Francis Chan's new book, Erasing Hell, is getting a lot of press these days as it should. It is an important book. Not important in that it refutes Bell's book, Love Wins, and with grace and mercy, but because it it places our position with God in the light and exposes the pick and choose Christianity of most of us.
Most of the people I have talked to about both books get stuck on the surface tension of whether there is hell or not and how off Bell is. That is not the issue that gets my attention. What drew me into the book was the authentic and confessional voice of Chan as he explains that he doesn't like the way God works sometimes ....But believes anyway.
Not understanding God derails many people and prevents them from coming to Christ. But many, many Christians simply ignore much of Scripture that they do not understand or like, Scripture that gets in their way, and so invent a God to their liking. This is common to us all and even Chan falls into this in his book though he admits that he is "rethinking". There is a theology lens which disregards the critical nature of our participation in God's work of salvation causing adherents to believe in hell but simultaneously to believe and then disbelieve that we have any responsibility for our end - that our disobedience is critical but not our obedience. In that theology, Chan's Grandmother's unwillingness or inability to participate in Christ's work disqualified her for heaven but our willingness (Chan's own willingness and submission) which qualifies us is not our own. This makes a God of great power but not of justice or love. If God makes Chan believe, then He also made his Grandmother disbelieve. That could be true - God can do what He wants - but there is no justice in that for God and no value in our love for Him then, we being automatons. Some would like God's actions alone to save us as Bell would like God's actions alone to save us all. But if one looks at the verses Chan himself uses to establish that there is a hell, it is quickly evident that hell is the end for people who don't behave (or at least try) according to Jesus' expectations. While Jesus calls us to believe Him, our response to that call by repentance and good works is essential to Jesus' acceptance of us and thus to our salvation.
Very similar to Bell disliking hell, most evangelicals reject the idea that faith and works are two sides of the currency which purchases our salvation. Our work is certainly inconvenient in theology and it complicates the sovereignty of God and His grace. But evangelicals often, like Bell and hell, talk and theologize their way around work hoping it will go just away. However, it is only our western mind, as Newbiggen says, that polarizes faith and works. Jesus could not be clearer, nor could Paul and Peter and John that both faith and response are required. That "not all those who call me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom, but those who...."
So, Erasing Hell is a great book about reading the Bible without the baggage we like to bring along. Every time you sit down to read Scripture, start new. Read it as if you just came out of the vineyard on your way home and heard Jesus talking or Paul railing at the Corinthians or the writer of Hebrews accosting a crowd. What do you think they mean about liars and fornicators? Don't theologize--- just, What do you think Jesus means at face value about separating sheep and goats? Is Paul talking to my greed when he says the greedy will not inherit the kingdom?
I don't like it either. I would love to be able to watch TV and quit making an effort to follow Jesus. I would prefer a God who drags me by my hair to heaven despite my behavior. But I believe the Bible and it scares me. Do not be deceived, Paul says. Do not think we have a wrathless God who is simply kind and endlessly indulgent. To be sure, the amount of my effort is value-less. That I turn... is priceless. Thank God....! Oh Thank God that He is merciful.