New book by Francis Chan takes in-depth look at what Scripture says about hell


DALY CITY, Calif. — Pastor and bestselling author Francis Chan is challenging the notion of hell and universalism in the wake of a book by Pastor Rob Bell, an evangelical who has come under fire for his progressive theology.

In "Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things We've Made Up," a book with Preston Sprinkle, Pastor Francis Chan challenges Bell's interpretation that hell is temporary and that a merciful God would not punish non-believers for eternity. Those thoughts are detailed in Bell's recent book "Love Wins." He also suggested that current teaching on hell is "misguided and toxic."

Many conservative evangelicals have also criticized Bell's book saying it embraces universalism, the notion that Jesus is not the only way to salvation.

But, in a videotaped interview with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, Bell, who pastors a mega church in Grand Rapids, Mich, challenged the notion that he does believe in hell.

"I believe in hell now, I believe in hell when you die," Bell said. "I believe God gives people the right to say no, to resist, to refuse, to reject, to cling to their sins, to cling to their version of their story.

"So the Bible, there's a whole chapter in the book about hell, and I think we should take hell very seriously. I think it exists, and so, there being no hell isn't something that I believe."

During that same interview, Bell seemed to spell out a condition to his belief when he said, "If, billions and billions and billions of people, God is going to torture them in hell forever—people who never heard about Jesus are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn't believe in the Jesus they never heard of—then at that point we will have far bigger problems than a book from a pastor from Grand Rapids."

In yet another interview, this one with MSNBC's Martin Bashir, Bell said response to Christ was critical in determining a person's eternal destiny.

"It is terribly relevant and terribly important," Bell said. "Now, how exactly that works out and how exactly that works in the future, we are now firmly in the realm of speculation."

Some of those issues are expected to get a fresh look in Chan's book, set for release July 5 through David D. Cook. According to pre-release information, the book dives into an in-depth review of everything Jesus said about hell and addresses such questions as "Will everyone be saved?" and "Does God get what he wants in the end?"

Like Bell, Chan is a nationally known speaker and author. He is the founding pastor of Cornerstone Church, a Southern California mega congregation he started with 30 people. In April, Chan resigned his preaching position to pursue new ministry opportunities in Northern California, where has a heart for serving the city of San Francisco. He also founded Eternity Bible College.

He is also the best-selling author of "Crazy Love" and "Forgotten God." 

And like Bell, Chan is using video as a way to get his message out. He recently posted a YouTube video explaining his thoughts on the issue. But—unlike Bell—whose video style is edgy and, at times, contemptuous, Chan's approach is soft and reflective.

In his promotional video Chan said the seriousness of the subject matter mandates a need for humility in the debate.

"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," Chan said. "We have to guard ourselves against, first of all, heartlessness. Do we understand what we are talking about? We are talking about real people here.

"We can't just have these theological discussions about a doctrine when we are talking about people's eternal destinies here."

The video never mentions Bell by name, but warns that believers are on dangerous ground when they try to interpret the mind of God.

"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?" Chan asks rhetorically.

Finally, Chan appeared to welcome well-rounded debate on the topic.

"We can't just argue for our point of view or what we think is right and so we present our case and we negate all the other evidence. Do you understand what we are dealing with here?"

All the facts, Chan said, needs to be brought to the table.

"It's your destiny at stake," he said.

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