Erasing Hell Chapter 5 to the end

Derek Ouellette —  July 11, 2011

Having completed the book today’s thoughts will focus predominantly on chapter 6. For some thoughts on chapters 5 and 7 see my forthcoming final analysis of Erasing Hell.

You’ll recall from the promo video for this book that the apex of Chan’s worldview seems to be rooted in the whole “my ways are not your ways” argument. That God does things that we don’t understand because God is infinite and we are not. God knows things we do not. God is in control. We may not always like it. We may get frustrated with God for not filling us in on the details. But after studying all that God has revealed to us in his Word, we need to eventually come to a place where we can accept his revealed Word and trust that he is faithful.

This seems to be the main appeal Chan is making in chapter 6; and of course a good chunk of the chapter is rooted in an exposition of Romans 9:20-23. One thing I appreciated about his approach to this chapter was his emphasis on the “if” of “What if God…” in the start of vv. 22, he writes:

“James Dunn, for instance, says that Paul’s statement in Romans 9:22 amounts to the question “Do you think the creature knows better than the Creator?” Dunn goes on to interpret Romans 9:22-23 the same way I do, as suggesting a legitimate possibility yet not offering a dogmatic answer.”[1]

This is a wise approach to a controversial passage in a book written for a wide audience. By interpreting the “if” as he does he does not limit his readership to those who hold a Calvin-Reformed theology (this is a mistake I think Wittmer makes in his book, Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins).

Still, as the chapter unfolds Chan pulls no punches in highlighting the “ugly” parts of the Bible that embarrass so many Christians these days. He reminds us that God slaughtered millions of humans and animals in Genesis 6, that he commands the Israelites to slaughter all of the inhabitants of Canaan in Deuteronomy 20, and that at the hand of the Babylonians God killed the Israelites, “slaughtering them in his anger without pity” in Lamentations 2:21. We could go on. Chan’s point is that the scriptures reveal God doing things we simply would not do, and punishing people in Hell is one of those intolerable things. So he concludes the chapter with:

“And so it is with many things about God that don’t seem to add up.

And so it must be with hell.

As I have said all along, I don’t feel like believing in hell. And yet I do. Maybe someday I will stand in complete agreement with Him, but for now I attribute the discrepancy to an underdeveloped sense of justice on my part. God is perfect. And I joyfully submit to a God whose ways are much, much high than mine.”[2]

But all of this is simply not good enough for many people these days. If we’re so finite – and we are – than perhaps our problem isn’t that we have a different concept of justice as God, but perhaps in our finiteness we have misunderstand His revealed Word. Maybe we need to approach the scriptures afresh and ask new questions that have not been asked before? Perhaps we have not interpreted the “ugly” parts of scripture correctly? Maybe those portions reveal more about the people who wrote them than about Him whom they wrote about? Perhaps if we are going to look at God’s revealed Word in our journey of “faith seeking understanding”, than we should look to the apex of that revealed Word, the person of Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 1:1-3 w/ John 1:1)?

In effect Chan has made explicit what has often been implicit all along: theodicy. The controversy about the doctrine of hell – the eternal destination of the “damned” – is really a furious debate over the nature of God. “What kind of God would…?” fill in the blank. It’s not just “What kind of God would send people to hell?” It’s also, “What kind of God would create a world where Hitler’s exist? Or where Genocide happens? Or where aids exist? Or where babies die? Or where people die young? Or where women are raped and abused?” But Chan goes further than this, not just citing stories where these things happen, but rather citing accounts where God is the direct or indirect cause of these things happening in scripture.

The debate which Love Wins incited is really the age old debate of “evil and the justice of God” (to cite the title of a popular book). It’s the ultimate theodicy debate projected into the fiery future of the eternal damned in light of the nature of a God who is by nature, Love.

[1] Footnote 1, quoted here from page 142

[2] Pg. 41

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Charles

    You’re right. All of this debate seems to be about theodicy. And so, after reading Erasing Hell I was left with this impression – that what Chan/Sprinkle are asking of us, is to fall in love with a God who is capricious, vengeful, and just plain mean. And not only that, but we’re to call this God “beautiful.” And instead of challenging those ideas, instead of re-engaging the texts, instead of asking new questions of the text – we codify our old assumptions and then wonder in amazement that people don’t come running to our God, when they can’t figure out how our God is any different than the Greek or Roman gods.
    It seems to be a tough sell for the reformed crowd.

    • T. C. Moore


    • Tom Eggebeen

      Thanks …

  • Tom Eggebeen

    Evangelical Christians are in a real bind – they love and honor Scripture, and, thus, feel compelled to defend everything in it as if it were the “gospel-truth.” In reality, the Bible is a gathering of many conversations, points of view, within radically different periods of time. The various materials are in conversation with one another, and the debate can be rigorous. Isaiah’s read of Israel’s life is different than that of Kings and Chronicle; Amos sees things differently than does the writer of Leviticus. Jesus critiques Israel’s life with his, “You have heard …” statements. Paul receives certain elements of the story and sets others aside. God, for me, invites us to engage in the dialogue, to add our own voice, and to receive gladly or set aside thoughtfully certain elements. As I read Jesus, the God of Joshua and Kings and Chronicles is not the God and Father that Jesus reveals and Paul proclaims to the Gentiles. If nothing else, the Text can be read evolutionarily – God went into the land and nation business at great cost, having to do things no self-respecting God would do. And when we come to the cross, it’s God paying the price; no longer exacting the price from the people. Just because it’s in the Bible does not necessarily mean it’s the “gospel-truth.”

  • Hoyt

    So Chan’s answer is essentially, “despite the apparent capriciousness of God, we should love Him anyway.” Hmmm. I have the same problem with election within the Reformed orbit. Any theological answer that ends up with “we can’t understand God, so we just have to put up with Him,” is a less than satisfying.

    • Ronnie

      Hoyt, how would you differentiate that answer from the answer that God gave Job?