This is another installment in the blog series on Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan. If you would like to start at the beginning of the series, the first blog is Book Review: Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell « www.whatgoddoes.com. Primarily, this blog series refutes, point-by-point, the errors in Chan’s book.
Chapter Seven: “Don’t Be Overwhelmed”
This chapter serves as a confessional of sorts, for all believers who hold to the doctrine of eternal torment in hell yet don’t act like they truly believe their own doctrine. Chan writes,
A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel as it did for Paul, who, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” persuaded people to believe (2 Cor. 5:11).
The unsuspecting reader might assume that Paul hints at the prospect of eternal torment in hell for those who do not believe, and that this dread is what motivates Paul or gives him a passion for the gospel. This is impossible, for several reasons, but before we explore these reasons, we must first look at the context in which Paul’s words, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” appear.
Paul writes about the temporary nature of the human body,
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God
Paul writes about the destiny of the human body,
…what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God…
Paul writes about how believers benefit from understanding the destiny of the human body,
Therefore we are always confident…
Confident about what? Paul writes,
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.
“Aha!” I can almost hear Chan say. ”There it is! Judgment! Fear God! Be afraid! Warn everybody!” There are scriptures that refer to a healthy fear of the Lord, the kind of respect and awe that naturally brings one to his or her knees in worship. And there are other scriptures that refer to an unhealthy fear of the Lord.
Before I address this judgment and fear, we need to continue looking at the context. Context includes both before AND after. So for now, let’s move on. Paul writes,
What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience… Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
What does it look like, to live for Christ instead of ourselves? Paul writes that God “gave us” believers “the ministry of reconciliation.”
What is the ministry of reconciliation? Paul explains,
…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
In summary, Paul’s message to the Corinthians is:
- Both believers and not-yet-believers have mortal bodies, which will be “swallowed up” in life.
- Believers are confident about the judgment seat of Christ, because they understand #1.
- Believers understand what it is to fear the Lord.
- Believers are compelled by the love of Christ.
- Believers are ministers of reconciliation with a message of reconciliation: God is not counting people’s sins against them.
Now let’s examine two concepts: Fear of the Lord and the judgment seat of Christ.
Does Paul flee from God because he feels inadequate? Is Paul suggesting that the Corinthians withdraw from the Lord and His will, because they dread God? No. Of course not. So, what is Paul saying?
Paul is saying that believers understand what it is like to avoid God, to live in dread of judgment, because this is exactly how Paul, the Corinthians, and other believers they used to feel, before they understood that their mortal bodies would be swallowed up in life. They do not feel the need to run away from God once they understand, “What we are is plain to God…” God already knows who they are, and He is not counting their sins against them. Armed with this knowledge, they become confident about the judgment seat of Christ, something necessary and beneficial. The result? They are compelled by the love of Christ.
What is the judgment seat of Christ?
First, judgment is not a about God counting people’s sins against them so He can send them to hell. Gary Amirault of Tentmaker Ministries writes,
Paul represented the free gift of life as extending equally with sin. “As, by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Rom. 5:18) This is a very important passage. It teaches us, that the free gift of eternal life shall extend equally with sin. On the one hand we are told, judgment came upon all men by sin; on the other we find, that “the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
Second, judgment, although dreadful for those who enter into it believing God sees them as enemies, ultimately results in something good. The lyrics of a song, accompanied by stringed instruments, cymbals, and trumpets, are recorded in 1 Chronicles 16,
let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad
let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
let the sea resound, and all that is in it
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them
let the trees of the forest sing
let them sing for joy before the Lord
for he comes to judge the earth
Third, judgment belongs to Jesus Christ, who reconciles all things to Himself.
…because in him were the all things created, those in the heavens, and those upon the earth, those visible, and those invisible, whether thrones, whether lordships, whether principalities, whether authorities; all things through him, and for him, have been created… through him to reconcile the all things to himself – having made peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether the things upon the earth, whether the things in the heavens. (Col. 1)
Now that we’ve taken a brief look at fear and judgment, let’s look once again at what Chan writes,
A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel as it did for Paul, who, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” persuaded people to believe (2 Cor. 5:11).
According to Chan, Paul has a sense of urgency over the reality of hell, and this is what charges his passion for the gospel. To find out whether this is true, all we have to do is read what Paul writes. What motivates Paul? I searched through some of his writings to find out. Here’s some of what I found, in his own words:
- I am obligated… That is why I am so eager…
- For I am not ashamed of the gospel… For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…
- I am convinced that [nothing]… will be able to separate us from the love of God…
- …my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved…
- I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
- I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery…: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.
- I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
- I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known… ”Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
- …to win as many as possible.
- I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings… so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
- For I do not want you to be ignorant…
- I do not want you to be uninformed…
- Therefore I want you to know…
- I want to remind you of the gospel… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
*If you want a bit more context, you can read extended excerpts at the end of this blog, or you can read whole chapters, linked after the references.
What motivates Paul? He is obligated to God, eager, and not ashamed of the good news. He’s convinced, he hopes to arouse his own people (Jews) to envy the salvation of non-Jews, and he doesn’t want people to be ignorant, or uninformed, so he writes boldly and reminds people of the good news. He feels it is his priestly duty. Paul’s ambition is to “fully proclaim” the good news where Christ is not known, to win as many as possible, to enable people to know “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” But why? Why does Paul do this? What charges his passion for the gospel?
In the gospel, the good news, the love and righteousness of God are uncovered – the idea that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Paul gets it. He understands that his own people, who were “God’s people” according to the law, have been rejected by God, not so that God can send them to hell, but so that the law, fulfilled in Christ, becomes obsolete, and the door of salvation swings wide open to include all people in a new and better covenant of grace. But Paul knows that only he and a handful of others really understand this amazing concept. He wants the whole world to know that Israel’s rejection ushers in “reconciliation to the world,” which ultimately results in “life from the dead” for everyone. Paul’s message is the good news that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the “full number” of Gentiles are reconciled to God and “all Israel will be saved.”
It is not the urgency of hell that motives Paul, but “the grace God gave [Paul,] to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” He proclaims the good news, not to save people from hell, but to save people to the love and righteousness of God, “so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” When people trade their ignorance about God for the good news, then Paul gets to “share in its blessings.” If he were to throw in the towel, he would miss out on this, he would be “disqualified for the prize.”
If a sense of urgency over the reality of hell is what charges Paul’s passion for the gospel, then he sure does waste a lot of time talking about peripherals and nonessentials. If his audience is in danger of eternal torment in hell, then Paul’s writings should look more like this:
- I am full of dread… That is why I am so eager…
- For I am worried because of the gospel… For in the gospel the eternal wrath of God is revealed…
- I am convinced that ignorance about hell… will be able to separate people from the love of God…
- …my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved from eternal torment in hell…
- I have a sense of urgency in my ministry in the fear that I might fail to arouse my own people to envy and save some of them from eternal torment in hell. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to a small minority of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead for a handful of them?
- I am desperate because you are ignorant of this mystery…: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until a small percentage of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way a small percentage of Israel will be saved from eternal torment in hell.
- I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the urgency God gave me to be a minister of saving people from hell. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming eternal torment in hell, so that the Gentiles might not go there.
- I have fully proclaimed the dreadful intentions of God. It has always been my ambition to warn people about hell where hell was not known… ”Those who were not told about hell will go to hell, and those who have not heard will go to hell.”
- …to lose as few as possible
- I do all this for the sake of the rescuing people from hell, that I may have their blood on my hands… so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be sent to hell.
Why didn’t Paul plainly state, at every opportunity, the horror in store for his audience? Why didn’t he write,
- For I do not want you to be ignorant about eternal torment in hell…
- I do not want you to be uninformed about eternal torment in hell…
- Therefore I want you to know about eternal torment in hell…
- I want to remind you of eternal torment in hell… that you will die in your sins, your body will be buried, and your disembodied soul will experience eternal anguish in utter darkness, forever without hope.
For the love of God, Paul could have at least ONCE, said the word “hell” as he “fully proclaimed” the gospel.
We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled – as with all doctrine – to live differently in light of it.
So if Chan wants to use Paul as an example for believers regarding the doctrine of eternal torment, then Paul should serve as an example of WHAT NOT TO DO. Don’t waste time like Paul did, writing about looking forward to visits, how to get along with others, the importance of love being the source of motivation in all that you do, and all that other stuff that has nothing to do with the urgency of snatching souls from the gaping chasm of death while there’s still time.
Chan’s message is that believers, being”constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment,” ”shouldn’t just go on with life as usual.” Instead, “a sense of urgency over the reality of hell” should be what motivates them to share the “good news.” If we are to take this very seriously, then there should be no more non-urgent activities: no more little league practice, no more vacations, and no more birthday parties for believers. Believers are wasting valuable time that could be spent preaching the good news to hell-bound people. How can you just sit there jabber-jawing with your friends, when the men around you are about to burn in hell? That stranger you cross paths with could die today. And you didn’t share the good news. God has placed the eternal destiny of her soul in your hands, and you are going to just carry on, as if she doesn’t matter? How dare you! You should be ashamed! You should be afraid for all of them! You should be urgent!
Some readers may think that I am making fun of Chan or other believers who see life through this lens of sickening dread and laboring-in-vain. If all believers were to do as Chan suggests, the not-yet-believers of this world would be repelled, not drawn in. I mean to shed light on the absurdity of attempting to shape one’s approach to life and relationship with others on a doctrine of fear. I am in no way overstating my case. If anything, I am understating my case. Think about it. If eternal torment in hell is what is at stake for the majority of humanity, what right does any believer have to waste time doing anything other than preaching this so-called good news? (Other than what is absolutely necessary to survive, of course – go to work so you can buy the necessities like food, shelter, and clothing, take time to sleep, bathe, etc.)
Chan sets believers up for a life of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, because it isn’t the urgency of believers that draws people to Christ. It is Christ Who draws people to Himself. All people. He says so Himself, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everyone to myself.” The attraction of the Good News is the love and righteousness of God, Who has purposed to reconcile all to Himself, Who is not counting people’s sins against them. The knowledge of His glory in Christ Jesus transforms people. The urgency is not fear-based, it is love-based.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
If you win the lottery, the first thing you want to do is tell someone – your spouse, your kid, your parent, your friend. You would feel compelled to do so, because keeping something like that yourself is liable to make you burst at the seams. The gospel, the Good News, works in the same way. You realize that you are on to something so profound, so amazing, that you can’t help but want others to know. You love them, and you want them to share in your joy. There’s a huge difference between fear-based and love-based living. One causes people to run from God (and rightly so, because this version of God is distorted by doctrine and tradition), the other draws people to Him.
*These are the references from earlier in the blog:
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…
…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own…
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings… so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
For I do not want you to be ignorant… I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
(Rom. 1, 8, 10, 11, 15, 1 Cor. 9, 10, 11, 13, 15)