My Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

I received a review copy of Francis Chan’s new book Erasing Hell: What God Really Says About Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David Cook Publishing and agreed to post my thoughts this week. I am not required to post a positive review, all of these thoughts are my honest reactions.

Who is Francis Chan? Just about one of the better evangelical speakers around. He has a fantastic presence, possess excellent communication skills, and is “likable”. He has a casual, “say it as it is” style, yet uses a lot of passion, and is Biblically informed. From the back of his book: “Francis is a pastor, international speaker, and church planter, is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God. Chan is also on the board of World Impact and Children’s Hunger Fund.”

Why the Book? As you probably know, there has been a lot of interest surrounding heaven, hell, and the afterlife since Rob Bell released Love Wins. A plethora of books are being released on the subject and among all of them, I was interested in reading Chan’s thoughts. As you can see from the previous paragraph, I appreciate him and as a result, know that this post is not objective (as if one actually could be completely objective). I’m sure most of these books are not being written mainly out of a motive for profit but I’ve been wrong before. If you know Chan’s story, you’ll know that money is not a motivating factor for him which draws me more to the book and given the attention surrounding these types of books, I feel this should be said.

What I Liked
– He and his friend Preston Sprinkle (who has a Phd in New Testament studies and is a professor at Eternity Bible College) spent as much attention has possible focusing on the Biblical texts that talk about the afterlife.

– As alluded to earlier, because of who Chan is, I was excited to read how he would respond to Bell. Though I didn’t always appreciate what Chan was saying, I did like how he was saying it. And I find that to be very important if we really are interested in conversation.

– The tone of the book is very pastoral. I’m a sucker for this and I know I keep saying it but there are good number of pastors who know how to address an audience. I think Chan does as excellent of a job as anyone.

– This is an excellent book for small group study and expect that it will sell numerous copies for this reason alone and I’m sure there will be a group study questionnaire guide released by the time I finish this post.

– Really liked Chapter 2 “Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?” (not really the title but the content was solid) and loved Chapter 5 entitled, “What Does This Have to Do with Me?” Seriously, the best chapter in the book and reminds of why I appreciate Chan. I’d even say that chapter saved the book for me.

– Liked his treatment of “gehenna”. I did always believe that Jesus is referring to a garbage dump and I’m yet not convinced that he’s not. However, between Chan and Scot McKnight’s post on the subject, I do need to give it’s due attention.

– I expected Chan to lay off certain difficult thoughts (like in Chapter 6 but he took everything head on). Not sure if he gave it the space needed but it’s an excellent summary that points to God’s sovereignty and man’s need for humility.

– Chan’s wrestling with certain difficulties (but I quietly wished he would have shared more).

– the bibliography (though I wished he would have used NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope a bit more)

What I Wasn’t Crazy About

– As much as I like Chan, I really didn’t like the title or subtitle (didn’t really care for the video either). I know many times the author doesn’t decide on that and I get what they’re trying to say but I feel it’s poorly titled. I also find the subtitle to be pretentious. Does anyone really know what God says about eternity? Let he who is without sin lift up his perfect hermeneutics.

– Not sure of the first chapter on universalism was the place to begin though it was well-written. After my second reading, I thought chapters 1 and 2 should have been flipped. That said, I think Bell would agree with what Chan is saying and respond with, “Right that’s why I’m not a universalist either.”

– I felt that Chan wasn’t really responding to Bell but instead merely recentering the classic evangelical teaching of eternity. He just happens to say it better than most because of his exceptional communication skills but I think discerning readers will be a disappointed that they already know much of this content (though it’s well organized). Consequently, if you are coming to this conversation late, I suggest you read Erasing Hell first, then read Love Wins. Because even though Chan references passages in LW, Bell is responding what Chan is articulating. Anyone else see this?

– While I didn’t want Chan to go blow for blow with Bell (like the way DeYoung did in his .pdf), I was expecting a little more engagement since it was marketed as a response. I would be very interested in seeing what was edited out :) Perhaps, I should say, it’s a good book, but not an excellent response.

– I feel there is room to speculate on the afterlife when you offer the disclaimer that you are speculating. Thus, I wished that Chan would have shared his imagination a bit more. That is what’s so powerful of the first third of Bell’s LW.

With all sincerity, I did enjoy reading Erasing Hell and I expect it to be the better among the “Response to Bell” books that are being released.
And though the content is much thicker than LW, it’s still reader-friendly. My advice is wherever you start read Surprised By Hope by NT Wright , Love Wins and Erasing Hell if you really are interested in the subject.

Book Review of Who Goes There: A Cultural History of Heaven & Hell

 Book Review of Who Goes There: A Cultural History of Heaven & Hell by Rebecca Price Janney.

 The summary given by

  Princess Diana, John Ritter, Saddam Hussein, Mother Teresa, Chris Farley… Does it seem  reasonable to guess where each of these people ended up after they died? While it is  comforting to suppose that everyone who’s “good” goes to a better place when they die, and  everyone who’s “bad” doesn’t, on what is that hope based?

To adequately understand how these thoughts impact us today, Rebecca Price Janney goes back to the colonization and founding of the United States. From the Great Awakening to the American Revolution, through the tumultuous 19th century, all the way past two world wars, and a technological revolution, Who Goes There? pieces together a thoughtful narrative of American beliefs about the afterlife.

Who Will Like This Book – If you have an appreciation for history, specifically American, then you’ll probably like it.   For those who enjoy a decent popular read, the author gives solid summaries of significant cultural and spiritual moments and how they reflected people’s understanding of heaven and hell.  I found the historical parts to be a great review and it leads me to recommend this also for those who do not understand the summary of the last 100 years of Protestantism in the North American Church; it’s a nice book to read a few chapters of before headed to bed.

Most Beneficial Setting – This would make an EXCELLENT young adult Bible study/Sunday School-type for busy Relevant magazine reader types who read a handful of books a year.  The history would be very beneficial to those who have a fuzzy understanding of evangelical history and crave a better one.  It’s a religious history book written on a popular level.   However, I do no think that it will lead to provocative discussions after the second week or so.  Perhaps best used with a teacher with a solid grasp of history and theology.  

Who Won’t (or might not) – I just don’t think it’s for those who are really into the spiritual memoir books (Blue Like Jazz, Girl Meets God, etc.), I am not sure I see that person connecting with it.  I’m not saying that if you liked Blue that you won’t like Who Goes There? but I’m just saying it’s a different genre of book.  I guess I say that because it’s classic, “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  The cover is well-marketed and the book looks “fun”.  While it’s easy to read, short chapters, and a nice big font, it’s not a memoir.  Also, it’s not going to appeal to seminary students, academic types and anyone who likes to read Hauerwas, Wright, and Willard.  It’s just not written to appeal in that regard.

What I Found Difficult –  I didn’t find the concepts to be difficult and I don’t think anyone will be annoyed by the writing style.  My glitch was as the book continued, I found myself wanting more.   At first, it was hard to put my finger on it but I wanted a deeper analysis of the cultural mindset of heaven and hell.  I wanted to see more of the academic climate, the perspective of the pew-sitter, the debate, the tension, and the solutions that helped and failed.

What I Loved – Rebecca received her doctorate from Biblical Seminary and did graduate work at Princeton.  She knows history and was wise enough to focus on selective moments to build short chapters around.  I can only imagine the text before editing was 30 times the final edit.  Really enjoyed Chapter 12 that outlined the tension between liberalism and conservatism, the rise of fundamentalism that led to the genesis of evangelicalism.  As a frustrated post-evangelical, seeing a bit of the pre-evangelical mindset was helpful.