Review: Erasing Hell By Francis Chan – An Important Book and Topic By Dan Kimball

Erasing-Hell Yesterday I got to hang out with Francis Chan as we are 1-hour-and-15-minute away neighbors now. He moved up to the San Francisco area and I am down in the small but wonderful village of Santa Cruz on the beach. It was good to catch up and we had a great time chatting about many things including church and the deconstructing church experience I went through after some weirdness being on a megachurch staff that I was on (by the way, I do love megachurches but when they get unhealthy like any church big or small, it gets weird).

We talked about evangelism, home churches, and structures of leadership in churches. Francis and I had some great discussion and also talked about writing books and publishers…. And we also talked about hell.

I wrote an endorsement which is in Francis’ new book “Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we’ve made up”. So the topic of hell was obviously one to talk about because the book came out on July 5 and I had read the manuscript. As I wrote in the endorsement, “Erasing Hell is an extremely important book”. I can’t overstate that. The reason is because hell is an important topic because it does effect a lot of things both now and eternally.

I KNOW WE NEED TO FOCUS FOREMOST ON LIFE ON THIS EARTH AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NOW AND TO COME. So this is not a “pray to Jesus so you avoid hell” type of thinking I have or what Francis wrote about. It is true that faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross effect eternity and hell for sure. I talk about the joy of knowing Jesus in this life. And about the life-changing aspect of following Him here. That is the foremost message and how I explain what it means to know and follow Jesus. But that doesn’t mean I just forget or downplay that there is an afterlife. Which is a lot longer than this life.

Hell is a topic I have been thinking about for years and I wrote an article last year in Outreach Magazine you can read here. And another about universal reconciliation here a few months ago. I have read a lot of books on hell, both Christian and not Christian and explained why in those articles. So to me, Francis’ book is an important one and as I read it, many times I felt like crying. Mainly because I felt and understood the struggle he had writing it. Wanting to talk about it, but also not wanting to talk about it. But also knowing it it too important to not talk about it, even when you don’t want to.

I’ll let the words in the beginning of the “Erasing Hell” explain this that Francis wrote:

If you are excited about this book, you have issues. Do you understand the weight of what we are about to consider? We are exploring the possibility that you and I may end up tormented in hell. Excited would be the wrong term to use here. Necessary would be more fitting.” …… “Even as I write this paragraph, I feel sick. I would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture.

I so resonate with those words he wrote. And at Vintage Faith Church, I know I hate talking about hell. But I also know I must talk about it. I sensed the same thing from Francis in this book which is why I connected with it at a deep level in that regard.

What I really, really appreciate about this book is that:

  • it comes from a heart that is broken about hell. The pages themselves almost weep it is so heartfelt written. I know that sounds kind of corny, but it is true. This is written from a broken heart on the topic and that makes all the difference.
  • it stresses how even when you wish something wasn’t in Scripture or in the words of Jesus, we have to be very careful we don’t then ignore it or create something else from our own human thinking or hopes – instead of what is in Scripture. If we create theology or beliefs from our own hopes or feelings of what God is or isn’t like, in many ways we then create God in our own wishful image, rather than what He revealed in Scripture. We may say we don’t want to follow a God as described and revealed in Scripture, and that’s a choice we make. But then whether we realize it or not, we then create and follow our own version of “God” instead of what Scripture does reveal. We certainly may not like when hell is in the Bible (who does?). But when we alter Scripture or create a God or Jesus from the parts of Scripture we like while ignoring other parts is other words is not good biblical hermeneutics in my opinion. Very often (sadly) I keep hearing people describe Jesus, but only talk about aspects of His teachings that they like while ignoring other parts of His teachings. Or entirely ignore Paul’s writings or other parts of the BIble and dismiss them as being wrong or not inspired. So we can do a pick and choose Jesus and a pick and choose God using passages from the Bible that align with our often good and understandable hopes or desires. But again, this is not good biblical hermeneutics. It may align with culture easier and may then be easier to talk about God to those who don’t know Him. But we then aren’t faithful to the whole of Scripture and what God revealed in Scripture about Himself. Again, one may not believe in the Scripture as inspired. So they then can do that and say that Paul was wrong or focus on parts of the Bible and not others.  But for those who do believe that the Scriptures are fully inspired, then we have to be so careful with creating theology to match what we may wish God is like or isn’t like.
  • it is not a “here is every answer on hell” book, but it leaves questions and mystery in places about hell where questions are needed to be left. But it also states what is more clear in Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus too.
  • it is not a just written with a “pray a prayer so you get to heaven and avoid hell” mentality. When a reductionist form of the gospel happens and following Jesus for people is about avoiding hell, that is not what they Bible teaches. The sadness of if that develops, it then becomes easy to ignore those in need and desire to see change happen in this life and just wait for “heaven”. Jesus taught on the Kingdom of God here and to come. And for those who follow Jesus, our role is to be involved in justice, compassion and caring for the needy. What I appreciate about Francis, is that he is very passionate about those in need around the world. In fact, I don’t know how public he will be about this, but for those who may even think this book is written because it is a hot theological topic right now and is jumping in and will generate big book sales and money etc. – Francis is not making any money from this book. He is giving all the money to charities and to the needy that comes in from this book.
  • it is from a pastor, but Francis also brought in theologians to help with this book. For one, Preston Sprinkle, the co-author of this book has a PhD in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland. But it didn’t end there. he also had scholars from Cambridge University, St. Andrews University, Westmont College, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary also involved in looking it over for theological credibility. So Francis has theologians (multiple ones) look over the book so it wasn’t just Francis’ thinking on it.

I could go on quite a bit about this book as you probably can tell as it is an important book. Not just for the topic and the theological education in it, but that this topic really is about people’s lives. I will be getting it for our staff and it is something I highly recommend for people to read no matter where you stand or not stand in beliefs on this topic. Eternity is real. And we can’t ignore this topic, because hell is in Scripture. I am thankful that Francis didn’t avoid writing on this topic. And there was angst in writing it and and I know he didn’t want to write about. But it is too important not to. Because people are important to God and this is not just a theological topic, but it is about people.

You can watch a video that was made while Francis and co-author Preston Sprinkles was writing the book here. And read the chapters and more about it here where you can do the “Look Inside” function to see the Table of Contents.

Lord, help us understand the truths of Scripture. The ones we like and the ones we may not understand or like. But keep us faithful. And may our hearts break as we approach this topic and what the Scriptures say or don’t say about it. “All Your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” (Psalm 119:160). “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13).

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