Monday, July 11, 2011

My Problem With Francis Chan's "Erasing Hell"

Francis Chan's book, "Erasing Hell", released this past week, and so once again there are talks and discussions of hell and the afterlife. And since I do believe that one's eschatology is important and does greatly affect how one lives their life here and now, I am glad that the conversation continues.

While I have not read Chan's book, I have seen the promo video and have read interviews where Chan discusses some of his conclusions in the book (i also have a friend who has read the book). And I must say, I was a little surprised to see that Chan is "agnostic" (his words) when it comes to whether hell consist of eternal conscious torment or whether he believes in "annihilation", which is the total destruction of the wicked.

I have no problem with Chan's views and conclusions themselves, I don't care. I am glad to see that he at least considers annihilation as a possibility and it's actually refreshing to see that he will admit that he is not sure about everything, and that some things about hell ended up not being as clear as he had once thought.

And since I have not read the book, I will refuse to refute any of his arguments from the book itself.

However, my problem stems more from his promo video and how he presents the argument there. One thing that he makes clear in the video is that "Hell" is something we can't afford to get wrong. I find that statement interesting coming from someone who ends up admitting that he doesn't know if people will be in hell for eternity or if they will cease to exist, which again, is fine with me, but There is a big difference, and it's either one or the other, right? Which means one view has to be wrong.

I am interested to see if the same people who criticized Bell for being "soft on hell" will do the same to Chan for not resting on one or the other, for most seem to think the scriptures are so clear on hell being eternal conscious torment.

My biggest problem however, is in the way Chan, in the video, uses the verse from Isaiah which says, "'for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD."

Chan uses this verse to suggest that just because we wouldn't condemn people to hell for an eternity doesn't mean God wouldn't, because His ways are higher than ours. Fair enough, except that the whole chapter of Isaiah 55 speaks of God's mercy, not wrath. In other words, when that verse appears in Isaiah it is used to show that God shows mercy and pardons people that we don't think deserve mercy or pardoning, because God's ways are higher than our ways. Chan uses this verse in the complete opposite context.

However, it's the underlining tone and what Chan seems to be insinuating with this verse (as well as most of the video for that matter) that I have an even bigger problem with. It seems that Chan is implying that those who do not believe in a literal hell (or those who do not come to the same conclusion he does) do not take scripture seriously and are merely following their own emotions and opinions, which is something that people have accused me of time and time again. People say things to me such as "I just go by what the scriptures say instead of someone else's opinion", as if I am merely going by someone else's opinion and ignoring what I know the bible to actually be saying.

And now i am seeing more and more people using the same verse in the same way in their blog post's and Facebook statuses. As if the reason some of us do not believe in a literal place called hell where people will spend an eternity in agony is simply because we don't like the idea. Well if that were the case then I would have chosen much more difficult verses to swallow to ignore, such as, "love your enemies" and "do good to those who persecute you". If I was really out to dismiss things that I don't like in the bible then those are some of the verses I would have chosen.

In fact, I would even argue that it would be easier for a "saved" Christian like myself to believe in hell, because...

1. I won't be there any way. For I have said my sinner's prayer(s) and I believe "the right" things about Jesus. So I am safe. I have fire insurance. I have my ticket to heaven.

2. Some of the people I don't like would be there, which would make it a little easier to say I love my enemies, because deep down I would know that they will get theirs and that God would do to them after they die what God tells me not to do to them while on earth. The retribution that God tells me not to seek will finally be served by God throughout eternity. It's a win win, right?

So again, whatever your view is on hell, I don't care and I don't paint everyone with the same brush. I know many Christians who do believe in a literal hell who love God, love the Bible, try to follow the teachings of Jesus, and love their enemies, but then there are those who seem to need hell and even desire it for other people. They need to know that "the other" will get theirs, and that "justice" will be served. This is the only way Jesus can mean anything to them.

The real problem I have is when people insinuate that if my interpretation or opinion differs from theirs, then I am obviously the one ignoring the scripture while they are merely going by what the bible says, whether it's hard to swallow or not... That I am somehow making The Gospel into really good Easy News for all people instead of Good alright News for some people.

Again, I have no problem with Chan or his views on hell and i am glad that the conversation continues on... it's more in the way his message comes across as "I'm just going by what the bible says while others simply are not", That is what I have a problem with.


Ron Krumpos said...

Which Afterlife?

In 2011 world population will reach 7 billion (vs. 3 billion in 1960). There are now approximately 2.2 billion Christians. Chan and Sprinkle seem to be saying that 4.8 billion people may be facing eternal hell.

Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:

(46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

(59) True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

(80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

You are absolutely right. I chose the same heading because my response to both is the same.

justin said...

I am about half-way through Chan's latest, I was hoping for a little more wrestling with the text. It appears as though that's what he does - it looks like it, if you just flip the pages. But when you really get down to it, it is largely dismissive of so much Scripture, so much scholarship, and so much common sense.

I honestly appreciate Chan and think much of him as a communicator, but it seems as though Erasing Hell was meant to be a personal letter directly to Rob.

Have you picked up the book yet? I'd be interested to know your thoughts there as well...

Thanks and blessings!