“In the Hebrew Scriptures there is no word for spiritual. And Jesus never used the phrase spiritual life. Because for Jesus and his tradition, all of life is spiritual. Everything is spiritual.” – Rob Bell Have you ever had a moment when you discover spiritual truth in an unexpected way?…
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…”
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.
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.
Today, I will address the third objection, “…even after the open-gates passage of 21:24-26, John goes on to depict two different destinies for believers and unbelievers.” Chan first quotes Revelation 22:14-15 and then goes on to explain, “This passage says that there will be an ongoing separation between believers and unbelievers. What determines their destinies is whether or not they ‘wash[ed] their robes;’ in other words, whether or not their sin has been dealt with through the blood of Jesus *in this life (see Rev. 7:14). I think it’s a stretch to suggest that unbelievers can wash their robes while in the lake of fire and then enter the gates.” [*Emphasis is not mine.] The first problem I notice with Chan’s conclusions is the idea that Revelation 22:14-15 indicates an ongoing separation.
Chan’s bullet points about the first-century Jewish view of Hell are: 1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment. 2. Hell is described in images of fire, darkness, and lament. 3. Hell is a place of annihilation. 4. Hell is a place of never-ending punishment. Food for thought: Of these four views, which one is the most horrifying? I’d pick number four, for sure. Of these four views, to which do most Christians believe/adhere as “orthodox”? I’d guess numbers one, two, and four. But you probably won’t get shunned out of church for believing number three, unless, of course, you bring it up too much in Sunday school (aka, “causing division”). Are these four views of Hell the only views among first-century Jews? No!
Chan’s argument, as is stated in chapter three, “What Jesus Actually Said About Hell,” of his book, Erasing Hell, is as follows: “Jesus grew up in the world of beliefs described in the last chapter. He would be expected to believe the same stuff about hell that most Jews did. And if He didn’t – if Jesus rejected the widespread Jewish belief in hell – then He would certainly need to be clear about this. That last line is very important. Better read it again.” In other words, 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.
I was given a gift I totally didn’t deserve, that is, “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the recognition of him, the eyes of [my] understanding being enlightened, for [my] knowing what is the hope of His calling, […] riches of the glory” in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the…
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