Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chan vs. Bell

Just finished Francis Chan's Erasing Hell.  I was excited for it's release, although I now have some mixed feelings about it.   In interviews since its publication, Chan has said that he wanted this book to be able to stand alone ten years from now,  so although he responded to Rob Bell's Love Wins several times, that was not the main thrust in his work.  Having said that, I can basically divide his book up into two categories 1) Things that were great about the book and 2) Things that were not great about the book.

Things that were great about the book.
I think the biggest thing that impacted me was his research on the word gehenna which is where we get the word hell from.  He claimed in the book that gehenna was the Hinnom Valley.  No evidence, either literary or archeologically has been found to support Bell's view of hell being a burning trash heap outside of Jerusalem during the life of Jesus Christ.  Besides that, he took a test drive of Bell's interpretation and applied it to Scriptures:
"Whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the 'garbage dump' of fire. Matt 5:22
"It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into the 'garbage dump." Matt 5:29
"Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in the 'garbage dump.' Matt 10:28
"It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the 'garbage dump' of fire." Matt 18:9   (page 58 in Erasing Hell)
The reductio ad absurdum was brilliant here and well played.
He goes further in showing the significance of the Hinnom Valley.  This was the place in the Old Testament where the Israelites used to sacrifice their children to the Canaanite gods of Molech and Baal.
"When Jeremiah began to preach, the Hinnom Valley started to take on a metaphorical reference for the place where the bodies of the wicked would be cast (Jer. 7:29-34; 19:6-9; 32:35) "Behold, the days are coming...when it will no more be called..the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter" 
(Jer. 7:32)" pg. 61.
 It truly makes sense that Jesus would have this in mind, since he was the AUTHOR of the Scriptures.  When speaking in His time, Jesus was warning mankind, that apart from Him, one would end up in the Valley of Slaughter.  This was a metaphor for the lake of fire, which Jesus Himself later expands on in the book of Revelation.
These things I thought Francis Chan did really well on.

Things that were not great about the book.
The biggest thing was that he did not call out Rob Bell.  Even though he said it was not a direct response to Bell's book, he cited him enough times for the reader to know that he did have him in mind.  Here's the thing, Bell's ideas are not Christian.  They are not in step with the Scriptures.  His ideas are the things that Paul tells us to guard against.  They are heresy.  Chan seemed to bend over backwards at times in complementing Bell.  On page 23 he says that Bell puts his position forward with "creativity and wit." This is unfortunate.  When Paul was warning the church of heretics in 2 Timothy 2, he called their teaching 'gangrene.'  Last time I checked gangrene wasn't creative or witty.
Secondly, he says that there are three types of Universalists: one that is non-Christian, and two that are Christian.  In other words Christian Universalists (pg. 24-25).  Chan is just plain wrong here.  Those two terms are mutually exclusive.  If you are Christian (a follower of Christ), by definition you hold that not all will be saved (regardless of what people claim today--a Christian means a particular thing and not something else.)  If you are a Universalist, by definition, you believe that all will be saved.  Those two terms cannot go together.  It's like saying square circles, or married bachelors.  This is not helpful coming from Chan.
So overall, good Biblical defense on the doctrine of hell.  However, in leaving the church to think that Bell is still on 'our team', I think he didn't go far enough in protecting the church from gangrene.