The Uncomfortable Reality of Hell

by | Aug 24, 2011 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell is a
prophetic reminder that we can’t compromise the gospel.

California pastor Francis Chan is
one of my heroes, partly because he has given most of his book
royalites—reportedly $2 million—to charity. Another reason I admire him: He’s
written a new book about hell at a time when many Christians are questioning
the idea of eternal punishment. The guy has some chutzpah.

His new book Erasing Hell
(David C. Cook) is a direct response to Love Wins, the controversial
book by celebrity pastor Rob Bell of Michigan. While Bell’s book flirts with
universalism and suggests that a loving God would never send anyone to hell,
Chan’s message is blunt and biblical—yet without a hint of self-righteousness.

“Hell is not a popular doctrine. People don’t
shout, dance or wave handkerchiefs when we preach about it. They don’t line up
to come to conferences about it. Sermons about hell don’t make people feel good.”

Erasing Hell is an answer to
prayer and a prophetic response to the spineless gospel many Americans have
embraced in recent years. Chan does not wave a “TURN OR BURN” sign, nor does
he dangle his readers over hot coals. Yet he forthrightly states that people
who reject the merciful gift of salvation through Christ will get what all of
us deserve—terrifying separation from God that lasts forever.

Chan read Bell’s book carefully
and was willing to ask whether hell was, in Chan’s words, a “primitive myth
left over from conservative tradition.” After much prayer (he says we must
“weep, pray and fast over this issue”) he became convinced that we cannot
remove hell from our message. Chan makes four arguments that poke holes in
Bell’s theology:

1. Hell is real. In Love Wins,
Bell discounts the biblical view of hell as eternal punishment and suggests
that it might be a metaphor for the horrors of life on earth—poverty, genocide
and injustice, for example. But Chan goes back to the words of Jesus, who spoke
more about hell than anyone in the Bible, and clears up the confusion. He
writes:  “Hell is not
considered to be the various ‘hells on earth’ that we face every day. It’s a
horrific place of judgment where God punishes people for their sins.”

2. Hell is
final.
Universalists who blend Christianity with other religions teach
that all sinners will get an extra chance to come clean with God after
death.  But Chan says that’s not what
the Bible teaches: “There’s no single passage in the Bible that describes,
hints at, hopes for, or suggests that someone who dies without following Jesus
in this life will have an opportunity to do so after death,” he writes.

3. Hell is fair. People who
question the doctrine of hell often ask, “How can a loving God send anyone to
perish in eternal fire?” Chan says that’s a prideful, self-centered question.
We can’t define God, or His perfect love, from a merely human perspective. We
are the clay, and He is the potter. We must humble ourselves and view life from
the perspective of God’s rightousness, justice and holiness. Chan also writes
that the apostle Paul made reference to the fate of wicked people more times in
his epistles than he mentioned God’s forgiveness, mercy and heaven combined. If
hell doesn’t seem fair to us, we aren’t seeing it from God’s viewpoint.

4. Hell is
escapable.
Rob Bell’s flawed premise is that God will end up saving everyone
regardless of how they acted or what they believed. Chan argues that the gospel
is not good news unless there is a hell that sinners can escape from. He
writes: “While hell can be a paralyzing doctrine, it can also be an energizing
one, for it magnifies the beauty of the cross.”

Hell is not a popular doctrine.
People don’t shout, dance or wave handkerchiefs when we preach about it. They
don’t line up to come to conferences about it. Sermons about hell don’t make
people feel good. But every revivalist in church history has kept the doctrine
of hell at the core of his message, and we will see revival only if we reclaim
it.

Charles Spurgeon advised aspiring
ministers in the 1800s to constantly meditate on the sobering reality of hell
in order to stay fervent in their faith. He wrote: “Meditate with deep
solemnity upon the fate of the lost sinner, and, like Abraham, when you get up
early to go to the place where you commune with God, cast an eye toward Sodom
and see the smoke going up like the smoke of a furnace. Shun all views of
future punishment that would make it appear less terrible.”

Do you see the smoke of Sodom? Are you constantly aware that people
around you are going to hell? Or have you bought into the trendy philosophies
of backslidden preachers who question hell and have no power to free people
from it? I’m grateful that Francis Chan had the grace—and the guts—to point us
back to this biblical truth.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor
of
Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. His most recent book is 10 Lies Men Believe (Charisma House).

View a short
message about hell by Francis Chan below.

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