I recently finished reading Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. As with any serious book on the subject of hell, it was not an easy read. One thing I appreciated about Chan’s approach was that he was very up-front about his own feelings on the subject. I also appreciated his sensitivity. He continually emphasized the fact that when we talk about hell, we must not let it just be a doctrine that is divorced from reality; in other words, if we believe what the Bible says about hell, people are going to be there. People we know. People we love. It’s not just an idea, it’s an actual destiny–and a destiny that’s eternal.
In chapter one he gives a brief survey of the different types of universalism–i.e. the belief that all will eventually be saved and go to heaven. He examines the Scriptures upon which the theories of universalism are based and answers them with other Scriptures.
In the second chapter, Chan looks at the views of the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus. What did the people of Jesus’ day believe about the afterlife, and more specifically, about hell? Surprisingly, their views were not much different from our Lord’s–i.e. that hell is a place of never-ending punishment after judgment. He gives a number of quotes from first century Jewish writers to back up his assertion. In this chapter he also debunks Rob Bell’s view that hell is a “garbage dump.”
The third chapter builds on the second. He shows that Jesus, if He had disagreed with current beliefs about hell, would certainly have made His disagreement known very plainly. But He didn’t. He then goes on to quote and examine exactly what Jesus did say about hell. The chapter finishes with Chan’s thoughts on the duration of punishment in hell and some studies on the word “everlasting.” Chapter four leaves the teachings of Jesus and moves on to the writings of the Apostles: Paul, Peter, Jude, and John, and concludes that their teachings lined up with those of Jesus.
Chapter five is an exhortation to allow the doctrine of hell to shake us out of our lukewarmness into a concern for the lost and dying around us. In chapter six Chan offers a powerful apologetic for the kind of God who would condemn sinful human beings to an eternity of torment and punishment.
Finally, chapter 7 is entitled, “Don’t Be Overwhelmed.” He begins by asking, “How can we possibly carry on with life if we are constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment? Yet that’s the whole point–we shouldn’t just go on with life as normal…. We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled–as with all doctrine–to live differently in light of it.”
The book ends with a useful Appendix called “Frequently Asked Questions” in which he attempts to answer such questions as, “Are the images of fire, darkness, and worms to be understood literally?” and “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?”
Overall, I found the book to be a very useful study on the doctrine of hell by a very competent writer who also has a pastor’s heart. I highly recommend it.