Literal and Non-Literal – Franci Chan’s Erasing Hell

Several weeks ago I began a series at Snow Hill on Sunday evenings. I should say we initiated a series. It will officially kick-off in a couple of weeks. This may be a good place to note that this site is hosted and funded by me. Don’t blame Snow Hill for my musings.

On May 28¬†The Oklahoman ran a couple of pieces by Carla Hinton in the Life section. In a bygone day, the section was dubbed the “Religion” section. Such a designation is now pass√©. Religion is covered on Saturdays just under a different banner. But I digress.

The two articles referred to two very “hot topics” that indeed are related for religion observers. One article referenced Stephen Hawkings most recent statement that there is no Heaven. Human beings are like computers, at some point they just quit working. That’s it. The other article referenced the still ongoing debate over Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Selling papers in Oklahoma is not so hard when you talk about the absence of Heaven and the uncertainty of Hell. And you can be sure pastors were asked, “Did you see those articles?” I was.

What made sense was to suggest we take those issues up on Sunday evenings. Yes, I readily admit that these kinds of topics tend to increase attendance. We know well what Sunday night attendance looks like for those of us who still try it, especially during the summer.

There are at least a couple of possibilities that create curiosity over these two subjects. Some may look for confirmation of their long held ideas on the subjects. Others may wonder if it will be safe to ask questions they have long had. We will see. I believe it will be that kind of place even if we find disagreement.

In the “Introductory” gathering we watched both the video for Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, and one for Francis Chan and Randy Sprinkle’s book, Erasing Hell. We then took some time to invite what questions these videos created. I wrote down ten of them. They will become the nexus for our discussions beginning on July 24.

The time since our first meeting has given me space to read both books and do some additional reading.

Recently Jeff Cook began a series of posts over at Scot McKnight’s website, Jesus Creed. I will be interested to see where he goes. I like his tone and his aim – to take the hard questions seriously.

This reminded me of reading the FAQ’s in Chan’s book. Interestingly the very first one pertained to how we should understand “fire, darkness, and worms.” Should they be understood literally? I for one think this would have been an important question in the body of the book rather than in what is really something of an “Afterward” or “Epilogue.” Since this is really a point Bell makes central to his discussion a book inevitably in response to Bell may have wanted to take up that matter at its heart.

What will be lost on many is how Chan and Sprinkle invoke a bevy of “conservative” scholars who do not view these descriptors associated with Hell as “literal.” It is at this point you may want to raise your hand and suggest this then should compel all of us to ask, “What then was meant?” My question is not to quibble with these scholars. But, in the same way Keller attempts to discuss the his position on “Theistic Evolution,” might Bell have been asking, “What then is meant?”

“Non-literal” then requires attempting to answer the question as to what the words then mean. Something that surely requires us to think carefully and thoughtfully – especially those of us who remember sitting through the 1970’s movies in church like, The Burning Hell.

One of my other reads is Edward Fudge’s, The Fire That Consumes. In his early chapters he does a fine job helping readers understand how one may make of their beliefs a new Tradition that then stands over the Scriptures always informing the way we read what we read. The inevitable mistake is to assume that once you have established your new Tradition, no new light is needed. A quick read of the history of Christianity demonstrates just how hard it is to unearth Traditions we establish in the face of “new light.”

Carefully consider how the Reformation is often pointed to as that era of new light. It is as if to say we need no more. A move made by those who followed the Reformers – not the Reformers themselves.

What have been your more measured responses to these issues? I say more measured. “>In a roundtable discussion, Keller notes that modern technology, like the Internet, tend to produce quick, ill-tempered responses. In his early day, he noted reviews of books sometimes took a couple of years. The implication is that some of the responses to the issues raised may have been better made when time had been given to assess the issues. A point Cook makes quite well at Jesus Creed.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.