no “hope on the other side of the lake”

clip_image002Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle (Colorado Springs:, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011) Kindle edition.

Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle have joined forces to produce a contemporary book on hell that speaks to the hearts of today’s evangelicals, but engages our minds as well. Although admitting a reluctance to take up the subject, their approach flows from people who are serious about it, and who want to faithfully represent what the Bible says about it. They did not want to “get so lost in deciphering” and “forget to tremble” (87).

The title is a bit misleading – since the authors have no intention of actually erasing hell – or letting their readers forget it. Instead, the title speaks to the almost universal reluctance that modern humanity has of even thinking about the possibility of divine punishment. Most of us “would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture” (13), but the references to final punishment are there, nonetheless.

Some have tried to erase hell by suggesting that it is merely a temporary phenomenon – that eventually all nonbelievers will be restored and God’s love will finally win the day. The problem is, nothing in Scripture “suggests that there’s hope on the other side of the lake (of fire)” (33).

The book prescribes a solution to our problems with hell – that we wise up to the fact that God is sovereign, and he is going to punish the lost so we might as well accept it. He is the potter, we are the clay. If he chooses not to save everyone, his love still wins, because his love is intrinsic. It is not defined by what we might expect it to do. The book defends God and hell, and encourages its readers to accept both as reality.

With one exception, that reality is exactly the teachings of popular Christianity that Rob bell reacted so strongly against.[1] Chan and Sprinkler defend what the modern universalist might call the traditional view of hell – as a place where God will torment unbelievers perpetually for all eternity. The only exception is that for Chan and Sprinkler, hell takes place after the final judgment, not immediately after death. They rightly conclude that the intermediate state is “where the wicked await their judgment” (156). What they do not admit is that it (sheol/hades) is also where the righteous await resurrection, and that for both it is a state of unconsciousness the Bible calls sleep.

No, Chan and Sprinkler will not erase hell. They are uncomfortable with the thought of people suffering for eternity, but conclude that they should not “erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with” them (135).

The book avoids any discussion of the essential nature of humanity, but proceeds from the same presuppositions regarding that question that Rob Bell did – that human souls are indestructible. This is seen in the explanation of Matthew 25:46, where Jesus speaks of the two destinies. The book argues that “Because the life in this age will never end, given the parallel, it also seems that the punishment in this age will never end” (85). If the authors had not already concluded that both destinies involve life, they could perhaps see that Jesus is not giving a description of two parallel destinies, but contrasting two permanent destinies, where only one involves life. The punishment is not life, but death, and it is just as permanent (Gk. aionios) as the believer’s life.[2]

Since they hold this presupposition of innate immortality, although the authors quote numerous texts of Scripture where hell is described as destruction (26-29, 80, 101-102, 109-111, 130), they conclude that this cannot be taken literally in any of them. They also conclude that the fire of hell is not a literal fire (154), and that the second death will not be a literal death (106-107). Neither of those conclusions can be established by exegesis of the texts themselves. They are all based on the presupposition of the innate immortality of the soul – a doctrine borrowed from paganism and infused into Christian thought by syncretism.

For those convinced that humans already have eternal life, Erasing Hell might achieve its purpose: to encourage them to accept the traditional notion of hell as God’s best — even if it is repugnant to them. Chan admits that he does not feel that God is doing right by tormenting people for eternity, but adds “Maybe someday I will stand in complete agreement with (God), but for now I attribute the discrepancy to an underdeveloped sense of justice on my part” (141).

For me, the problem is not with God’s justice. If God created human beings immortal, his justice demands that they spend eternity suffering for their rejection of him. But that is just it. The Bible insists that humanity lost its chance at immortality in the garden of Eden. Since then, the only hope for anyone to live forever is found in Christ. Hell is designed for those outside of Christ. They have nothing immortal that would burn forever if thrown into a lake of fire. The fires of Hell will do what God says they will do. They will destroy those thrown into them, body and soul.[3]

This is both God’s justice and his love, because his new creation will be purged of all sin and evil. There will be no hell existing perpetually beside the kingdom. Christ will destroy all of God’s enemies.[4] That is the biblical hell. It ends God’s judgment and makes room for the eternal kingdom of life and love. That event is absolutely essential to God’s plan in history. No one should want to erase it.


[1] Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).

[2] For more on the meaning of aionios, see my article “Solving the Problem of Hell.” http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2011/theology/annihilationism/solving-the-problem-of-hell-by-jefferson-vann/

[3] Matthew 10:28. For more on this fate, see Edward Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, third edition. (Eugene Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011).

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:24-26.

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One response to “no “hope on the other side of the lake”

  1. In 2011 world population will reach 7 billion (vs. 3 billion in 1960). There are now approximately 2.2 billion Christians. Chan and Sprinkle seem to be saying that 4.8 billion people may be facing eternal hell.

    Concepts of afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Not all Christians agree on what happens after this life, nor do all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or other believers. Rebirth, resurrection, purgatory, universalism, and oblivion are other possibilities…none of which can be proven.

    Mystics of all faiths have more in common than the followers of their orthodox religions. True mystics realize that eternal life is here and now; it does not begin after mortal death. The age of Earth is said to be 4.5 billion years, of the Universe 13.7 billion, yet few humans live to be 100. This lifetime is a fleeting moment.

    Scriptures are subject to interpretation; people often choose what is most beneficial for them.

    Like

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