The hell debate ignited by the publication of Rob Bell’s controversial Love Wins, does not seem to be slowing down out there in Christian land.
Francis Chan is the latest soldier to take up arms in defense of the “Truth” about hell against Bell’s “heresy” about love.
Francis Chan is writing a book to be published by David C. Cook in July. In preparation the publisher has released a 9 minute video in which Chan pleads for the prayers of his viewers as he works on Erasing Hell: What God Says About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up.
Chan begins with an impassioned plea for humility. He then proceeds to accuse anyone who disagrees with him of lacking humility, being “heartless”, “careless”, arrogant, dishonest, and willfully and knowingly choosing to neglect obvious evidence. It is a curious demonstration of the humility Mr. Chan informs us he has pleaded to receive from God.
In addition to casting aspersions upon anyone whose understanding of Scripture may differ from his, Chan doles out liberal amounts of sarcasm. Looking intently into the camera he asks his opponents,
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?
Mr. Chan, do you honestly believe there is anyone who has never considered “that maybe the Creator’s sense of justice is actually more developed than yours”? Who are you pointing a finger at when you suggest there might be a serious Christian thinker who has never considered that he or she “could be the one that is flawed”?
Strangely, Chan seems squeamish about the whole idea of having a theological discussion. He voices his concern saying,
I’ve been concerned as I’ve listened to some of the discussion about hell, and read some of these things that are written because, the tone which we use; we’ve got to be careful here. We have to guard ourselves against, first of all heartlessness. Do you understand what we’re talking about? We’re talking about real people here. We can’t just have these theological discussions about a doctrine when we’re talking about peoples’ eternal destinies here.
Is Mr. Chan proposing to publish a book about hell in which he does not have a theological discussion? Of course the subtitle of the book itself gives away Mr. Chan’s strategy. He is not going to engage in theological discussion. He is merely going to present “What God Says.” There is not much point in having a discussion if it is going to involve arguing against God.
Admittedly a 9 minute video may not be the place to engage in serious theological exploration. But, even for 9 minutes, Chan’s presentation is curiously lacking in substance. He does not offer any serious arguments. But he does find time to resort frequently to two of the most inappropriate motivations for any Christian preaching.
Throughout his presentation Chan appeals to self-interest and fear. “It is your destiny at stake.” If you do not agree with Chan’s understanding of the Bible, you risk an eternity of suffering and torment. Yet, at the outset of his presentation, Chan himself has admitted that when he studies the Bible,
some of the things I thought were so clear; they’re really not that clear in Scripture.
Mr. Chan, where does your not “so clear” Bible say that I will be condemned to an eternity of suffering because I honestly and genuinely disagree with you about a complicated theological issue? Does my eternal salvation really depend upon being right about a controversial and difficult theological construct?
Chan concludes his 9 minute video with a final challenge,
We can’t afford to be wrong on this issue.
I am pretty sure Mr. Chan does not have too many anxious moments about being “wrong on this issue.” So, he is really saying, “You can’t afford to be wrong on this issue.”
I always understood that salvation rested on trusting God. In Chan’s theology it appears that my eternal destiny actually resides in trusting Francis Chan. It all hinges on getting the right answer (Mr. Chan’s answer) about the doctrine of hell. If I am sincerely wrong, I am condemned. If I am genuinely mistaken, I am lost. If I have been innocently misled, God will assign me to hell.
How many doctrines are there on which I need to get the correct answer before I merit a place in Mr. Chan’s heaven? How smart do I need to be? Will children who have been innocently deceived into believing there might not be a terrible place called “hell” go there if they die too soon to benefit from Mr. Chan’s correction? How soon should parents start terrifying their children with the prospect of an eternity of suffering, to make sure they are spared such a terrible destiny?
God no doubt is perfect. I no doubt am flawed. But if I have to accept such a radical disconnect between my understanding of justice and love and God’s understanding, it is difficult to see how that gap will ever be bridged for most people.
This video is not good news. It is a counsel for despair for the majority of the world who will never find their way into the arms of Chan’s capricious God.
John Shore, in an article at Huffington Post, raises an interesting pragmatic question for Christians about the relationship between the doctrine of hell and Christian attempts to evangelize the world. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shore/how-francis-chan-and-his-_b_865681.html
How many people are likely to be scared into heaven by focusing on a God who will condemn them to an eternity of suffering if they get their theology wrong?
How many people will be driven away from Jesus by preaching that focuses on a God who condemns any human being on this earth to eternal conscious torment simply because that poor deluded person genuinely disagrees with the vision of a God who condemns the majority of humanity to hell?