Calvinists seem to be really into hell. I mean, really. And, apparently Rob Bell is the new Dan Brown; his latest book is spurning a cottage industry of books from every yahoo with a Master’s Degree from their pastor’s basement.
Here’s an interview with Francis Chan about his Erasing Hell, a book written in response to something Rob Bell doesn’t do in his book. And as I’ve said before, Bell’s book isn’t original in its arguments. Check out Von Balthasar (or really, Origen), CS Lewis, or as my buddy Nick pointed out, Willimon’s Who Will Be Saved? for better fare.
I don’t know much about Chan and he’s not currently on my reading list. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have valuable things to say, though I’ve become as suspicious of megachurch pastors as I am of the head chef at McDonald’s; when you’re serving that many people, the quality has to be in question.
Can you judge a book by a back cover? I won’t go so far as to do what Bell’s opponents did – brand him a heretic and a universalist before the book was even released – but though I’m sure Chan is a well-meaning writer and a gifted speaker, I think I can smell some unpleasantness here on the back:
“Like you, sometimes [the authors] just don’t want to believe in hell.” I don’t “believe” in hell. I believe in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hell describes life – here and into eternity – without that God. But hell is no more central to my faith than it is to the Apostle’s Creed or, for that matter, the teachings of Jesus. I believe in the Kingdom, in the triumph of grace, and the love of God for all. Hell? I can’t ignore it, but I can “dare to hope” that that not many of my brothers and sisters get a bird’s eye view.
“It’s a book about what God says.” If God already said it and it is that clear, why do we need a separate book? If it were that simple, then Rob Bell never would have written a book
whose sales incited such jealousy in the industry whose arguments so incensed Chan and Sprinkle.
The cover can’t be ignored either: “What God said about eternity, and the things we’ve made up.” This is a convenient subtitle. It indicates off the bat that whatever the authors are going to claim is straight from the mouth of God – itself an interesting take on biblical interpretation – and anything else that someone would say is purely and simply made up. Sorry, Isaiah, it turns out that my thoughts are God’s thoughts (see chapter 55).
At the end of the day, hell is something so horrible and the ways of God so strange to my own that I think we cannot but leave room for questions, mystery, awe, and wonder. Drawing easy lines about who will and will not be with God in the end to me misses what, to me, is a fundamental thrust in the Scriptures: God is constantly blessing those purported to be “outsiders” and calling those who think they are right with God to account. (For instance, Jesus entrusts his message to tax collectors but calls the holy people vipers.) Hell seems to be a possibility most of all for those who know and heed not. Those who think they have God figured out are constantly wrong, and their arrogance puts them at distance from God.
Let those with ears, hear. May I be one of them.