Few books have generated as much theological conversation as Rob Bell's Love Wins—and fewer still have sparked several response books within months of their appearance. Francis Chan, whose books Crazy Love and Forgotten God are still on bestseller lists, is a somewhat surprising addition to the pack with Erasing Hell. (Chan's coauthor, Preston Sprinkle, is associate professor of biblical studies at Chan's Eternity Bible College.) Christianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli is the author of another of the response books, God Wins, and interviewed Chan last week.
In several places in your book, it's clear that you are conflicted about even addressing this topic.
It's weird. I've never felt a need to really respond to someone else's writing. And yet reading Love Wins set a lot of things spinning in my mind. Some of it was concern, but some was doubt: Am I sure of what I believe? Let me go back and study. Several times in the middle of the night I couldn't even sleep. I really believe the Lord wanted me to do this, but there is a wrestling on that point because I thought, "Gosh, that's just not me. That's not what I'm comfortable with. I really don't think I'll enjoy this at all. I'm not looking forward to all the backlash and everything else."
The other side was that I was really hoping to discover some things I hadn't discovered before—or maybe this was an opportunity to soften my stance on hell. I was hoping to find that in Scripture. And so when I didn't it find it, it made me even more sick to my stomach.
It's weird to write something that you really don't like. It's easy to write for God and about God, because what a thrill to remind the church that the Holy Spirit of God is in you. What a rush! What an amazing blessing! Who'd want to take the time to write about something that's so, so awful? So painful? That was the conflict for me.
Your reaction to Love Wins was my experience as well and, I suspect, the reaction of a lot of its readers. That's the one thing that I've said is good about the book. It's forced us all to think more deeply, go back to Scripture, and read more carefully.
There was a lot that was good in that book. There are some good principles in there. Some of the things that he dislikes about the evangelical church today are things I have a real problem with as well. I told Rob that some of the stuff that he writes needs to be heard, and the people who need to hear it won't hear it because of the tone and some of the other things that he writes.
He didn't think that was the case, but I do think there is some value in some of the things that he writes.
I think that's where Rob is a little disingenuous. He claims that he's not a controversialist, but when it comes to his critique of fundamentalist and legalistic Christianity, he spares no sarcasm.
That was the hard part for me. I didn't see love toward those people—among whom I would be included. In some of those respects it seemed like a mockery of what I believe and the God that I believe in.
Why did you write a book just on hell? It's only one chapter in Bell's book.
While his book spurred on this conviction that I need to respond, as I studied, my book became less and less of a response to Rob Bell and his book. More and more, I saw how studying hell was changing me. I saw a lot of sin I had to repent of and thought, "This is a much bigger issue."