Review of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell (Part 2)
September 13, 2011 3 Comments
Chapter 1: Does Everyone Go To Heaven?
Chan starts this chapter with this question, “Do you want to believe in a God who shows His power by punishing non-Christians and who magnifies His mercy by blessing Christians forever?” (p.21) He concludes that we may not want to believe this but can we believe this. Chan openly says that he does not want to believe in a God described like that but then he writes 200 pages about how he does. I am not really sure what I think about how the discussion is framed by that question. Is that like saying I don’t really want to believe in a God who would have His own Son killed on a cross and yet I believe that is exactly what God did and am thankful for it? Get my point?
Maybe that is not the right question. This question makes the hell discussion about two things: power and mercy. The question is worded in a way that pits the two characteristics of God against each other and I think it sets out a false dichotomy from the very beginning that isn’t really a fair place to start. My guess is Chan is still trying to recognize or identify with his audience at this point, just my guess. I don’t think hell is primarily about God’s power and I don’t think heaven is primarily about God’s mercy. I think both heaven and hell are more about righteousness and justice than they are about power. Rob Bell framed the hell issue as a power issue in love wins with questions like, “Does God get what God wants?” But to me it misses the point. I think we make it a power issue because we are a people obsessed with power. We fail to make it about righteousness because we are not a culture that has quite caught on to the righteousness fad yet. Maybe I can get into why I believe it is more about righteousness and justice later.
Chan says, “I want to believe in a God who will save everyone in the end.” (p.23). Just what does that mean? Does that mean Chan wants God to force a reconciled relationship upon the unrepentant and rebellious? Does that mean Chan wants God to force His love upon those who reject it? Just what does that statement mean? I think he is trying to say he wants to believe in a God who is merciful. Well the truth is God can be merciful and people still end up in hell. So the hell discussion is not bound up by the level of God’s mercy or God’s ability to be merciful. It misses the point, again.
Starting on page 23 Chan gives a decent synopsis of Universalism in Christian doctrine. He mentions the key players like Origen Talbott, and MacDonald. He gives a nod to Rob Bell. From there he gives a short primer on the different types of universalism to make sure it isn’t being completely broad brushed and from there he launches into a discussion of whether or not universalism is scriptural. What I like about how he and Preston Sprinkle deal with several scriptures that could on the front end seem to support universalism is that they actually look at context. Ignoring context was one of the biggest problems I found in Love Wins so I hope Chan keeps this up through the book. He lists these scriptures, giving more explanation on Phil 2:9-11, 1 Cor 15:22 and 1 Tim 2:4:
- Phil 2:9-11
- 1 Cor 15:22
- 2 Cor 5:19
- Col 1:19-20
- 1 Tim 2:4
Again, Chan does a pretty good job working through these scriptures in context. But when it came to 1 Tim 2:4 I really had some issues. First, remember the quote from the last post from the introduction. That quote was about trying hard not to read into scripture what we want to find. He says we should avoid twisting the scriptures to find what we want to find. I think that is exactly what happened in his interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4. I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong…but that is how it appears to me. Here is what the verse says,
“who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
As I was reading his explanation I felt like I was reading Love Wins due to all the twists and turns to come to a conclusion in line with his view that hell is real and that people really will go there. First he references Bell’s question, “Does God get what God wants?” He says, “And this would set up a rhetorical slam dunk. Of course God gets what He wants! Otherwise, He’s not God. Or if He is God, He’s not very powerful.” (p.30).
Here is where things get crazy. He continues,
“But hold on a second. This question of God getting what He wants passes over two other important questions about 1 Timothy 2:4: (1) What’s the meaning of ‘all’ and (2) what does the word want mean in this context?”
In other words Chan’s take is…we can still conclude that God gets what he wants (all people to be saved) if we can just make sure that all doesn’t mean every single person. Seriously, that is his line of reasoning here…”God is on a mission to save all types of people.” (p.31 – emphasis mine) Chan’s conclusion is that God doesn’t want to save all people, rather all types of people. I have many problems with his line of reasoning here. One of them is that the existence of hell is not a challenge to God’s power. You don’t have to prove that “all” doesn’t mean every single person in order to jive 1 Timothy 2:4 with God still being all powerful. Is the conclusion, because God doesn’t really want all people to be saved but just all types of people, really advance the discussion on hell very far? Or does it open up 12 more cans of worms that Chan just glosses right over? What does “all types of people” even mean in a practical sense…some black, white, asian, hispanic, etc? Some short, tall, average? You know what this interpretation really does? It really makes God less compassionate because it says that there are some people that God really doesn’t care to save. Doesn’t it? I just can’t accept that.
I am not very far into this book yet but I am already feeling the same objections that I felt when reading Love Wins: reading your view into the text and twisting it to make it fit and asking the wrong framing questions. Maybe that will get better in later chapters. That is enough on chapter one for now…any thoughts so far?