A Humble Hell? (Alan Molineaux)

Below is a piece by my friend Alan Molineaux.  He briefly discusses his concerns with the video that was released to promote Francis Chan’s new book on hell.  What follows, then is a critique of the approach taken in the video, not of Chan as a person/minister/Jesus follower/etc.  Many of us non-Calvinists truly appreciate Chan’s even larger message of radical God-like love.  Also, from what I’ve heard, Chan’s book presented a traditional view of hell while not beating up on Rob Bell too much.  That alone says lots about his character.


As Francis Chan releases his antidote to Rob Bell’s controversial best seller it seems that some have been drawn in by the humble and conciliatory style of his promotional video.

Don’t be fooled by the tone however this is a fine example of sophistry.

He employs the sophists skills of presenting an argument that is hard to disagree with only to deliver a conclusion that is not really connected with his original thrust.

It goes like this:

1. It’s good to study

2. Study is a humbling process

3. This is a very important subject

4. Some people have spoken about it with a lack of care

5. God’s ways are not our ways

6. We need to be careful

All the way through these points his hearers nod in agreement – what is there to disagree with.

He then goes on to present a Calvinistic understanding of the subject as if this is the only way in which we can be true to his previous points.

It is sophistry because you can agree with his first points and still come to a different theological view point.

His humble style is appealing but not necessarily affirmation that he is right.

Yet it is this style and his initial points that make people think that his conclusion must be correct not the veracity of his conclusion.

I look forward to reading the book for more humble calvinistic insights.


Thanks to my good web friend, Al Molineaux for this challenging guest piece.  Connect with him on Twitter.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • This explains why, as someone who knows the ins and outs of the debate, Chan’s book often feels dishonest to me. Especially as I consider how those who lack the prior knowledge will internalize his words.

  • Ian

    “He then goes on to present a Calvinistic understanding of the subject as if this is the only way in which we can be true to his previous points.”
    I’ve seen the video. Where does he do this in the video? He didn’t say anything about his view point in the video. I must have missed it.

    “It is sophistry because you can agree with his first points and still come to a different theological view point.”

    Well I could say something like “God is good” and then say something you disagree with. Is that sophistry? Most of his points have to do with his call to approach the subject with humility, and I don’t think he meant just Rob Bell supporters. People who disagree with Bell are just as guilty of the “I wouldn’t believe in a God who…” in this case plug in “enacts justice exactly like I think He should.” Also, do you think his supposed sophistry is intentional?

    He makes a hard hitting point though with Isaiah 55:8-9 that can applied to any issue. Am I really being humble and aknowledging that I might be wrong and that God has a greater understanding of things than me? Or am I just being stubborn and trying to defend my own reasoning and pride? Something we should always be checking with oursevles. Proverbs 3:5-8 seems to go hand and hand with this.

  • Not really understanding your equivalency of a literal hell with Calvinism.

    I also find it terribly ironic to form an argument against Chan’s position based off of his video after the whole Rob Bell “only speak on books you have read” shinanigans.

    • To “defend” my friend Al, let me say that his critique was OF THE VIDEO and not of the book.  He was commenting on the interesting humility that can be translated… “I’m humble, I pray, so I’m right.”  Hard to disagree inherently with that logic.  Of what I’ve heard from the book, its very traditional but not a book “attacking” Bell.  I appreciate this.

      • It is really a critique of Chan’s position, which is based on the video. This seems especially clear in the last sentence, where the position being critiqued is lifted from the context of the video and applied to the book as well.

        I don’t think his approach is wrong, I just find it ironic. The same reasoning applied to Rob Bell didn’t really seem to fly.

  • Anonymous

    While “Hell” (or the concept of Hell) is interesting, I have always thought that we Christians spend a lot of time debating about a place we are not going to end up.  Yes, it is important to understand scripture, but to dwell on Hell is pointless.   Hell (and for that matter Heaven) are both under the divine control of God. In other words, they are what they are. Maybe our time would be much better spent here on earth if we simply lived the lives the Lord wants us to live. We should worry less about Hell and more about how we treat each other.

    • Charlie Sells

      If we just let it be what it is, while letting leaders and authors spread whatever they think about something, then what good does that do? There has to be dialogue about these things, healthy dialogue at that. Peter and Paul had to disagree and work some things out themselves, just as we do today. I agree that it should never be our focus, but we definitely need to come to an understanding about the truth rather than taking whoever’s interpretation is newest and freshest and sounds best, then running with it.

  • By implication more than direct statement, Chan is calling out those who make their entire argument against the traditional view of hell, by saying, in effect “God can’t be mean enough to do that awful stuff.”  He has a point…that’s not a good argument upon which to build a theological conclusion.  If the traditional concept of hell is wrong (as I am convinced it is), the evidence upon which to base a refutation of that concept has to be grounded in what Scripture does, and does not, say…not in whether or not *we* think a good God could do this or that.

    I believe such a refutation is possible…I’ve put several pieces of such a refutation together for those who might be interested they can find it here.  Particularly I suggest a survey I did of the N.T. looking at every passage I could find on the subject, which is available here.

    Despite the admirable humility of Chan’s demeanor throughout this video, I find it troubling that he alludes to his having studied the Bible, holds a Bible in his hand throughout the video, yet never once does he actually refer to anything Jesus or the Apostles ever said…he only quotes some of the scary stuff God is purported to have said/commanded in the O.T.  He sounds, to me at least, like he’s laying a foundation to argue that the traditional turn-or-burn doctrine is mostly right, but frankly he does not tip his hand in the video so we really have to admit we don’t know where he’s going with this (unless some of you have read other of his works, which I have not).

    Good publicity for the book, I suppose, but a lot more is needed to truly move this discussion forward.

  • I’ve actually read almost all of Chan’s book after initially scanning through to find out his main points.  His original publish date was suppose to be July 15th, but he finished early and released the book the last week of June. 

    I thought Chan did a good job with the book — the video clip itself really just was a prep and didn’t get into the arguments.  In the book, Chan goes through all scriptures related to hell, as well as going over general 1st century Jewish beliefs to set the backdrop.  He spends quite a bit of time addressing issues that Rob Bell brought up.

    Chan brings up the fact that he really would prefer if Hell didn’t exist, but he emphasizes that we need to base our opinion on scripture, not what we want to believe.  I think he did a good job overall and treated it fairly.

    One thing that surprised me but encouraged me a bit….  When discussing whether or not human punishment would be “forever and ever” or temporary, Chan admitted that the scriptures were a bit ambivalent about it.  In particular, he pointed out that Jesus’ teaching could be interpreted either way.  (He was surprised by this, actually.)  He concludes that he “leans heavily” towards eternal punishment, but “cannot conclude with 100% certainty” that he’s right.  For me (and my somewhat annihilationist view), this was encouraging, that Chan didn’t stick with the “eternal conscious torment” view that so many others are dogmatic about.

    Overall, I thought Chan approached the subject fairly and objectively, even if I don’t agree with him on every conclusion.