I purchased Erasing Hell at AudioFeed Festival because I heard Preston Sprinkle speaking and I really liked the humble way he approached the topic; it was only later that I realized this was the same book by Francis Chan that my friend Sam had recommended I read as a response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins (which I blogged too many words about starting here).
This book also explores what the Bible says about hell, and it’s an almost-rebuttal to the almost-universalism of Bell’s book (while many other writers are also quoted, Bell gets the most attention by far). It’s a fairly small book, and there are really only a few key theological and historical points that it adds to the discussion, although they are pretty big ones.
For example, Bell argues that the word Jesus used for hell (gehenna) really referred to the town garbage dump as part of his overall questioning of the traditional conception of a literal afterlife hell. Chan and Sprinkle argue that this doesn’t make sense in the context of all of the times Jesus used the word, that it doesn’t make sense the way other Jewish writers of the era used the word, and (here’s the kicker) that there is no archaeological evidence that there was ever a town garbage dump and the entire idea for that came from a commentary a thousand years later from the Middle Ages!
The book also looked at other ancient documents and tried to paint a picture of the first century Jewish beliefs about hell, arguing that Jesus blatantly challenged many other Jewish paradigms about things like divorce or wealth or the Sabbath but didn’t really say anything to challenge the existing paradigms about hell involving torture and eternity but in fact said things that seemed to pretty much confirm them. At the same time, the book acknowledges the ambiguity of many verses with a lot of grace.
The book is also deeply baked with a humble attitude of “Man, if this stuff is true, it’s heavy stuff that should seriously affect our lives and interactions with other people!” whereas I felt like Bell’s book was more baked with an attitude of “Man, if this stuff is true, it sure doesn’t sound like good news to me!” Yet I suppose those are both honest, valid reactions and there is room for both in the apparent tension between God’s love and mercy and his justice and sovereignty. Overall, I think you should read both books if you’re interested in getting a balanced view of the main Christian doctrines about hell and the afterlife and the ongoing discussion about it all.