On RethinkingHell.com, Chris Date interviews Preston Sprinkle, coauthor of Erasing Hell, who seems to be leaning more toward annihilationism.
Given the title, back cover, and introduction of the book, unsuspecting readers might assume Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, is about, well, erasing Hell. It is anything but that. I wrote a blog, 5 Observations on Let’s-Talk-Later-People, a while back about an interview I watched in which Chan and his expert buddy, Preston Sprinkle, give some background about why they wrote the book. It basically started as a response to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, and then turned into something else. In Christianity Today’s article, Q&A: Francis Chan on Rob Bell and Hell, Mark Galli asked Chan, “Why did you write a book just on hell? It’s only one chapter in Bell’s book.”
What I like about Chan’s attitude: He is genuine and transparent in his willingness to explain his inner conflict regarding eternal torment. If I were to name every time Chan made a statement similar to the one below, quoting interviews, sermons, and his book, this would be a very long blog. Chan writes: “Even as I write this paragraph, I feel sick. I would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture. […] Until recently, whenever the idea of hell – and the idea of my loved ones possibly heading there – crossed my mind, I would brush it aside and divert my thinking to something more pleasant…”
When Chan examines Philippians 2:9-11, he sees what the doctrine of eternal torment tells him to see “that there will come a day when Christ returns to reclaim His creation, and everyone will acknowledge this […] none will be able to deny it.” Although Chan’s assessment is accurate, it is inadequate. It sucks the worship right out of Paul’s words. Paul is actually providing commentary on a quote from the prophet Isaiah in this passage. Isaiah writes, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear (swear = an oath, an act of allegiance).”
I take for granted sometimes that many people, if they read the Bible at all, just read it in the English translation. It is easy for me, these days, to read Chan’s objections and know that they are not sound, because I can see the holes in them. But it hasn’t always been that way. For well over a decade, I did not know how to dispute with someone who taught eternal torment. Although I was annihilationist in my beliefs, there was still a tiny bit of doubt in my mind, a theological splinter, that eternal torment could be true after all.
The apostle Paul writes, “In Christ, all will be made alive.” And he also writes, “All who belong to Christ will be made alive at His coming.” Should we assume that those who are not made alive at His coming will never be made alive? According to Francis Chan, the answer is yes. In his book, Raising Hell, he comments on Paul’s letter, “[It] can’t mean that everyone will be saved in the end.” Think about it. If Paul writes, “In Christ, all will be made alive,” then why should Paul’s explanation about the order in which this reality takes place nullify his first statement? Chan attempts to explain why, but his explanation, in my opinion, falls flat on its face if it is accompanied by a bit of scrutiny.
While it is true that “all” does not always mean everything or everyone, it is also true that “all” is not always limited to “all types” or some other subset. Chan draws attention to the truth that suits his argument, while he draws attention away from the other truth that is just as valid. Proving that “all” is sometimes limited to all types in no way negates the fact that “all” is in fact used many times throughout scripture to mean everything or everyone.
Chan’s argument goes like this: “Paul, who said that God wants all people to be saved, also said that God “wants” all Christians to be sexually pure (1 Thes. 4:3). Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure? Does this mean that God is not getting what He wants?” Chan then goes on to talk about God’s moral will (values that please Him) and His decreed will (events that He causes to happen), explaining that God allows His moral will to be resisted in order to carry out His decreed will. What it really boils down to is the sovereignty of God over the human will. This is a huge debate in Christianity that has been going on for a long time, in Calvinism and Arminianism.
So who is right, and who is wrong? Perhaps the better questions are, “Who is God, and what does God do?” I hope to answer the open gate question by appealing to the character and sovereign intentions of God. What is the lake of fire? What is the purpose of the lake of fire? Who is cast into the lake of fire? Is there any hope for those who go to the lake of fire? In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, in response to Bell’s commentary about the “open gates” in Revelation, Chan says that he would “love to believe” the open-gate theory, but can’t for three reasons.