Francis Chan wrote Erasing Hell with Dr. Preston Sprinkle against Rob Bell’s Love Wins dealing with the issue of the nature of hell.1
(Update: Preston Sprinkle has since changed his view away from eternal conscious torment to that of annihilationism. 3/22/13)
In this article we would like to share with you three ways in which we believe Chan, while attempting to oppose a more inclusive view of redemption, unintentionally affirms it.
First Francis openly and honestly reveals to us the rock-bottom desire of his heart, the gut-level yearning of his soul, his deep seated wish: that an eternal hell was not true.
Hear his compassionate heart within the following quotes:
“Do I want to believe in a God who shows His power by punishing non-Christians and who magnifies His mercy by blessing Christians forever?…Here’s my gut-level honest answer: No. No way.”
“I want everyone to be saved. I do. I don’t want anyone to go to hell …I want to believe in a God who will save everyone in the end.”
Regarding eternal torment: “That seems a bit harsh according to my sense of justice”.2
We appreciate Chan’s transparency in relaying how he “doesn’t want to think about it”, how it made him “feel sick”, how it brought him so much anguish to think about his grandmother in hell, and how he would like to “erase it” from the Bible. But this begs the question as to why is there something about God’s character that he’d rather not think about and which makes him sick when in fact we are commanded to love God with all our minds? This should cause Chan, and us, to pause and think.
We believe this reaction within Chan, who is someone we know from his devoted life and testimony loves God and delights in Him, is a God-given emotion revealing God’s heart for those same people Chan is grieving over! Scripture tells us that He will “give us the desire of our hearts” if we “delight in Him.” What does that passage mean if it cannot be applied to this deepest and most powerful desire that we have…the desire of good for those whom we love? (And apparently God wants us to love even our enemies and desire their good!)
We ask, how can we be expected to make any distinction between right and wrong if God abides by a different standard than He demands of His creatures? God tells us to think on things that are lovely, right and good (Phil 4:8) and He tells us to “judge what is right!” (Luke 12:57) For God to abide by a different standard of what is love would make the Bible meaningless.
Additional evidence which illuminates how Chan inadvertently points to Biblical universalism is his continual reference to Isaiah 55. Every time Francis meets with the big dilemma of ‘how can a loving God ever torture most of His image-bearers for an eternity’ he appeals to Isaiah 55:8: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” Ironically the only verse that he can use to justify his reasoning is actually a verse that has the opposite meaning than he intends!
God is speaking of His ways being so far above man’s in the area of MERCY, not an eternal hell! The context of Isaiah’s words are:
“Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”
As Chan attempts to use Scripture to defend his view of eternal conscious torment we are losing confidence that he is being responsible with it. This passage, the only one used to chide us into humble submission to the traditional view, is actually making the opposite point! Apparently it is God’s mercy that will blow our minds not Chan’s depiction of “un-mercy” towards billions of His image-bearers in an eternal hell of torment.
This adds much more weight to his advice to search beyond his book:
“The debate about hell’s duration is much more complex than I first assumed. While I lean heavily on the side that says it is everlasting, I am not ready to claim that with complete certainty. I encourage you to continue researching…”3
Finally, we must take a serious look at Chan’s treatment of the love of God as it relates to the nature and duration of hell. First of all, Chan decided not to bring the love of God to bear upon the issue of eternal hell at all! The Scriptures about His nature as being love are not even mentioned in the body of the book! The subject of God’s love is rather relegated to the last question in the appendix of the book. Then, astonishingly in the discussion of the nature and outworking of God’s love he fails to make any reference to the two defining passages of God’s love: the book of 1 John and 1 Corinthians chapter 13 (“God is love” and “Love never fails”). Neither passage is mentioned! Instead Chan tries to make the case that since God is God He has the right to define love any way He wants even if it doesn’t look anything like the love He has defined for us! (“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16) Chan appeals only to God’s prerogative as God.
But to have a discussion on the love of God where the most defining passages on God’s own idea of what love is are omitted is a major clue that something is seriously awry.
While we are not accusing Francis Chan of intentionally avoiding the truth of Scripture to deceive us we are showing that what Chan meant to communicate against a hopeful universal redemption has actually opened up more space in which to view the all-inclusive Good News of Jesus Christ. To sum up, this was done by:
1) Highlighting our God-given sanctified desire for Jesus to be literally “The Savior of the World.”
2) Revealing to us the true meaning of why God says His ways are higher and wider and bigger.
3) And finally, revealing how theologians often must omit foundational Scriptures to prove the traditions of men.
I believe Chan has written this book out of a sincere heart to save others from a deception that, in his estimation, could send many to an “eternal hell.” But unbeknownst to Chan what he was hoping to accomplish may actually serve to accomplish the opposite. We can see a few things much more clearly because of his book but I don’t think they were the things Chan intended.
Update 3/22/13: Read here how Chan’s co-author Dr. Preston Sprinkle (who in this interview admitted to doing most of the research for the book) has since changed his view leaning toward annihilationism or what is called “Conditional Immortality.” May Chan take to heart this recent shift by his co-author and “continue researching.”
1 Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle
2 Erasing Hell pp 22-23
3 ibid., p 86
Jan 7, 2014: I did not want to make a new post on this since Chan’s Erasing Hell is dated and his co-author has since changed his position but for those who think that Erasing Hell settles it for them I wanted to share an Amazon review by Peter Hiett that touches on some of the book’s other deficiencies. As always I appreciate Hiett’s tone of grace and respect:
“The Measure You Give…” by Peter Hiett
I suspect that I would really admire Francis Chan in other venues, but I was surprised at the lack of sound biblical exegesis and logic in this book. A few examples:
How can Chan talk about descriptions of Hell in Ezekiel (p.158), and then claim that there seems to be “no hope for a second chance” (p.38), but not even mention Ezekiel 37:11-14? “Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the WHOLE HOUSE OF ISRAEL Behold they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves, O my people… And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, O my people. And I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live… Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord.” How could he miss that?
Or after all his talk about Romans 9, miss Romans 11:26, “And in this way all Israel will be saved” or Romans 11:32, “For God consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” or Romans 14:11 “As I live says the Lord every knee will bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” …how does He, how do we, miss that? All these verses come after Romans 9 and complete Paul’s thought. Clearly we can only be saved by Grace through Faith in Christ Jesus, but Chan and his co-authors need to take Scripture more seriously and stop putting Jesus in a little box.
How can Chan say “God is Love” on page 162 and then on page 163 claim “God can withhold love (Rom 9)”? What does that mean? God can choose not to be God? Does the “steadfast love of the Lord” cease? Do His Mercies come to an end? And Romans 9 never says that God “withholds love.” Paul completes his thoughts in the rest of Romans–“that He may have mercy on all.” Have they not read it?
How can he advocate, “A view of God that believes what(God) says, even when it doesn’t make perfect sense to us” (p.108) and then claim that verses like Psalm 22:29, Isaiah 25:8, 45:23, 66:23-26, Zeph.3:8-10, John 12:32, Romans 5:18, 1 Cor. 15:20-25, Colossians 1:17-20, 1 Tim. 4:10, Rev. 5:13, Rev. 21:4…don’t mean what they obviously mean? Perhaps it’s because he is judging God’s Judgments with his own judgment, just what he says we must not do, just what Paul tells us not to do in Romans 11:32-36.
Just because Frances can’t systematize Rev. 21:4 with Rev. 21:8, doesn’t give Frances the right to ignore Rev.21:4 “Behold I make all things New.” And yes we can’t discount Rev. 21:8, “their portion shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur (“theion” in Greek, also translated “divinity”), which is the second death.” Both statements must be true. Impossible for us, but not for God (Matt.19:25-26). God excels at bringing “destroyed” (from “apollumi” in Greek-also translated “lost”) things to life. He is the Creator! He destroys Sodom with “aionios” fire (Jude 7), but he promises to redeem Sodom (Ezekiel 16:53-63) and humble Jerusalem in the process. I wish Frances and his theologian friends took their Bibles more “literally”–not less. I wish we all did.
Frances, I bet you’re awesome in so many ways, but limiting the power and extent of God’s Grace in Christ Jesus should give you pause. “The measure you give is the measure you get. With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged.” John 12:30-33: “‘Now is the judgment of this world…and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show by what death he was to die.”… May we all give that Judgment.
God Bless You,