Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Erasing Hell--Francis Chan

I cannot figure Francis Chan out. Some of the things he says, people he associates with, conclusions he draws. He is a riddle wrapped in an enigma in ways, but he is perfectly clear. What annoys me is that he consistently repels any label I try to attach to Him....and boy do I need to label. Is he reformed? Is he charismatic? Is he emergent? What I have come to love and trust is that Francis is honest. And He loves Jesus and reveres the Scriptures. This is why I love hearing Him speak and why I love reading what He writes. I don’t always come to the same conclusions he does, but I always learn and am challenged when God uses Him to deliver a message.

So when David C Cook Publishing decided to bless the world with three free Francis Chan books over Easter weekend, I was super-pumped. Chan's style of writing is so engaging and simple that it allows his books to be enjoyed and consumed quickly. Enjoyed, however, is a relative term, especially in light of the content of the book.

Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things We've Made Up
is Chan's latest adult book and it has a very adult topic. Coauthored with Preston Sprinkle, who did most of the research, Erasing Hell is a very straightforward and simple exposition of the Biblical topic of hell. For those familiar with Chan, straightforward is assumed and he does not fail to deliver in this book. On the surface, Erasing Hell is a response to Love Wins by Rob Bell. Chan interacts with Bell's work, but only superficially. Beyond the timing of the release and the cover art, what Erasing Hell really is is an Evangelical apology of the orthodox doctrine of hell in light of recent(Bell) and not-so-recent(Origen) attacks. Erasing Hell is an examination written on a popular level. If you are looking for an in-depth theological treatise, I would look elsewhere. If you are looking for good interactions with common objections to the orthodox doctrine of hell applied explicitly to the heart and life of the reader, Erasing Hell is exactly what you want.

Chan begins with a look at Universalism of all sorts. He then looks at Second Temple Judaism's understanding of hell, arguing that if Christ had differed greatly from the prevailing thought of His day on an issue of such import, He would have been explicit in His correction, as He was in so many other areas. This line of reasoning, to me, is sound and applicable to other doctrines as well.

Chan's greatest interaction with Bell's text is with the concept of Gehenna=Garbage Dump that Bell so readily uses. Chan makes some striking claims that highlight to me, once again, how dishonest(intentionally or unintentionally) so many are when dealing with the culture at the time of Christ. As I read and research things, I am consistently shocked by how fast and loose many are with facts from the pulpit(or the pulpit of some written media). It is almost as if truth takes a back seat to whatever makes a good sermon illustration or blog post or chapter title. The Gehenna=Garbage Dump factoid may actually fall into this category, as would apparently Bell's entire thesis. As a disclaimer, I have only interacted with Bell's work through secondary sources, so my understanding of his work is most often viewed through a critical lens.

Chan's honesty will be shocking at times and can be discomforting for those who feel it is wrong to even question traditional teaching/interpretation. His uncertainty on certain issues(the duration of Hell, Paul's intent in Romans 9:22-23) could be seen as fence sitting, but Chan does that nowhere else on much more hotbed issues. I truly believe we are seeing a man who's thinking is in line with the key tenet(in my opinion) of the Reformation:Semper Reformanda, “always reforming”.

Chan, in all of his works, urges the reader to flee the deep desire to “reinterpret Jesus in light of our own culture, political bent, or favorite theological belief”. To not “believe something just because you want to,” or “ embrace an idea just because you've always believed it.” But rather to “(b)elieve what is biblical. Test all your assumptions against the precious words God gave us in the Bible.” Knowing this about the heart of Chan, even the areas where you end up disagreeing, you still are respectful of the position he takes. Erasing Hell may not be everything it could have been, but I believe it is everything it was supposed to be and is more than worth the 2 or 3 hours you will invest.