Q&A: Francis Chan on Rob Bell and Hell
Interview by Mark Galli
|Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up
by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle
David C. Cook, July 2010
192 pp., $14.99
Few books have generated as much theological conversation as Rob Bell’s Love Wins—and fewer still have sparked several response books within months of their appearance. Francis Chan, whose books Crazy Love and Forgotten God are still on bestseller lists, is a somewhat surprising addition to the pack with Erasing Hell. (Chan’s coauthor, Preston Sprinkle, is associate professor of biblical studies at Chan’s Eternity Bible College.) Christianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli is the author of another of the response books, God Wins, and interviewed Chan last week.
In several places in your book, it’s clear that you are conflicted about even addressing this topic.
It’s weird. I’ve never felt a need to really respond to someone else’s writing. And yet reading Love Wins set a lot of things spinning in my mind. Some of it was concern, but some was doubt: Am I sure of what I believe? Let me go back and study. Several times in the middle of the night I couldn’t even sleep. I really believe the Lord wanted me to do this, but there is a wrestling on that point because I thought, “Gosh, that’s just not me. That’s not what I’m comfortable with. I really don’t think I’ll enjoy this at all. I’m not looking forward to all the backlash and everything else.”
The other side was that I was really hoping to discover some things I hadn’t discovered before—or maybe this was an opportunity to soften my stance on hell. I was hoping to find that in Scripture. And so when I didn’t it find it, it made me even more sick to my stomach.
When you say that your study caused you to realize that you had some sins to repent of, what type of things are you talking about?
As I reread the Gospel passages, Jesus’ words are much harsher than I remember. There’s a tone in some of the things that he said that are really difficult to stomach, and he says things in a way that I would not have.
Because we in America read certain passages over and over to the neglect of others, we start to believe that Jesus had a friendly tone all the time. And that there isn’t any wrath or anger or judgment. When you read it all like you are reading it for the first time, you walk away going, “Wow, he was pretty hardcore.”
Here’s what I had to repent of: I had felt the need to soften a lot of Jesus’ statements, because in my arrogance I think, “Okay Jesus, I’m not going to say that like that. Trust me, people will like you more and be more willing to accept you if I say it like this.” Obviously I’ve never said that to God. But that’s the attitude I’ve taken, and it made me sick. Who in the heck do I think I am? To think that I can make God more palatable or attractive if I try and change the tone in which he says some things. I know people say, “Well it’s just cultural this or that.” That’s garbage. People back then had a much deeper reverence for God than we do. Especially the religious community. Yet it’s to those people whom he speaks so harshly.
What in the world would he say to us today? I don’t think it’d be a softer message. I had to come before God and say, “Lord I feel sick.” And I confessed to Mark [Beuving, who edited the book] and Preston [Sprinkle, the coauthor] as we were working on the book, “I confess to you guys, I confess to the church, I know I have backed away from certain things because of my arrogance. I thought I could attract more people to Jesus by hiding certain things about him.” I had to confess my arrogance.
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding contemporary Christians have about hell?
…the main thing is that we have tried to block [hell] out of our minds. Yet because it’s written about so often in Scripture, I think God does want it on the forefront.
I thought one of Rob Bell’s compelling statements was that sometimes we make the gospel sound like “Believe in Jesus or you’ll go to hell.” Which turns the gospel not into good news but into a threat. Have you thought about how we can talk about this reality without making it sound like a threat or spiritual extortion?
Well, that’s difficult. Because don’t you kind of get that when you read the Scriptures? That’s a struggle I have. When I read the Scriptures, it sure seems threatening. “Don’t fear man who can just kill your body. Fear God who can destroy your body and soul in hell.”
I see God in his love warning me of hell because he wants me to embrace him so badly. And I don’t see that as a bad thing. It’s like warning my kids about not being careful in crossing the street: “Do you understand what will happen?”
[EXCELLENT video] Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle: Erasing Hell — “He gets to define what love is, and not us.” “That means my sin is way worse than I could ever even imagine.” | ~”I think this whole concept of ‘how could God do this’ is woven into the fabric of our culture that says ‘how dare my dad tell me what I can and cannot do!’ We’ve lost the idea of authority, and it’s killing our culture.”
[10-minute video] Francis Chan: Erasing Hell — “Do you ever even consider the possibility that maybe the Creator’s sense of justice is actually more developed than yours? And that maybe His love and His mercy are perfect, and that you could be the one that is flawed. … We can’t afford to be wrong on this issue.”
All of my Hell is Real — Forever Posts (Most recent listed first)
D. A. Carson: The Problem of the Canon Within the Canon — A subset of scriptures taught in exclusion of those that would result in true doctrine. “We badly need to listen to one another, especially when we least like what we hear.”
Baruch: “Not only is DECEPTION of the church possible, it WAS PROPHESIED TO HAPPEN!” — Jesus said “IN THE LAST DAYS THE MAJORITY WILL BE DECEIVED, take heed that it doesn’t happen to you” — “FALSE TEACHERS are actually SPEAKING SPELLS with the words of their FALSE DOCTRINES!”