Erasing Hell: Chapter One

Derek Ouellette —  June 6, 2011

I feel like singing that old song, “I’ve got some friends I know, they are on my side, I’ve got friends in high places…”

So I’m reading Francis Chan’s new book, Erasing Hell. As I go along I’m not going to fully engage it, or even “review” it in the usual way that I like to do (by rambling on about it). Rather, after each chapter I’m just going to jot down some of my “impressions” and strongly encourage you to pick up a copy when it becomes available.

A few thoughts in no particular order

  • Erasing Hell is not really about Love Wins. Well, it is, but it’s not. (Okay, it is.) Clearly Bell’s book is the occasion that called for this one, but unlike Wittmer’s recent response to Love Wins (reviewed here), Chan (and Sprinkle, the co-author) do not deal with Love Wins exclusively. In fact, they quote other authors and books just about as much as they quote Love Wins, and often when they quote Love Wins, they do so without saying so (you have to follow the footnotes).
  • I was surprised at how quickly this book jumped into the heart of the controversy. Chapter One: Does Everyone Go To Heaven? It is a the chapter on universalism with all the regular fixings: what is universalism? Who have advocated it? What are it’s varieties? And so on. He cites many of the most oft quoted passages in favour of Universalism, but unfortunately, by answering a few of them he assumes that the rest have been answered (thus he doesn’t deal with passages like Col. 1:19-20, directly).
  • As one gather’s from the promo video, Chan gives the impression that he has properly prayed and studied this subject in order to come to truth (naturally offending those who have also prayed and studied  this subject and have been persuaded to the contrary). The video suggests that Chan just wants what the bible teaches, but it seems that he brings some of his interpretive assumptions of the biblical text (don’t we all) which a critic might say goes against his claim to just want to know what the bible says. For example, after quote Revelation 22:14-15 he comments: “This passage says that there will be an ongoing separation between believers and non-believers.” But the passage does not speak of “ongoing” separation, though perhaps it is implied. (Let me be clear as a matter of full disclosure that I agree with Chan’s view on the nature of hell, I just do not think it’s helpful to take the spiritual high road as if people who disagree with him have not prayed enough or that they are the only ones who “read into” the text).
  • It’s been asked recently if Chan is a Calvinist. I kept looking for it and would suggest that either he is, or Sprinkle is. While it doesn’t come out explicitly, Calvinist Theology seems to be lurking in the shadows of many words and phrases and how they are employed. But at this point I can’t be sure.
  • Two things I liked right away: Chan is a writer for the people, and he is well known. The theology stuff seems to come mostly from Sprinkle. When things seem to be getting “deep” you can always expect a “Chanian” (I just made that up) illustration to help make the point. The second thing I like is that Chan seems to have a genuine concern for the real-life implications of this discussion, and always brings the reader back to that.

Anyways, those are my impressions after reading chapter one of Erasing Hell. When it comes out I hope you’ll pick it up because I’ve hardly done it justice here.

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Derek Ouellette

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

    I do not know Chan, but usually when I read that an author has prayed and studied it gives me a little more confidence and trust. At least if he is lying about it he knows what is important.

    • Derek Ouellette

      I think that’s what he was going for. By stating up front that he’s prayed and studied this subject to know the truth, he is gaining the trust of many. All I’m saying is that but doing this he is also offending others who have prayed and studied and came to different conclusions.

  • Kurt Willems

    I like Chan but disagree with his view on the nature of heaven and hell both. I have been going through his videos on Crazy Love and clearly he holds to an ‘old school’ view of the afterlife… heaven matters. No sense of new creation in his theology. he really needs to read Surprised by Hope.

    So, when I know this about his view of ‘heaven’ it makes me skeptical to have him expound an accurate view of ‘hell.’ He will do so in a ‘humble’ way… but so humble that his view is the right one and this is not gonna help anyone who doesn’t already agree.

    I really like Chan… I mean that sincerely. He is my second favorite Calvinist (yep, he hangs with that crew) to Keller. I think his passion for discipleship is admirable and he is a great communicator… I just don’t care for his cosmoligial dualism I see so often in his talks. Add to that an eschatology that fits well at DTS. Sooo, all of that said to communicate that he is not the guy I am going to for anything having to do with issues of afterlife.

    • Derek Ouellette

      That background information is helpful Kurt. (And unfortunate about Chan’s all-around eschatology.)

      P.S. I subscribed. :)

    • joy

      Being a believer in the basics of what historic orthodox Christianity has taught, I suppose I might be called a “calvinist”….I just am trying to believe the Gospel story the way God has revealed it…why do I always feel there is some unspoken “slur” ready to be leveled at a position that I feel is historic and quite consistently Biblical. I feel like many people (evangelical believers and nonbelievers alike) are very prejudiced against anything called “calvinism”…have they been taught since youth that it is like some sort of “dirty” word or something? I love the Christ of Scriptures and I am trying to love Him the way He has revealed Himself…if that means being called a “calvinist”, well, maybe that’s a label people feel they have to use to identify a certain position. But people use the word as if they are treading out there in dangerous waters…I don’t get it.

      • makeitrain

        I encourage you to explore the beliefs of calvinism a little further to make a determination. Try a google search like “what’s wrong with calvinism” to get a strong opposition point to see where you can identify yourself. Use the scriptures to figure out where you stand. As for loving the word, I dare say everyone posting here does and that is awesome. As someone who had my own belief system shattered by the word, I encourage you to search out the truth for yourself, exploring and comparing what you believe to the word. Be blessed.

  • Kyle Pitts

    I have never heard of Francis Chan but I am guessing he takes the Early Church, historical view that unrepentant sinners get exactly what they deserve and the repentant regenerated get what they do not deserve-grace.

  • James

    Thanks for posting this, Derek. I’m looking forward to the rest of your thoughts on the book.

    In his video, he said the book was coming out in August, I think, and asked the viewers of the video to pray for him that he would be accurate in the writing of the book. That you already have a copy in your hands implies that the book was virtually done when the video was released. That comes across a little dishonest to me.

    But anyway, beyond that video, I’ve only heard good things about Chan. While I may disagree with his conclusions and some of his hermeneutical methods, I really do believe his heart is in the right place.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Actually James, the book is slated to be released in July and I was left with the strong impression that I received it “hot off the keyboard” if you will. It was given me in pdf form. So its most likely that when the promo video came out he was still in the process of writing it and in all probability it hasn’t been printed yet.

    • James

      Thanks Derek. You’re right, it’s due in early July – thanks for clarifying that. Chan’s website for the book is still asking people to pray for him as he writes it, although I suppose technically he could still make some last-minute changes.

      When it comes to the nature of Hell, I have yet to find a good book that really discusses the origin and use of the word at the time of Jesus. There are a few questions I still haven’t found satisfactory answers to, like:

      Why isn’t Hell mentioned in the Old Testament?

      The concept of Hell within Judaism seems to have come into being and then developed outside of scripture – what exactly was this view of Hell, and should we take this extrascriptural view of Hell as the truth, simply because Jesus refers to it?

      Why were there so many universalists in the early church? (While I disagree with those who say that this view was “universal” or even the vast majority, Augustine when defending eternal conscious torment was clear that there were “very many” universalists at the time.) Why did so many in the early church get this idea wrong (if it is indeed wrong)?

      Does Francis Chan address these questions in the book? I find very few people dig into these questions. My second one in particular, people seem to just be silent on. In McLaren’s book “The Last Word and the Word After That”, he suggests that the Pharisees imported the view of Hell from Hellenistic mythology in order to scare people into stopping sinning, because they didn’t believe the messiah would come until Israel was pure. But I haven’t ever come across anything backing this statement up.

      Anyway, my point is that the more I study what the scriptures say on Hell, the more fuzzy it all seems, rather than more clear. I’d love some clarity but I don’t really see anyone bringing it into clarity. Lots of people can find ways to fit the Hell passages into their theology, but is that really enough?

    • Kyle Pitts

      “While I disagree with those who say that this view was “universal” or even the vast majority”

      That is refreshing to hear, It is far too common to hear people say that the vast majority of the Early Church were Universalists.

      I would address your question like this, there was a lot of strange and widespread heresies in the Early and Apostolic Church. For example, Judiazers, Nicolaitans, Gnostics, Docetism, Modalism, and so on; when we read the Ante-Nicaean Father’s we find that a great deal of their texts deal with heresy or apologetics.

      I am not quite sure why your first question is meaningful to the debate, Jesus (God) and the Apostle’s writings are surely sufficient and perfect for doctrine.

    • James

      Thanks, kyle.

      I can see what you mean about early heresies, although I also don’t think we should just look at history and decide that everything got ironed over time and thus the current traditional view must be the right one (and just to be clear, I’m not saying you’re saying that.)

      My first question is certainly important. If Hell is central to our faith, then why did not even get mentioned for thousands of years? I think the question of why God brings the idea of Hell into mix at this particular time in history is indeed an important one. And as I mentioned, it doesn’t seem that Jesus/God really “brings the idea of Hell into the mix” at all, but is riffing on a pre-existing notion of Hell that does not come from God or scripture. He is, perhaps, affirming the view, but that it doesn’t originate from any sort of canonical source is bothersome to me, and should be bothersome to any Christian who takes the sola scripture view.

    • Kyle Pitts

      James, I read your article on Pacifism and thoroughly enjoyed it! As you know from our shared stance on Non-Resistance, we see an example of things changing. Jesus taught to forgive freely while in the Law He taught restitution, justice, and equal punishment. Many of those who are against Non-Resistance argue exactly what you are arguing about Hell, “If God is unchanging then why did He teach revenge in the Law if turning the cheek was His desire?”

    • James

      Yes, pacifism and universalism often go hand-to-hand. Can God ask us to love our enemies when He doesn’t? Is he calling for us to have a “higher” morality than He has?

      But anyway, just to be 100% clear, I’m not arguing for or against universalism (at least not here.) I’m simply stating that there’s no mention of Hell, and then all of a sudden everyone talks about it as if everyone knows what it’s all about, but there is a gap in my own knowledge about where the concept actually came from, and how it got imported into Judaism, so that Jews could start talking about Hell and everybody would have some idea of what they mean.

      I want to understand that better – I feel it is important to the discussion, but I see very few people talking about it, and those that do are often putting forth all sorts of crazy ideas that I can’t find anything to back them up. I find this terribly frustrating, and would love it if someone could recommend me some literature that explains how the idea of Hell got imported and integrated into Jewish faith before Christ came.

    • James

      Of course, I should have just looked it up on Wikipedia:

      According to Wikipedia, Gehenna was seen by Jews as a place of purgatory, where punishment would be dealt out to a maximum of one year (and no punishment on the Sabbath), and after that, the person would either be “saved” or completely destroyed.

      I’ll have to dig in deeper, but that’s at least a start.

    • Kyle Pitts


      I suppose that I am just satisfied with what is written in the New Testament concerning Hell, this is not meant to be an offence to you. Just stating my view here, Non-Resistance would not be a phrase in my vocabulary if it were not for extra-Biblical sources. The Evangelical Church wiped every thought on the issues of pacifism from my mind despite the Biblical evidence.

      Now to your first statement, God would not call us to a higher standard. In my estimation on the limits of our human capabilities and who sin is actually against, God reserves the right to judge eternally for Himself alone.

      I just want to say one more time, I have no problems with extra-Biblical research and those who (including myself) invest in. I personally think that the New Testament references to Hell are both strong and well supported with other Scriptures to be sufficient. Just to be clear as to dig myself out of any possible hole. I required a lot of extra-Biblical reading and studying to come to an Arminian conclusion of grace and God’s nature, I was just not convinced. So I completely identify with your wanting more evidence concerning Hell and have nothing against that.

      Much love to you James and respect concerning your openness with Non-Resistance.

    • Kyle Pitts

      Wow, Gehenna was not portrayed to be a burning trash heap! I have become ill with the historical fallacy that the Valley of Hinnom was a trash heap… The truth is much more evil, it was a place of idolatry and child sacrifice.

    • James

      Thanks for the encouragement, Kyle.

      And yeah, I’ve heard various conflicting reports on what the literal Gehenna actually was – the Wikipedia article definitely cleared quite a bit of that up!

  • Brian Roden

    I think Chan definitely leans Calvinist. He studied at MacArthur’s seminary from what I remember (though in Forgotten God he breaks with Johnny Mac’s cessationism). But at least he’s a nice Calvinist.

    • Derek Ouellette

      WOOT! To all nice Calvinists… thanks Brian!

  • Preston

    Just a quick FYI:

    The book does address the Jewish background of Hell and its relevance for understanding the NT’s teaching on it. I think it’s a very important issue (and no, Gehenna was not a garbage dump). The book also doesn’t tackle every single Universalism text; that would take an entire book to do! According to Origen, 1 Cor 15 is the starting point, so the book briefly addresses that one. 1 Tim 2 gets a lot of attention from pop Christianity, so the book also engages that one. A few others are covered, but in no way does the book claim to be a thorough treatment of the subject.

  • Dea

    I just ordered Erasing Hell from Amazon last night and just got an email that it shipped today?!?!!!!!
    It is not supposed to be released until July 5th ??
    Wow! Go to Amazon to get it early I guess. Not sure how that works,

  • Ronnie
    • Derek Ouellette

      Thanks Ronnie, good review.

  • Miana

    I work in a Christian store and we placed the book on the shelf July 4. I was warned by a coworker that it was wrong doctrine. So i examined the book for my self. I was shocked…..horrified, at what I read. Paraphrasing here, “Though I heavily lean on the side that hell is for eternity…I am not ready to claim that with certainty.” Check for yourself on page 86 of Erasing Hell.

    • Ronnie

      I was shocked…..horrified, at what I read.

      The suggestion that human beings might not undergo unimaginable, unending suffering shocks and horrifies you?

      • Miana

        Yes it does…hell is for eternity. It is a horrible place of seperation and torture. When someone, namely a Christian says that is might NOT be for eternity that is shocking. That is complete heresy.

        • Ronnie

          “heresy”? Oh dear.

          I am glad that you aren’t afraid to refer to your view as “torture.” Most Christians who adhere to the traditional view shy away from using that word. Christians of the past, however, weren’t as reluctant.

  • Josh McDowell

    I read the book Tuesday night, and shared some of my thoughts Wednesday morning… today I thought I’d look for some other thoughts from other people… thanks.