SIDEBAR: Erasing Hell

While we might debate the precise nature of hell - literal fire, literal darkness, or figurative torment - the eternal nature of human destiny is clear.

by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle

The recent publication of Loves Wins by Rob Bell has reopened the discussion on hell and prompted a publishing run on books about hell. One of them is from the pen of a prolific evangelical writer, Francis Chan (Crazy Love and Forgotten God). Chan, and his researcher and coauthor Preston Sprinkle, present an argument for the existence of hell, populated by those who reject God’s offer of forgiveness.

The book moves along a fairly logical course for the first two-thirds of the book. Chan begins by refuting universalism, arguing that in biblical teaching, unbelievers do face hell after this life. The logical progression moves then to study the teaching of the intertestamental period that gives the backdrop for the times of Jesus, Jesus’ teaching on hell, and the teaching by Jesus’ followers. Chan concludes that these give clear evidence of the belief in and teaching about the existence of hell.

A point at which some might have concerns with Chan is his ambivalence about whether hell means annihilation for the wicked or eternal torment. He correctly identifies both positions in the intertestamental period and biblical passages that people interpret to support either. Chan tentatively asserts his belief in eternal torment, but cautions against being dogmatic.

The latter third of the book powerfully challenges the reader with the sovereignty of God, using the question raised by Paul in Romans 9:22,23, “What if God …?” Chan reminds readers that it is wise to let God settle the ultimate questions while we accept His revelation without always trying to bring Him into compliance with our reasoning.

Erasing Hell is an important read. The author’s research and writing are well done. The real value of the book, however, is the author’s challenge with a genuine concern for the lost. His compassion for those facing hell is compelling. May we catch some of that and renew our efforts to win people for the Kingdom.

Reviewed by James H. Railey, Jr., D.Th., professor of theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.