A few months ago I read Rob Bell’s newest book ‘Love Wins’ which for me did one great thing, it got people talking about hell. Hell is not a subject that regularly comes up in conversation, at least not in most of my conversations. But Bell’s book forced me to take a harder look at what I believe about hell and why. If I disagree with everything in Bell’s book, I have to be able to answer the question: ‘Why?’
Bell spoke about hell in a way that most of us who have grown up in church have not heard before and it received a significant amount of attention. Some folks praised it and others called it outright heresy. Many Christian leaders and authors immediately jumped on their computers slamming their blogs and Twitter accounts with their opinions and started writing responses. ‘Erasing Hell’ is clearly Chan’s response to Bell’s book.
Have you ever really wanted to like something, but you just couldn’t? I love the smell of coffee and I really want to like it, but I don’t. I really want to like playing Fender Strats because they look and sound amazing, but I hate playing them. I was so excited for this new book by Chan, and even now after reading it, I REALLY want to like it, but…I’m just not there yet.
Please remember, I’ve got nothing against Francis Chan. ‘Crazy Love’ is easily in my top five favorite books of all time and I thought his book ‘Forgotten God’ was very solid. So due to the fact that I loved his previous work and bringing another point of view into the conversation on hell is important and healthy, I was pumped to read this. Sadly my high expectations (maybe unrealistically high) were not met.
First the book just feels thrown together and quite awkward. It feels like the authors are trying to mesh scholarship (which often feels dumbed down and rushed) with Chan’s emotional ‘preachers plea’. It feels like they wanted to get the book out as fast as possible while Bell’s book was still in the spotlight. I wish they had taken more time.
Secondly, it feels like cheap passive aggressive shot at Bell’s book. Bell is mentioned throughout the book primarily having his positions gently torn down, but then on page 56-57 Chan tosses Bell a bone praising a quote from one of his other books (‘Velvet Elvis’). It just felt cheap to me. If the book was just about Chan’s position on hell, Bell doesn’t even need to be mentioned. Bell even stated in his book that he wasn’t saying anything new. All of Chan’s positions could have been stated and supported without the constant mention of Bell. The book really should have been titled ‘A Response to Love Wins’.
As for the actual content of the book, it lines up far more with what I have grown up with (and feel comfortable with) than Bell’s book and I appreciated how much scripture was used. The main point Chan emphasizes which I think is vital in this conversation, is that you and I don’t have the luxury of defining words like ‘love’ and ‘justice’. If God is God, the definitions of those words are completely in His hands, even if we may not understand, feel comfortable with, or agree with His definitions.
The difficult part about reading both Bell and Chan’s books is that they both interpret words and passages of scripture differently and claim excellent and accurate scholarship. So do we just pick our favorite speaker/author and go with his opinion? I don’t think so. Again, I think this has to push each one of us to study God’s Word for ourself and to soak our study in prayer. Chan makes a great point and he’s right, when he says that we can’t afford to be wrong about this issue.
Would I recommend this book? Sure. Especially if you have read ‘Love Wins’, I think it would be good to check this one out and add this voice to the conversation. For me personally, I think that the awkward flow and constant dismantling of Bell’s book was just really distracting to me. As for the content and Chan’s questions, I think they are important and necessary in the discussion on hell.