The question with which Francis Chan begins the first chapter of Erasing Hell is, “Does  everyone go to heaven?”

Without even the slightest trace of sarcasm, Chan comments,

 “Based on what I hear at funerals, the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” How many funerals have you attended where this was even in question?”

Chan correctly points out that questions of heaven and hell are of far too much importance to leave  to feelings or assumptions, and that we must get down to what the Bible itself says on the matter. That is the launching point for this first chapter, and Chan wastes no time in getting down to it. He does this by asking a different question entirely: does the Bible say that everyone will be saved in the end?

To answer the question, Chan begins with a brief survey of Universalism, the teaching that the Bible says that God will save everyone.  It’s a very old teaching, Chan informs us, going back to the early church leader Origen. Origen’s beliefs eventually were deemed heresy, and for most of Church history (1600 years) there were very, very few who argued that everyone will be saved.

Universalism was heart and center over this past summer’s controversy regarding Rob Bell and Love Wins. Chan is careful to state that Bell never actually uses the label “universalism,” but in a lengthy endnote to the chapter insists that it is in fact what Bell is advocating.

” … Bell never actually comes out and says that this is what he believes. To be fair, he is not explicitly arguing for this position but listing it as a valid view that would help explain a lot of the tension that we feel when thinking about the hard realities of hell. But he presents this position in such favorable terms that it would be hard to say that he is not advocating it. He even says that the traditional view of a literal hell that features eternal torment is not “good news” at all. To use Bell’s phrase, “The good news is better than that.” He implies the view that all people will eventually be saved is actually much better news. So while he never actually says that this is the correct view, Bell certainly presents this as the good view and the traditional view of hell as the bad view.”

Chan spends the bulk of the first chapter in addressing specific passages of Scripture that universalists have said show that God will save everyone. He begins  with Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But Chan argues that this passage can only teach universal salvation if it is ripped out of context. He points out that in Philippians 1:28 the Apostle Paul writes that the Gospel is the evidence of destruction for those who oppose it, and salvation for those who embrace it. Similarly, Chan points out that Philippians 3:19-21 makes a contrast between the enemies of the Cross — whose end is destruction — and those who follow Christ, who will receive glory. The day of Christ return spoken of in Philippians 2:9-11 is not a day of universal salvation, argues Chan. It is a day when Jesus will return to reclaim His creation and reign as King, but with that comes judgment for those who opposed Him.

Chan next brings up a number of passages concerning God restoring all people and reconciling all things to Himself, which he says are misused by universalists to prove that all people — regardless of a relationship with Christ — will be redeemed.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, no counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)

In him all the fullness of God was please to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19-20)

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4)

Again, Chan points out that context is key, and that where Paul says “all will be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 he is clearly speaking of the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ, as evidenced by the very next verse.

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:23)

Chan also point out Paul’s first  letter to the Corinthians ends with a rather forceful warning that everyone who does not love Jesus will be damned.

He continues his examination of these Scriptures by asking in regards to 1 Timothy 2:4 what exactly “all” means and what the word “want” means in the context of the verse. Chan demonstrates that “all” does not neccesarily mean every single person, contrasting the verse with 1 Timothy 2:1 in which Paul commands Timothy to pray for all people. Chan argues that it doesn’t seem logical that Paul wanted Timothy to “march through a prayer list that includes every person on the face of the earth,” and that if this earlier “all” doesn’t mean every single person, then neither does 2:4.

As to answering the question of what “want” means in context, Chan draws an important distinction regarding God’s will. 

“To figure out the meaning of “want,” it’s helpful to consider what the theologians have called God’s moral will and His decreed will. Some things may be part of God’s desire for the world, and yet those desires can be resisted. God doesn’t desire that people sin, but He allows it to happen because humans are moral agents who often make evil choices. God is not a puppet master who pulls everyone’s strings to suit His will. That’s why the Lord taught us to pray things like “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). God’s desire — His moral will — is resisted.”

This distinction that Chan makes underlines that the “want” of 1 Timothy 2:4 underscores that it is God’s moral will that every single person will be saved through Christ, but not his decreed will. He successfully demonstrates that the universalist position doesn’t hold up under the actual context of the Scriptures.

Chan closes this first chapter by pointing out that the New Testament clearly shows that Jesus himself not only didn’t teach that every single person would be saved, but the exact opposite — that few would be saved, while many would end up outside of the Kingdom. Chan uses the example of Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:22-30 to illustrate this.

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Chan concludes that “if Jesus actually believed in second chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this is  a dangerously misleading parable.”

What’s impressive thus far is how adamant Francis Chan is in reiterating frequently that this topic is not simply a debate over doctrine, but that it is about eternal destinies. “We can’t be wrong on this one,” is his refrain.

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