Francis Chan Not Sure That Hell Is Eternal Suffering
The Bible’s clear message of eternal torment for those who reject Christ poses a problem for New Calvinism’s doctrine of Gospel Sanctification. The most troubling aspect of GS is how John Piper’s contribution to the doctrine (Christian Hedonism) effects the all important presentation of the gospel. The need of repentance is not included for fear that the hearer would think that “they could do something to be saved.” Piper believes that gospel presentations must only include a description of the gospel as a treasure to be desired, and as such, saving faith will always be earmarked by joy. Likewise, Michael Horton describes any participation by us in the salvation process as “just more bad news” instead of good news. Hence, a call to repentance or a call to escape hell may cause a hearer to accept the gospel with wrong motives, making it unclear as to whether God was really at work in the decision.
So, the dilemma: should we include things that the Bible talks about in gospel presentations or not? And if not, what is the purpose for such information in the Christian life? Frankly, this is the problem with all false doctrines—proponents spend most of their time coming up with new explanations and answering hard questions. Who can deny that New Calvinism is constantly morphing?
But secondly, hell also brings up the whole issue of accepting what God says whether we like it or not. In other words, the whole concept of being obedient to the truth, but not liking it, and even having a distaste for it. However, also knowing that our distaste is due to our lack of understanding from God’s righteous perspective. This is obedience to the truth without the joy which runs afoul of Piper’s Christian Hedonism. According to one of Piper’s favorite illustrations to make this point: If there is no joy in the duty of kissing our wife, the duty is stripped of its moral value. Or, would we bring our wife flowers and tell her that we did it out of mere duty? Therefore, supposedly, we can fool our wife but we can’t fool God—He knows that our duty is without moral value.
Missed in these supposedly profound illustrations is how real life really works. Getting my wife flowers may be an inconvenience because I am under the gun to finish a project, but after I die to self and get her the flowers, I am thrilled because of how happy she is to receive the flowers. My initial denial of self does not strip the deed of its moral value just because the self-denial didn’t initially feel good. And in regard to escaping hell being a motivation for one to give their life to Christ, I like what a pastor friend of mine said about that: “If someone gives their life to Christ to escape hell—that tells me they knew they deserved to go there.”
Moreover, that’s why in their endeavor to make round theological pegs fit in square holes, GS advocates like Francis Chan have to ignore the literal plain sense of Scripture. In an interview with Christianity Today conducted by Mark Galli regarding Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell (which is supposedly a rebuttal to Rob Bell’s recent book), Chan proclaimed himself “agnostic” in regard to believing that hell is eternal torment. Here is how Galli framed the question:
“In your book you seem agnostic as to whether hell is a conscious eternal torment or annihilation.”
Chan answered this way:
“That was one of the things I was a little surprised by: the language [uh, you mean God’s language?]. I would definitely have to say that if I leaned a certain direction I would lean toward the conscious torment that’s eternal. But I couldn’t say I’m sure of that, because there are some passages that really seem to emphasize a destruction. And then I look in history and find that’s not really a strange view. There are some good, godly men—and maybe even the majority—that seem to take the annihilation view [so what? They are men—not Scripture]. I was surprised because all I was brought up with was conscious torment. And I see that. I see that in Scripture and I would lean more that way but, I’m not ready to say okay I know it’s this one. So say here Here are a couple of views.’ I don’t even remember if I wrote that I lean towards that, but maybe it comes across.”
This brings to mind the rank hypocrisy of New Calvinists that mock Joel Olsteen for this same kind of double-minded pontification while praising Chan for being “one of the greatest Christian thinkers of our age.” Though many verses could be cited, I think this chilling passage from the book of Revelation speaks clearly in regard to the issue:
“’If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’ This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”
Sometimes obedience isn’t joyful at all. I have relatives who are dear to me that aren’t saved. The thought of them going out into eternity, and into eternal torment, is beyond horrifying. But yet, I stand on Psalm 145:17 which states that God is righteous in all of His ways. It’s a trust in God, a resolve to stand on Scripture regardless of how it makes me feel. This is an issue of obeying truth rather than strong feelings about truth. Feelings cannot dictate what our doctrine is—this is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, in the same issue, Chan eludes to other issues about hell that throws a monkey wrench into GS:
“I think there is also some misunderstanding on degrees of punishment. I do see Jesus saying that judgment is going to be worse for some, like the rewards are going to be better for some. But that might be a slight issue.”
Chan sees it in Scripture (so he’s for it), “But that might be a slight issue” (but he might be against it before he is for it). This is a huge problem for GS doctrine because it assumes God recognizes human merit in some way—even among the lost. Galli’s subtitle is also telling: “Why ‘Erasing Hell’ was his most difficult book, how ‘Love Wins’ prompted repentance, and whether ‘Believe in Jesus or you’ll go to hell’ is good news.” So, should hell be in our gospel presentations? And if not, since the same gospel that saved us also sanctifies us, what is information about hell all about?
New Calvinism is nothing more than a novelties empire full of all kinds of misfits vying for book sales, popularity power, and if CJ Mahaney’s recent fall is any indication—glorious greenbacks. It’s a sideshow of rebels like Bell pushing the envelope too far while others try to clean up the mess in various and sundry ways to keep the empire’s cash cow alive. Piper, who at times creates controversy by who he invites to conferences, excommunicated Bell with a tweet, while Chan told Galli that Bell’s book was bad, but had good things in it, but bad things too, but also led him to repent for certain sins in his (Chan’s) life. And yes, it has error, but the kind of error that makes us think, which is good error—right?