Francis Chan is one of the most respected speakers and authors. His latest book, Erasing Hell, examines what Scripture says about Hell and how that truth should change our lives.
Why did you tackle the subject of the existence of Hell in your new book, Erasing Hell?
Honestly, from my own struggles about Hell. I would love to erase Hell from the pages of Scripture. How about you? Have you ever struggled with Hell as I have? Do you have any parents, siblings, cousins, or friends who, based on what you have been taught, will end up in Hell? What a bone chilling thought. 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 I’ve always believed in Hell with my mind, I tried not to let the doctrine penetrate my heart.
But I reached a point where I could no longer do this. I could no longer acknowledge Hell with my lips while preventing my heart from feeling its weight. I had to figure out if the Bible actually taught the existence of a literal Hell. How great would it be if it didn’t? Then I would be able to embrace my grandmother again someday. So I decided to write a book about Hell. And honestly—I’m scared to death. I’m scared because so much is at stake. Think about it. If I say there is no Hell, and it turns out there is a Hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist! If I say there is a Hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantically warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real! When it comes to Hell, we can’t afford to be wrong. This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders, and move on. Too much is at stake. Too many people are at stake.
You wrote Erasing Hell with a co-author. Why?
I wrote this book with my friend Dr. Preston Sprinkle. I recruited his help because he can interact with issues at a deeper level than I can. His expertise in language, history, and the New Testament has helped tremendously in our effort to be thorough and precise. Preston studied first-century Judaism for his doctorate and has published many works in this area. We thought it would be a good partnership because we have different gifts but similar convictions. As we wrote the book, we decided to write it with one voice (mine). But, truth be told, the majority of research was done by Preston.
Is this more than just a book about Hell?
This is a book about embracing a God who isn’t always easy to understand, and whose ways are far beyond us; a God whose thoughts are much higher than our thoughts; a God who, as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, has every right to do, as the psalmist says, “whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3 NASB). God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases. If I’ve learned one thing from studying Hell, it’s that last line. And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about Hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3. Because at the end of the day, our feelings and wants and heartaches and desires are not ultimate—only God is ultimate. God tells us plainly that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Expect then, that Scripture will say things that don’t agree with your natural way of thinking.
How has writing this book refined your personal view of God?
I often hear people say, “I could never love a God who would . . .” Who would what? Who would disagree with you? And do things you would never do? Who would allow bad things to happen to people? Who would be more concerned with His own glory than your feelings? Who would—send people to Hell?
It has taken me 43 years to finally confess that I have been embarrassed by some of God’s actions. In my arrogance, I believed I could make Him more attractive or palatable if I covered up some of His actions. So I neglected speaking on certain passages, or I would rush through certain statements God made in order to get to the ones I was comfortable with. The ones I knew others would like. I am just now seeing the ugliness of my actions. Like the nervous kid who tries to keep his friends from seeing his [embarrassing] father, I have tried to hide God at times. Who do I think I am? The truth is, God is perfect and right in all that He does. I am a fool for thinking otherwise. He does not need nor want me to “cover” for Him. There’s nothing to be covered. Everything about Him and all He does is perfect.
How should we treat those with whom we disagree, especially on theological points?
Jesus threatens Hell to those who curse their brother (Mattew 5:22). He’s not warning drinkers or smokers or murderers. Jesus preaches hellfire against those who have the audacity to attack a fellow human being with harsh words. It’s ironic—frightening, actually—that some people have written books, preached sermons, or written blog posts about Hell and missed this point completely. In fact, some people have slammed their Christian brothers and sisters in the process, simply because they have a different view of Hell, missing the purpose of Matthew 5: Whoever calls his brother a fool may find himself guilty of Hell.
Have you called your brother a fool lately? On a blog? On Facebook? Have you tweeted anything of the sort? So often these Hell passages become fodder for debate, and people miss the point of the warning. Jesus didn’t speak of Hell so we could study, debate, and write books about it. He gave us these passages so we would live holy lives. Stop slandering one another, and live in peace and brotherly unity. Jesus evidently hates it when we tear into our brothers or sisters with demeaning words, words that fail to honor the people around us as the beautiful image-bearing creatures that they are.
To read more of this interview, check out the Winter 11-12 edition of The Brink magazine. To order The Brink, visit www.d6family.com.