In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, chapter three, entitled “What Jesus Actually Said about Hell,” Chan writes, “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”
Notice the words “if” and “then” in Chan’s claim: “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.” This is a classic example of an argument in formal logic, a conditional statement – if this, then that.
Remember that an argument can be valid even if it is false. Consider this example:
If all people who eat McDonald’s food are fat, then President Obama is fat.
Anyone can look at Obama and see that he is clearly NOT fat. The reason this argument is valid is that the “if” part of the conditional statement is the premise for the argument. It’s the part of the argument that justifies the conclusion of the argument. The premise doesn’t have to be true in order for the argument to be valid, but the conclusion must agree with the premise. Let’s use our imaginations and really think about it, just for kicks. If we suppose (for argument’s sake, no pun intended) that we live in a universe in which one bite of McDonald’s food instantly and unavoidably launches the eater into a bodily state of obesity, then it would make perfect sense for us to assume that Obama must be fat, since he ate McDonald’s food.
We could reword it for clarity and say, “If it is true that all people who eat McDonald’s food are fat…” The argument is valid, but it isn’t sound. Why? Because it is NOT true that all people who eat McDonald’s food are fat. Furthermore, it is NOT true that Obama is fat. That’s the difference between a valid argument and a sound argument.
Now, I intend to examine Chan’s argument in the same manner. First, let’s look at Chan’s premise: “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter…” This part of the conditional statement doesn’t have to be true in order for Chan’s argument to be valid. Just like the McDonalds example, let’s use our imaginations and really think about it, just for kicks. If we suppose that the view of hell presented in chapter two of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell is inaccurate (by default, because Jesus knows truth) and we suppose that Jesus did not agree with such views… WAIT! We actually have two premises here.
2. Jesus did not agree with such a view.
Unfortunately for Chan, this makes things much easier on me, one who disagrees with not only his conclusion, but the validity of the argument itself. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Right now, I am examining the argument with a sense of adventure and imagination, supposing that his premises are true. That means we can move to the conclusion to see whether it jives with the premises.
Therefore, in a universe in which Erasing Hell chapter two was, is, and always will be inaccurate AND in a universe in which Jesus did not, does not, and never will agree with Erasing Hell chapter two, what response might we expect out of Jesus? According to Chan, “He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”
Now in examining Chan’s conclusion, the “then” part of the statement, we must establish that it is in agreement with the premises. So let’s look at Chan’s conclusion:
1. He would have had to argue against it.
2. He would have had to deliberately argue against it.
3. He would have had to clearly argue against it.
Can we assume all of the above based on the premises? How can we know what Jesus would have done? or to use Chan’s language, how can we know what Jesus would have had to do? The words, “had to” are loaded words, and they ought not be taken lightly. Is it right for us to assume that Jesus would have been constrained to react in a way that is consistent with our own consciences? Perhaps. It is not a simple as it seems unless we see the big picture – the Plan of the Ages. But I digress…
Surely, if Jesus sees everyone (or at least the majority) believing a lie, he would set them straight, right? He would do it deliberately. He would do it clearly. Right?
We don’t have to make assumptions, fortunately, because Jesus consistently taught the majority in a certain way. In fact, His method of communication to the masses is described to us in the written perspectives of some his closest friends – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
And the disciples having come near, said to him, “Wherefore in similes dost thou speak to them?” And he answering said to them that “To you it hath been given to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, and to these it hath not been given…”
All these things spake Jesus in similes to the multitudes, and without a simile he was not speaking to them, that it might be fulfilled that was spoken through the prophet, saying, “I will open in similes my mouth, I will utter things having been hidden from the foundation of the world.” Then having let away the multitudes, Jesus came to the house, and his disciples came near to him, saying, “Explain to us the simile…”
And he said to them, “He who is having ears to hear – let him hear.” And when he was alone, those about him, with the twelve [disciples], did ask him of the simile, and he said to them, “To you it hath been given to know the secret of the reign of God, but to those who are without, in similes are all the things done; that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest they may turn, and the sins may be forgiven them.” And he saith to them, “Have ye not known this simile? and how shall ye know all the similes?”
[Jesus] said unto his disciples, “Lay ye to your ears these words, for the Son of Man is about to be delivered up to the hands of men.” And they were not knowing this saying, and it was veiled from them, that they might not perceive it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
And having taken the twelve aside, [Jesus] said unto them, “Lo, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be completed – that have been written through the prophets – to the Son of Man, for he shall be delivered up to the nations, and shall be mocked, and insulted, and spit upon, and having scourged they shall put him to death, and on the third day he shall rise again.” And they none of these things understood, and this saying was hid from them, and they were not knowing the things said.
[Jesus] said to them, “These [are] the words that I spake unto you, being yet with you, that it behoveth to be fulfilled all the things that are written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms, about me.” Then opened he up their understanding to understand the writings, and he said to them – “Thus it hath been written, and thus it was behoving the Christ to suffer, and to rise out of the dead the third day, and reformation and remission of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem: and ye – ye are witnesses of these things.”
[…and to the disciples Jesus said] “These things in similitudes I have spoken to you, but there cometh an hour when no more in similitudes will I speak to you, but freely of the Father, will tell you.” […] His disciples say to him, “Lo, now freely thou dost speak, and no similitude speakest thou; now we have known that thou hast known all things, and hast no need that any one do question thee…”
Do you see what I see? Jesus spoke in similes or parables to the masses. It was not until a certain time that He spoke plainly, and even then, it was almost exclusively to His disciples. As to why Jesus would do such a thing, this is another blog for another day (or you can read Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the Sky, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Fumbled Fables, and Would God Do That?). The point is, if Jesus’s regular practice was to withhold, veil, or hide knowledge, why should we agree with Chan’s assumption that Jesus “would have had to deliberately and clearly” impart knowledge?
This is not to say that Jesus never said anything to contradict chapter two of Chan’s book. I’ll get to that after we are done examining the validity of Chan’s conditional statement (one more blog) and the soundness of it (likely two blogs) as we slowly but surely make our way through the dark and not-very-hopeful book, Erasing Hell.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Invalid Argument