Erasing Hell Book Review: Francis Chan

by Daryl Evans · Print Print · Email Email

Let me just say to begin this article that Francis Chan is one of my heroes.  I love and desire to have the passion for the lost that this pastor/writer from California has.  If you get to hear him in person, you will be moved and challenged in a way that is both piercing and encouraging.  He motivates people to follow Christ.  I can’t give a much better endorsement than that.  Chan has recently written a book about an uncomfortable topic, the topic of hell.  This article will give a brief overview of his writing and the inspiration for this book.

Today only 59% of Americans believe in hell (it is slightly higher in the church).  It seems that hell isn’t as hot as it used to be. Hell has become more of a deep funk than a pit of fire. Many people today think of hell as a state of mind rather than as a real place.

One of my earliest childhood memories was one Sunday after going to church and Sunday school; I was scared to death about a lesson that I just heard.  I don’t remember the specific story or Bible passage that was used but I remember being scared that if I died I would be going to hell.  That was not where I wanted to go.  In my 5-year-old mind, I wasn’t embracing the good news as much as I was scared to death of the alternative.  But things seem different today…

Hell is joked about… In a speech to the National Press Club, Ted Turner said,

“Heaven is going to be a mighty slender place. And most of the people I know in life aren’t going to be there. There are a few notable exceptions and I’ll miss them. [Laughter] Remember, heaven is going to be perfect. And I don’t really want to be there…Those of us that go to hell, which will be most of us in this room; most journalists are certainly going there. [Laughter] But, when we get to hell we’ll have a chance to make things better because hell is supposed to be a mess. And heaven is perfect. Who wants to go to a place that’s perfect? Boring. Boring.” [Laughter]

Why Francis Chan Wrote Erasing Hell

I believe that many Christians are ashamed of the doctrine of hell.  We don’t like to sound judgmental or intolerant and often try to soften or water down what the Bible teaches.  These are exactly the types of questions that Francis Chan has recently addressed in his book called “Erasing Hell:  What God said about eternity, and the things we’ve made up.”

The topic of hell has been on the forefront of many minds recently.  Rob Bell seemed to stir up this beehive with his book called “Love Wins.”  The controversy that Bell’s book created is because of the questions Bell asks and the conclusions that he seems to come to concerning people and their ultimate destiny.  Bell questions the traditional evangelical belief that hell is a place where people will suffer for their beliefs while on the earth.  It is clear that Francis Chan read “Love Wins” and his book is a direct response to Bell’s book.

Erasing Hell Summary and Review

So that is the starting point for “Erasing Hell.”  Chan decided to go back to the Scriptures to see what they say and also what they do not say.  He does interact with some of the writings of Rob Bell but not in a harsh way but rather by looking to the Holy Scriptures for guidance and clarity.  Francis Chan begins by confronting the topic of universalism or the belief that all eventually will make it to heaven (this seems to be endorsed by Bell).  Universalism at its core implies that there will be a second chance or even more chances to turn to God after this life is over.  Chan tries to pull back every preconceived notion that he has about hell and the afterlife and look to the Scriptures.  He asks the question of does the Bible give hope of a second chance?  He goes to great detail at looking at the words of Jesus concerning judgment and hell.  Chan clearly writes that Jesus was not afraid to use terms of judgment and a final punishment.  He also writes that Jesus never gave us any hope of another chance one day to choose Him.  This concept is simply not found in the Bible in my view.  For anyone to imply that there is a second chance after this life is just not found in the words of Jesus or in the other writings of Scripture.

Chan writes in a way that is blunt and bold but not in a pious or self-promoting or self-righteous way.  He seems to confront the topic without making it personal.  He wrestles with many passages and comes to the conclusion that hell is indeed a place that is real.  It is a place of final punishment.  Chan writes over and over that “we can’t afford to be wrong about this.”  He is so right about that point.  This is not just some philosophical argument where we can just throw our hands up in the air and maybe get right or wrong.  We cannot try to force the Scripture to say something in the way we want it to be said.  Chan says that he would love to believe that everyone will eventually come to Christ but the Word of God simply does not say or even imply that.  This simple worldview will affect the way we live or even do mission work.  If one believes that all will come to Christ eventually, then why not just sit back and forget about missions.  Why bother agonizing over a loved one that does not know God…if we believe they will make it anyway.  Chan argues that a correct belief and a right view of hell will affect the way we live.  It will make us feel more compassion for the lost that do not know Christ.  It will make us ache the way Jesus ached when he saw people who were lost and he showed compassion on them.  This is the thought that I took from this book.  It made me look to the Bible for myself and meditate on the words of God concerning hell.

I am thankful that Chan wrote this passionate response on the topic of hell.  Reading this book has renewed my compassion for the lost and made me want to be more like Jesus.  Regardless what view you have of heaven and hell, I highly recommend that you read this book and to be challenged for yourself.

Have you read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Resources:

Copyright 2011 Preston Sprinkle, Francis Chan. Erasing Hell published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack August 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Amen to this sterling article Daryl. Yes, Bell questions the traditional evangelical belief that hell is a place where people will suffer for their beliefs while on the earth but he is really questioning the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself who spoke more about hell than any other single topic so He obviously believed in it. As part of our evangelism and Outreach, we can not hide the fact of hell from people. Not to make foxhole conversions but to tell people the truth about their eternal destination if they die without believing in Christ. Hell is part of the holiness of God for He is a just God Who can not tolerate and even look upon sin.

I love what Charles Spurgeon once said, “I heard of a minister who once said to his congregation, “If you do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be sent to that place which it is not polite to mention.” He ought not to have been allowed to preach again.”

Thank you for this “must read” book review. It is needful in this universalistic age my friend.

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Robert Sockett August 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm

There are many verses that say that all people go to heaven. There are many verses that say those who don’t believe go to hell for eternity. Try and reconcile the 2 types of verses and send me an e-mail. And don’t just explain away the ones that say all people go to heaven. Every knee will bow remember! I’ll give you a couple of clues. Eternity(for all time) doesn’t exist. Hell is a valley in Jerusalem were families have picnics. This is a great mystery and only ones God has revealed it to can see it. I pray he opens your eyes.

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Nel Go November 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm

First, I would like to say that I am responding to you in love and not in anger because my heart breaks for the lies that has filled your mind. In response to your summarized quoting of Philippians 2:9-11, you have to read it in full context that Paul was encouraging us to have the same mindset as Christ who humbled himself for us and was obedient to the Father to die for our sins, which is why as Paul writes that He is exalted and is condsidered Lord of all. Now understand, just because someone call Jesus, “Lord”, does not make him “saved”. Consider Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus himself says that not everyone who says to Him, “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven” Even James 2:19 says that demons know God and shudder but they are still doomed. What is needed besides acknowledgement is repentence and faith. That’s why in Acts 2, Peter tells the crowd of how to be saved is to “repent and be baptized” or in Acts 3, he says “repent and turn to God”. Jesus says to be His disciple in Luke 9:23, you have to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me”. In these examples, it is clear that it is more than just a prayer or words from your mouth, but a changing of the heart (repentence and denial of your ownself and your own desires), faith (turning to God and willing to die for that faith), and obedience (following him which includes obeying his command to be baptized).

In regards to whatever scriptures you may think says that all will be “saved”. Yes, there is scripture that says that Christ dies for the whole world, but it never says that the whole world is saved. You see although, Christ’s death on the cross was for the whole world and that grace is a free gift, the one thing that a person must do is accept that gift. Just because Jesus is at your knocking that doesn’t mean you are saved unless you let him into your life. I personally believe in General Atonement but Limited Salvation (I’m sure many Evangelicals, particularly calvanists, will disagree that it is only limited atonement, but we can agree on “limited salvation”)

I pray that this helps in anway to encourage you rethink what someone else may have told you. Jesus warns about them also in Matthew 7:15.

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True May 22, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Hi, Robert,

I just started reading Chan’s book, because I felt a need to KNOW, not just suppose. Anyway, he addresses each of those things that you mention in your comment. And he cites lots of research, footnotes, references, etc. You should read the book yourself – it may not change your mind but I’m pretty sure you’d find some good information.

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Travis December 11, 2017 at 12:33 am

Enjoyed the article and have to admit that I have not read the book. My problem with the traditional hell taught today is that I can’t find anywhere in the Bible that states or implies that unbelievers are given eternal life. Everything I find shows only believers are given eternal life and unbelievers will perish John 3:16 is a great ex. We are also told the wages of sin are death. I believe and from what I understand God is the eternal flame and will burn up and destroy all sin , Satan, and unbelievers. They will be ashes beneath our feet malichi ch 4. I do believe that the punishment of being separated from God for unbelievers will be forever and eternal but I don’t believe there is a place who burns forever. The other problem I have with a eternal place of fire is who rules over it? Are we really gonna give Satan the same power as god to rule over a kingdom or are you gonna say God rules it and enjoys punishing people forever. Someone please explain this as I just don’t get why it is taught this way still today. Maybe I am not getting all the information.

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Jack Wellman December 11, 2017 at 9:07 am

Hello Travis. The same word Jesus uses for eternal life is the same word used for eternal destruction. If you destroy something, it does not go out of existence. My old lawnmower was destroyed but it still exists. Revelation 14:11 and 20:1 and so on. Satan is bound and doesn’t rule over anything, including heaven. He is sent away forever in the bottomless pit (Rev 20:10). If we receive eternal life then others who reject Christ will receive eternal death or separation forever where Jesus said “Their worm never dies” (Mark 9:44-48).

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Dennis Dibben May 3, 2018 at 11:25 pm

I began the book “Erasing Hell,” thinking the title was an honest summation of the book’s slant. I finished the book today, and have concluded that “Highlighting Hell” would have been a more appropriate title. The authors fail to deal with the pagan origin of both the word and the concept of “Hell.” I found it in Norse mythology, in the form of the goddess Hel and her afterlife realm “Helheim” (House of Hel). I must ask, “Hel” is pagan, but “Hell” is Christian? I studied the entire KJV, and found that the word “hell” had been translated from words which referred to no such place. Hell is a theological insertion.

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Jack Wellman May 4, 2018 at 9:07 am

Hello Dennis. I believe your mistake is the source you are reading. When reading the works of men, you will get a man’s perspective, but the Bible is without error, unlike men are, and Jesus said in Matthew 13:41-42, 49-50 “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Mark 9:43, 48-49 “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire…where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.”

Some people say that “their God is a God of love and doesn’t condemn people to hell.” I say, “Yes, you are right. Your God of all love wouldn’t send anyone to hell because He doesn’t exist. I say as Jesus says “fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!’

Hell is a place (topos) in the Greek, so it’s a real place and not a theological insertion. You need to get your teachings from Scripture and not from some man who wish hell was not real.

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Steve August 14, 2018 at 6:15 am

Good article. My issue is that I feel in the last few months i’ve really obsessed over the idea of hell, and how lightly we speak of it. We say “aw I really want my uncle to get saved, I don’t want him to go to hell!” Which is a noble view, obviously.

But if we TRULY believed in an eternal hell, a never ending torment, where you’re tortured without end… where the 70 years or so of your life is a distant memory so much that you’d probably forget why you’re being punished… If we truly believed in this, our lives on this earth would be miserable because we would be in complete anguish at the thought of friends and loved ones who are, and will be, and ALWAYS will be, in hell being punished.

I’m erring on the side of annihilationism, the biblically supported notion that death without salvation results in the complete destruction of the soul. Rather than eternal conscious torment, one just ceases to exist. But then I still struggle with that as it doesn’t seem a real consequence of sin to be experienced.

But I can’t understand the idea of an eternal punishment. It just reeks of scare tactics.

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Jack Wellman August 14, 2018 at 9:10 am

Hell is not a scare tactic but a reality that Jesus spoke often about, speaking more about hell than heaven because He didn’t want anyone to go there. I believe Jesus. Jesus said it was eternal. “Their worm never turns” or ends. I’m erring on the side of believing the BIble and believing Jesus, not what men or women think. I think we do struggle with this, but God is the One Who warned of us.

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