I recently finished reading the book “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. Written as a response to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”, Chan and Sprinkle honestly and personally wrestle with the rarely talked about doctrine of Hell. In the introduction to the book Chan writes,
“I decided to write a book about hell. And honestly–I’m scared to death. I’m scared because so much is at stake. Think about it. If I say there is no hell, and it turns out that there is a hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist! If I say there is a hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantcially warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real! When it comes to hell, we can’t afford to be wrong. This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders, and move on. Too much is at stake. Too many people are at stake. And the Bible has too much to say” (pg. 14).
What follows is my own review of this new book.
This book has several strengths. First of all, it wrestles with the doctrine of Hell from a biblical perspective. What I appreciate about it is that Chan doesn’t try to sidestep the difficult questions raised by Rob Bell and others. He understands that there are a lot of misconceptions and reservations about Hell, and he doesn’t shy away from addressing them. Rather, he and Sprinkle look to scripture and try to understand what the Bible says about this doctrine and provide scriptural references within their proper context.
Second, the writers directly engage with many of the questions that Bell raises, but does not answer, in his own book. Some of the questions that they tackle are:
- Will everyone be saved?
- Does God get what God wants?
- Will there be a second chance at salvation after death?
Knowing that many people have the same questions, the authors try to address these questions with both sensitivity and with an eye toward what is actually revealed in God’s Word.
Finally, I appreciate the humility with which they write. When “Love Wins” was published many evangelicals came out against the book, often misrepresenting or attacking Bell in the process. The discussion around the topic of Heaven and Hell was, in a word, hellish. Chan and Sprinkle take a very different approach. First, they try to accurately represent Bell’s thinking. Second, they take into account various Christian perspectives in their response and honestly admit where they personally land in the discussion. Third, they try to support their views with a careful study of scripture itself. Throughout, their tone is one of genuine dialogue and is born out of a desire to honestly understand the other.
This being said, there are a couple of weaknesses with the book. First, it is very contextual. What I mean by this is that it is very obviously a response to Bell’s own book. Because of this, those who have not read “Love Wins” may feel a bit lost. I also worry that this will hamper the ability of the book to speak to a wider Christian audience and create a more well-rounded view on the subject of Hell.
Second, the book doesn’t do a good job of giving the reader an understanding of where the doctrine of Hell fits in the overall scope of the Gospel. I feel like this was a failing of Bell’s own writing, and I feel that it is also missing here. This is not to say that Chan and Sprinkle don’t talk about the Gospel, but it is communicated in a more indirect way. I worry about this because Chan and Sprinkle make a convincing argument that Hell does in fact exist, but fall short in talking about what is involved in helping us avoid Hell and enter into an eternal relationship with God. For the seeker reading this book, it gives some answers about Hell without clearly point to The Answer: Christ himself.
In addition, I don’t think you can talk about Hell without also addressing the nature of Heaven. The two really do go together and I feel that talking about one without talking about the other can be very misleading and fails to root the importance of Heaven and Hell in the broader context of biblical theology.
Finally, there is little in regard to talking about how the doctrine of Hell informs our understanding of our present world and how this doctrine should shape Christian discipleship now. While Chan frequently highlights that this doctrine is too important to get wrong, he does not go very far in talking about what its implications are for life today.
Overall, I liked “Erasing Hell”. As someone who has been following this debate, it is a helpful and humble contribution to the discussion which is firmly grounded in scripture. While I feel it could have been better, I would recommend it to anyone who has also been following this discussion and wrestling with their own questions about Hell and its existence.
OVERALL RATING: 8.0 out of 10