7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2012
Here is another contribution to the "why you should believe in hell genre. In every case the rationale seems to be the same: the Bible speaks of hell - the Bible is God's word - God's word is true - therefore, the Bible's teaching on hell must be true. If only it were this simple. There are two major problems with this approach. First, "the bible is God's word" is purely a statement of faith. How do we know it is? After all, Muslims will insist with equal assurance that the Qu'ran is God's word. But if this is a statement of faith - and it is - every argument adduced for the existence of hell - or any other metaphysical concept for that matter - must be subsumed under that presuppostion; there can be no argument independent of it. Moreover, this presupposition is entirely arbitrary; if it were not, we should be able to demonstrate the truth of the Bible over other Scriptures - and 2,000 years of trying has resulted in complete failure. One may come to "see" that the Bible is God's word, but this is rarely, if ever, done by way of reason. The convert simply "sees" in much the same way that an observer suddenly "sees" the alternative way of perceiving a Necker cube.
The prophets of doom also seem to assume that everything the Bible tells us must be taken literally; they fail to appreciate that the Bible authors were as capable of using symbol and metaphor as we are in the sophisticated Western world. In fact, the Bible is packed with symbol, metaphor and all manner of other literary devices. Just take a look at the Psalms (better in Hebrew than in English, incidentally) to appreciate my point. Is God literally a "rock" or a "fortress" (Ps. 71:3)? Is the psalmist really a worm rather than a man (Ps. 22:6)? Fire, water, heaven, hell - and a host of other concepts - these can, and should, be seen as symbols rather than literal realities, at least in some contexts.
Next, we need to consider what sort of hell we have in mind. The die-hard fundamentalists seem to take the naive three-decker universe concept of heaven as the everlasting dwelling place of God and his people "up there", while hell is a physical place of everlasting punishment "down there" in the bowels of the earth. Ask such peole whether they believe in a flat earth, and they will presumably say No. Yet they fail to see that terms like "heaven", "hell", "angels" and "demons" are derived from the very flat-earth Weltanschauung of the ancients which they claim with such matter of fact assurance to have rejected. To borrow an illustration from Kant, if we reject the concept of a triangle, we must necessarily reject all its attributes - sides, angles and all. Fundamentalists seem incapable of this.
How much does the Bible really teach us about hell? To answer this would take a book the size of Chan & Sprinkle's own. Still, some basic comment can be made. The word "hell" never occurs in the Bible; instead, we have a range of terms and concepts, each of which must be considered in its own right. The most common term in the Old Testament is "Sheol", sometimes described as "the Pit" ("bor"). Sheol was thought to be a shadowy underworld for which all people, good and bad alike (with just the odd exception like Enoch and Elijah), were destined at death. To be sure, it was regarded as a gloomy old place, because it meant separation from God, but it was not regarded as a place of punishment and everlasting torment in endless flames. That is the kind of hell we have come to see through the lenses of medieval writers and artists such as Dante and Hieronymous Bosch.
In the New Testament the two most common terms are Gehenna and Hades. The first is a loanword from the Hebrew "ge-hinnom", which referred originally to a valley to the south east of Jerusalem made notorious by the human sacrifices once carried out there, and was subsequently used as the local rubbish tip which was kept perpetually smouldering, the aim being to consume the refuse that was continually being added to it. Jesus' use of the term Gehenna (e.g. Mark 9:43,45,47) is meant to be symbolic of the destruction and extinction of all that is unwholesome, rather than of everlasting torment. The same is true of the image of cutting down fruitless trees to be thrown onto the bonfire (Matt. 3:10; 7:19). The term Hades is used in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) in which the rich man languishes in the fires of hell, but this is a parable - an invented story, the purpose of which is a moralising one. It is not an allegory, nor is it meant to be taken literally.
There is little doubt that Jesus' teaching often focused on the concept of judgement (Matt. 25, for instance), but the imagery he uses is varied and often ambiguous. One abiding image is that of being cast into the outer darkness (rather than flames) (Matt. 25:30), or of being separated from the bridegroom (Matt. 25:11-12). Matt. 25:46 speaks of eternal punishment without specifying what form this would take, except to say that it is the opposite of eternal life. The word "eternal" (Greek, "aionios") is not synonymous with "everlastingness". Eternity is a quality, not a quantity. According to Wittgenstein, eternity has no limits, much as one's visual field has no limits.
The one biblical passage which might have some mileage for the fundamentalist is Rev. 20:10, in which the devil, the beast and the false prophet are all thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented forever. But it cannot be overstressed that Revelation is a vision - as even the author himself makes clear - and was never meant to be taken literally.
It is true that universalists may offer facile comfort in their efforts to show that everyone will be saved in the end, and that the manner in which we choose to live will have no ultimate consequences. This is an old idea that dates back to Origen in the third century. Well, our actions certainly have consequences in the here-and-now. Whether they have eternal consequences, no-one can tell, not even Chan & Sprinkle. What I do find rather wearying is the lukewarm, or even positively frigid reception given to those reviews of this book which are bold enough to challenge the authors' presuppositions and arguments as compared with the much more positive reception of those reviews that praise it to the skies. It seems to me that there are a lot of churlish people around who, for deep psychological reasons, no doubt, would rather welcome the prospect of people burning in hell forever - always assuming, of course, that they are not among them! Isn't it high time that someone wrote a well-balanced book on the subject in which the arguments are treated even-handedly and, if possible, without prejudice? After all, the likelihood of extinction surely puts these polarised "arguments" about salvation and damnation into sober perspective.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2013
I've read the book but there is actually very little answers to difficult questions. I have not benefited or learnt from it anything. Really not much substance.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2013
The title is off-putting as the real debate is not about erasing hell but is about the nature of hell! The author is candid in acknowledging that the subject is more difficult than he expected!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2014
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2013
Why do I say it won't change your view? Why are you reading this review? This book seems to have been written as a very hasty response to an altogether different book by Rob Bell (Love wins) without actually saying as much. I am disappointed when I hear someones story which implies "I used to think this but now I've found the truth" and then goes on to describe why what they now think is the total summation of everything and there is no other way of reading or understanding life. What is to say that in ten years time the same person implying "I used to think this and this but NOW I've found the truth". It appears to me that that Francis Chan is using his undoubted reputation to present a particular view of eternity and suggest that his interpretation and understanding is the correct one - having found a theologian/academic type who supports his view and will co-write with him. If you think that eternity is clearly mapped out in scripture then you'll love this book - it will reinforce what you already thought. If you think there are lots of questions and details that remain unanswered but you totally trust a loving God to sort it all out - you'll dislike this book intensely - again it will reinforce what you already thought. I think you can guess where I stand. Read it and be inspired or read it and weep.
15 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2012
It's clear that there is a debate to be had about hell but this book has nothing intelligent to contribute. Chan repeatly claims that he doesn't want to believe in the eternal punishment of unbelievers but his whole approach throughout the book makes patently clear that he's unwilling to countenance anything else. This culiminates in the most shocking and sadly revealing sentence in the book when, alluding to Paul's 'great sorrow and unceasing anguish' for his fellow jews, Chan says, 'I hate the thought that people around me could end up in hell, but I can't say that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.' Remember, this is a statement from somebody who repeatedly proclaims a fervent belief that anybody who hasn't committed to Christ - and this must include some of his own loved ones - will be tormented in hell for ever. If I believed that some of my nearest and dearest would actually burn in hell for eternity, great sorrow and unceasing anguish would be a massive understatement of my feelings.
I'm afraid Chan does not reflect the love of Christ and the good news for Christians and non-Christians alike is that he his wrong in almost every aspect of the Christian faith. God is love. God is holy. God is just. We cannot know what happens to each individual after death but what we do know - because God has demonstrated it in the Gospel - is that God will not give up on anyone.
If you want peace and joy in this life, you'll get this from following Christ, that's for sure, but if you don't feel able to make that commitment don't listen to people like Chan.
Read the Gospels and you'll find that Jesus reserves his sharpest criticism not for heathens but for 'religious' people. Chan might have a surprise when he finally reaches the pearly gates!
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2012
I reccomend this book for anyone wanting to get thier head around what the bible really says about Hell. Chan looks at the major questions and doesnt shy away from the awkward difficult ones. Its very easy to read but also full of scriptures to back up what he says. Its not a rebuttal to Rob Bells love wins, but it does point out in several places, that Rob Bell takes a lot of his ideas from myths of the middle ages. This is a book that looks at the hard questions and wants honest answers.
14 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2012
Francis Chan blows the gaff on his depressing and utterly misguided view of God and scripture early on in this book in the section subtitled 'Let God Be God'. I will quote it in full, because once you've read it, thought about it, and realised its implications, you will know that you can quite happily throw Erasing Hell into the bin and never again be terrified by the false doctrine of an eternal hell. (And Chan spends a lot of the book saying how terrified he is, by the way.)
"[This book is] about embracing a God who isn't always easy to understand, and whose ways are far beyond us; a God whose thoughts are much higher than our thoughts; a God who, as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, has every right to do, as the psalmist says, "whatever He pleases". God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases."
Well sorry Francis old chum, NO HE DOESN'T.
When it comes to His children, the people He chooses to create, God has just the same 'rights', and the same obligations, that we have as parents. (And remember, Father/child is the pervasive Biblical metaphor for the relationship of God to us, his creatures). God is no more free to burn any of His children eternally then we are to burn ours in this life. Were He to do so He would be a moral monster, and hence not God.
I agree that God is not bound by any pre-existing 'law' or ethical or moral principles. But by definition God is infinitely loving, infinitely merciful, infintely patient, infinitely every other good moral attribute that human parents possess. The Bible says it plainly: God is love. Not loving. Is love. Hence it is logically impossible for God to act in an unloving way. Ever. And consigning billions of His children to an eternal hell is clearly and plainly not loving. Not only is it not loving, it is the action of a lunatic, a cosmic sadist who would make Ian Brady look like Mother Theresa.
But thank the Lord God is not like that. God, as revealed to us in Jesus (anyone who has seen me has seen the Father) is the absolute, the supreme paradigm of forgiving, healing, saving love.
That old chestnut about God's ways not being our ways, and us being too puny to understand how He operates is a total red herring. Yes, of course God is infinitely smarter than us. Yes of course we will never, in this life at least, understand everything about Him. But that doesn't mean we can't use the reason He endowed us with - and which we are commanded to use by Jesus Himself - to determine that infinite and everlasting punishment, with no hope of escape, is not only irrational, pointless and incompatible with a God who is love, it is entirely unbiblical too.
Yes God's ways are far above ours - but that's because they are infinitely better! Infinitely more loving, infinitely more merciful. Chan susbscribes to the rididiculous notion that what we call white, God actually calls black! That behaviour that in any human would be called cruel, spiteful and vindictive is in God actually an act of love! What rubbish.
The moment you see where Chan is coming from, you can see that anything he says, no matter how deceptively 'biblical' it might appear, is bound to be wrong. And of course, once you read on you discover that he plays fast and loose with scripture, quoting it selectively to suppport his eternal hell thesis, and failing spectacularly to engage properly with any of the myriad problems such a doctrine presents, philosophically, morally and spiritually.
Now Francis Chan seems like a thoroughly decent bloke to me. I've heard podcasts he's done, and he comes across as being an honest, dedicated Christian man who's trying really hard to live the way he thinks God wants him to live, to believe what he thinks God wants him to believe. I admire him for that. And it only makes this book even more depressing. For if Francis could just for a minute take a step back, look objectively at what he's saying - which is that countless millions of men and women, men and women just like him and you and me, will spend forever and ever and ever in some state of separation from their Heavenly Father, and no matter what they do or say will make the slightest difference - then he would realise the absurdity of it all. The God who is love, whose mercies endure forever, turning His back on His precious children, forever? How can anyone con themselves into believing such a lie?
Francis Chan has great gifts as an evangelist. My prayer is that God will soon open his eyes to the truth of God's plan for the restitution of all things, for the reconciliation of all sinners everywhere to Him.
Don't be fooled into buying this book. Believe what your heart tells you. After all, God gave you your heart.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2012
I found this a very good book which gives a different perspective from what we normally hear. As the title says it focuses on life after death and if there is a hell, and is all biblically based. It has made me think and also inspired me to get Crazy Love by the same author. Both books I feel give a good balanced picture, both very thought provoking.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2012
disturbing and unpleasant. But Chan tackles debates head-on, while being honest about his own natural distaste for thinking anout Hell. The strength of this book is that Chan reaches conclusions which he did not want to but is compelled to by Scripture. I recommend this book highly.