Chan and I agree wholeheartedly on a few things, and this is one of them – what God wants, God gets. In the opening pages of Chan’s “Erasing Hell“, he makes the point very clear:
God has the right to do WHATEVER [emphasis not mine] He pleases. If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s that last line. And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3. Because at the end of the day, our feelings and wants and heartaches and desires are not ultimate – only God is ultimate. God tells us plainly that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than our (Isa. 55:9). Expect then, that Scripture will say things that don’t agree with your natural way of thinking.
Now, I must break this down and really examine it for what it is. Chan is concerned that people might decide for or against the doctrine of eternal torment based on feelings instead of truth. He warns his readers against siding with their “natural way of thinking.” In some circumstances, this is good advice. God has a way of turning things upside down, saying and doing things we don’t expect. For example, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day all agreed with one another that the Messiah was going to become the King of the Jews. They expected the Messiah to pat them on the back for being so holy and give them high status, high paying jobs once He took over the world. Yet, Jesus called the religious leaders, “You serpents! You offspring of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of Gehenna?” and then submitted Himself to their murderous rage. - This great Plan of the Ages is not at all what might make sense to normal people in a “natural way of thinking”.
Things are not always as they seem.
I’d like to flip Chan’s words around and say something else that rings true. Just as one ought not depend on feelings in order to reject the doctrine of eternal torment, one must also not suppress feelings in order to embrace the doctrine. Feelings are there for a reason, like the check engine light in a car. If you check the engine and all is well, then there could just be a problem with your light. But the only way to find out is to open the hood and take a look.
Another thing we ought to consider about Chan’s statement is that if God has the right to do whatever He pleases, then is it possible that God has the right to save everyone? Without the church’s permission? (Gasp!) Does this go against “your natural way of thinking”, Chan? Which is more difficult for someone who is in a high position of respect or authority among Christitans, to hold on to an uncomfortable doctrine and keep the good status and position with the church or openly declare a doctrine as false and get shunned out the door? Seriously. If Chan wants to give warnings about not trusting your feelings, then this self-preservative instinct should certainly be in the mix of things to consider. Let’s look at what Chan stands to lose:
Francis Chan is the best-selling author of books, Crazy Love & Forgotten God, and the host of the BASIC series. He has also written the children’s books Halfway Herbert, The Big Red Tractor and the Little Village and Ronnie Wilson’s Gift. Francis is the founding pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, and is the founder of Eternity Bible College. He also sits on the board of directors of Children’s Hunger Fund and World IMpact. Francis now lives in Northern California with his wife, Lisa, and their four daughters and one son.
Please don’t hear what I am not saying. I am not accusing Chan of picking the success of his Christian-based children’s books or all of his church friends over the truth. I’m fairly certain, based on what he says, that the one has little to do with the other. But has Chan considered this as part of his warning against feelings?
If you haven’t read “What I Like About Chan’s Attitude” yet, you might want to give it a look, especially if this blog seems like a bunch of negativity. I’m not poking holes in the guy, I’m pointing out some of the fundamental holes and errors in his book.
I remember doing some early research on church history (this was going on before I realized Jesus succeeded in His mission as Savior of the whole world) and seeing that Origen taught universalism. I glossed straight past it. Do you know why? Because it was accompanied by an explanation about how Origen’s beliefs were condemned as heretical. That’s how my mind worked before God’s five year overhaul. I figured that if church leaders all agreed that his teaching was bogus, then it must be true. I never even bothered looking up the word, “universalism”, until years later. It wasn’t even part of my vocabulary.
Fast forward to the time when all the pieces were starting to fit, when I discovered how much political corruption was taking place in the upper tiers of the church heirarchy, when I knew that the people in positions of authority who had the power to decide if other people were heretics were not these holy, nearly-infallible leaders I had imagined them to be. I picked up the very same book, and read the very same words, but this time, I saw the reference in tiny print to see the notes section in the back of the book. So I turned to the back of the book and discovered that Origen’s teaching on universalism was not considered heretical until HUNDREDS of years after he died. Doesn’t that sound a bit suspicious? What took them so long? Furthermore, why was this information tucked away, instead of right there next to Origen’s name in the chapter? Were current Christian publishers not also wondering why it took them so long to condemn universalism? If so, why are they being so cryptic about it? If not, why not? This was a turning point in my research, because I began second guessing all the experts, checking and double checking everything they claimed. I didn’t trust them any more. I had to know and learn for myself, instead of taking their word for it.
I noticed that Chan employs this same technique of segregating, and thus deemphasizing vital information. In the main text of the book, readers see this:
The most famous proponent of universalism was an early church leader named Origen (ca. AD 185-254), who seemed to teach this, though his views were very complex and not always consistent.2 Origen’s beliefs were later deemed heretical,3 but this didn’t stop others from embracing the view that everyone will be saved – though advocates were always in the minority. In fact, for over 1600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.
First of all, notice the numbers 2 and 3. I bet you can guess what they are. 2 is a reference to a couple of experts who wrote about Origen (not to Origen’s actual writing) and 3 is this:
Origen’s views were deemed heretical at the fifth ecumenical church council held at Constantinople in AD 553. However, a great deal of politics drove this council, as well as other early church councils, so we shouldn’t consider Origen’s views heretical based solely on the decisions made at Constantinople.
This is some very important information that should not be tucked away, separate from the body of the chapter. If one just reads the chapter, then he or she will not get the full picture. Did you catch that? Chan admits, that “a great deal of politics drove this council, as well as other early church councils”. The early church was hijacked by power-hungry “Christians” who made decisions based on political motives! Chan also admits, “…we shouldn’t consider Origen’s views heretical based solely on the decisions made at Constantinople.” In other words, we CANNOT TRUST that the decisions made about what is now considered “orthodox” doctrine were accurate. Why on earth does Chan not say this in the main text of his book? It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Pay no attention to the notes sections of theological arguments.
Let me give you some additional information that will hopefully help clarify the situation. Chan says Origen “seemed to teach” universalism. The words “seemed to” imply that he may or may not have taught universalism. Here’s an Origen quote. I encourage you to read more of Origen’s writings (not experts writing about Origen’s writings) so you can decide for yourself what Origen taught:
If then that subjection be good and salutary by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, it is an extremely rational and logical inference to deduce that the subjection also of enemies which is said to be made to the Son of God, should be understood as being also salutary and useful; as if, when the Son is said to be subject to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole of creation is signified, so also, when enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the conquered and the restoration of the lost is in that understood to consist. This subjection, however, will be accomplished in certain ways, and after certain training, and at certain times; for it is not to be imagined that the subjection is to be brought about by the pressure of necessity (lest the whole world should then appear to be subdued to God by force), but by word, reason and doctrine; by a call to a better course of things; by the best systems of training; by the employment also of suitable and appropriate threatenings, which will justly impend over those who despise any care or attention to their salvation and usefulness. [...] I am of opinion that the expression by which God is said to be “all in all,” means that he is “all” in each individual person. Now he will be “all” in each individual in this way: when all which any rational understanding cleansed from the dregs of every sort of vice, and with every cloud of wickedness completely swept away, can either feel, or understand, or think, will be wholly God; and when it will no longer behold or retain anything else than God, but when God will be the measure and standard of all its movements, and thus God will be “all,” for there will no longer be any distinction of good and evil, seeing evil nowhere exists; for God is all things, and to him no evil is near. [...] So, then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be reestablished in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that, when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, he who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but he himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all.” [...] transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all [...]
Furthermore, isn’t it important to know that the reason Origen’s views are considered “complex” and “inconsistent” is that most of his writings were destroyed?
Now let’s examine the last bit of what Chan writes in his very brief survey of universalism and the conclusion to his drive-by look at Origen. Chan writes, “In fact, for over 1600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.” Think about this. What is Chan’s point? Is the fact that hardly any major theologians publicly endorsed universalism proof that universalism is just a sad by-product of wishful thinking? I think the real question that readers ought to ask is, “Why?”. Why did it take hundreds of years for church leaders to oust their universalist brothers? Why did 1600 years of near silence regarding universalism pass, and now, suddenly, the subject is on the table again? I can answer that question, and so can everyone else, if we only stop and consider it long enough.
If you lived in an environment where challenging the church-government meant your children could starve and you could be tortured, would you? Have we Christians forgotten about our bloody past? Have we forgotten that little nine year old children were put on trial for witchcraft? Have we forgotten that their younger siblings were tortured in order to get them to testify against their parents? Have forgotten how they were forced to watch their parents burn? Have we forgotten how elderly people were roasted to death? Have we forgotten that heresy was punishable by death? What about the torture, mutilation, humiliation, and mass murder? Do we so easily set aside the words of religious leaders, that anyone whose view of God did not agree with the church’s official view should be “burned without pity”?
Yet accusers were protected in anonymity.
Have we forgotten how the church grew rich and fat by forceful seizure of the property of heretics? Will we no longer take into account that church leaders, so ravenous with power, sometimes exhumed and burned the bodies of those who were posthumously declared heretics? Were they trying to send a message, or what?! And to whom do you think that message was being sent? To those “missing” people Chan talked about, those theologians who would dare argue anything, let alone universalism in the bizarro-church.
Perhaps the subject is on the table again now, because the church no longer has the power to make your family pay for your torture fees. They can no longer shave your head, pour vinegar up your nose, and strip you naked. They are not allowed to place your head in a skull crushing device and turn the handle until your brains become a gooey mess sliding down your neck. There are laws now which protect theologians so that they don’t have to worry about being tied up and dropped from various heights. The church no longer has the power to stretch your limbs until they pull out of socket, hack you with a mallet to crush your bones, make you wear metal boots in which to pour molten lead, skin you alive, and they can no longer place a device called a “heretic’s fork” on your neck to keep you from telling people how awfully you were treated on your way to your execution. Forced salt ingestion and denial of water, the spiked prayer stool, sleep deprivation, fingernail removal, the list goes on and on.
How dare Chan say, “In fact, for over 1600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.” without also reminding us of the horror these theologians might have faced if they were not silent!
This blog is entitled, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell.” But Chan certainly erases the Hell on earth created by church leaders in his glaring omissions. One of the reasons Chan and the majority of churchianity cannot erase the doctrine of eternal torment is that it has been ruthlessly and thoroughly and emphatically defended for over well over a millenia. This kind of horror doesn’t just disappear in a few generations. In the scope of human history, it wasn’t really that long ago that the church lost it’s strangle hold on the world. Ungodly fear and awe of so-called institutional church authority is a real-life nightmare from which His children, for the most part, have yet to awaken.