Since the publication of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, there have been a number of evangelical responses both in the blogosphere and in print. There are four book length treatments that are either published or will be published later this summer (see John Starke’s list). While I’ve not read any of the other books, I have read a pre-publication copy of Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s book Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up from cover to cover. It’s not a perfect book, but it is great book!
Francis and Preston are readable, biblically sound and serve as credible and pastorally sensitive guides to understanding a most serious topic.
In a short series of three posts this week, I want to commend this book to you. For evangelicals who are interested in a fresh presentation of the ancient biblical answer to the contemporary questions surrounding the Bible’s teaching on heaven and hell that is both honest about the Bible’s message and yet tender in its approach to living it out today, you can’t do much better than this.
Now a few opening comments about the book.
First, Erasing Hell, unlike some of the book length responses to Love Wins, is not a direct rejoinder to Rob Bell’s book. Francis and Preston have not written a tit for tat answer to issues raised by Rob. So Erasing Hell is a response to Love Wins only indirectly. It is certainly a response, as in nearly every chapter Love Wins is quoted, but they attempt to deal broadly with the questions. In other words, it is a book that could have easily been written if Love Wins never existed, but it clearly has been written because of the wake Love Wins created among especially young evangelicals.
Second, the tone of Erasing Hell is humble and explorative. Perhaps this is one of its greatest strengths. These guys don’t position themselves as the authorities that pronounce the only authorized evangelical doctrine on heaven and hell. Rather they approach the questions with open minds and yes tortured hearts. You get the feeling from the book that this was a difficult journey for Francis and Preston. Now it is possible that they are just presenting themselves this way to garner trust from a reader. It’s hard, at least for me, not to approach authors without such cynicism. However, I tend not to be so cynical in this case. I guess my trust is borne primarily because I know Preston. I’ve known him for almost a decade and he’s as humble a guy as you’ll meet. What I read rings true of the Preston I know. I don’t know Francis—although I hope to have the honor of meeting him some day—but I think I know Preston and this humble and open approach to the questions is genuine.
Finally, I think one of the best things about the book is the collaboration between Francis and Preston. It appears to me that the book is written completely in Francis’ voice (I could be wrong). Any change of author within the text was completely imperceptible to me. The collaboration’s strength I think is the combination of Francis’ ability to connect to an audience (this is not to say Preston doesn’t) and Preston’s biblical scholarship. I also really appreciated that they sought out senior New Testament scholars to give feedback on their interpretations (e.g. Scott Hafemann). This is impressive to me, because Preston has a Ph.D; he did not need to do this (I think this is another evidence of the humble tone is genuine). This book can stand up to scholarly criticism; it’s reliable teaching that grounds the message of the New Testament in its first-century Jewish setting.
So for these reasons, I think you should pay attention to Erasing Hell. And if you’re interested in an accessible, reliable and pastoral presentation of an evangelical teaching on heaven and hell, this is a good one.
I’ll continue next with a discussion of the books structure and key themes.