or being right. 
It’s a book about the character of God.”
“Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up.” In the words of that great radio personality of yesteryear, Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.” Peace.

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested to know that Preston Sprinkle is now an annihilationist: