People of the Books: The Universalism Debate, part 2

Before I say anything of my own, I’m telling you to read Dirty Sexy Ministry’s To-Do List.  It is spot on.

Now, on to finishing our whirlwind tour of all the reasons hell is a good topic of conversation (I didn’t realize this until just now, but I find it hilarious that these posts bracket both political conventions.  That was, honestly, totally unintentional on my part, but nevertheless very amusing).

Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle (3 stars):  This started out as an incredibly promising book.  Chan and Sprinkle persuasively make the case that this whole debate has to be more than an academic exercise—whether we believe in Hell or we don’t, we’re dealing with something that is less doctrine and more eternity.  They say it best on p. 118:
“So often these hell passages become fodder for debate, and people miss the point of the warning. Jesus didn’t speak of hell so that we could study, debate, and write books about it. He gave us these passages so that we would live holy lives. Stop slandering one another, and live in peace and brotherly unity. Jesus evidently hates it when we tear into our brothers or sisters with demeaning words, words that fail to honor the people around us as the beautiful image-bearing creatures that they are.”
Point, Chan and Sprinkle.  After this line in the sand, they get into describing the Jewish background of hell beyond the overarching concept of Sheol.  When Jesus talked about what happens after death, what did He have in mind?  What had He been taught?  As a Methodist, I’m totally on board with this kind of contextualizing, so another point for C&S.
But then it falls apart.  I felt that the book itself ended rather abruptly; there’s an overview of what is and what isn’t said in Scripture and then a chapter that basically says keep calm and carry on because heaven is awesome, and that’s it.  Wait, what?  Didn’t Revelation already give us that message?  Where’s the “so what”, as Interpreter often asks?  Suddenly we segue into the appendices, beginning with the Appendix of Frequently Asked Questions, as if the universalism debate is a navigable website filled with the things that were left out “to keep this book a reasonable length.” If you want to talk about something, put it in the book proper. Don’t give me a 10 page appendix of trite answers.
And the thing that confused me the most was that after all of this space-saving and economy, there’s a full chapter of one of Chan’s other books tacked on to the end. Really? Fiction writers who have a next part of the series do that. Nonfiction theology writers should not. If I’m that interested in your writing, I’ll look at the four other pages you have referencing your collected works. I picked up this book for this topic, and now you’ve taken all this extra space to talk about something else–namely yourself, no matter how you cloak it.

Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones (5 stars):  I’ll admit it, I totally picked this one up for the title.  And I did not expect to like it as much as I did, truly, especially because this was the last of the whole slew that I read.  I was pretty sure there was nothing else that could be added, and that was kind of true.  Jones presents nothing new, but his style is radically different. It is personal, combative, and incredibly intense. This is less about whether hell is real, actually, and more about what you do when you come down on a side of that. The back third or so is about evangelizing, and that sounds incredibly worrisome and annoying, but it wasn’t.  So much of the debate on hell is less about its existence, really, and more about whether or not we get to tell the people we don’t like where they’re going and feel morally superior about it (or, on the other side, we get to tell the crazy right-wingers how much they hate everyone and how sanctimonious we aren’t by comparison).  But Jones repeatedly makes the case against cold-call evangelism, the browbeating type of ambush that some Christians think has to go with what Jones calls “apocalyptic urgency.”  He stresses the idea of relationship as foundational to talking to anyone about this sort of thing, which I totally agree with.  Don’t tell people you don’t know they’re going to hell.  It’s ineffective and a bit of a jerk move, no matter how well-meaning you are when you say it.
This is actually a really solid look at the practicality of the debate, no matter which side you’re on. I highly recommend it, and in fact am going to buy it. No matter whether I agree with him or not, Jones has a magnificent presentation of his case, and one worth keeping on my shelves if I get entangled in this debate again.

There’s one other that I want to track down in this tour, called Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven? by Christopher Morgan.  Then I’m done.  For now.  I hope.

In other news, I’ve made it through the first week back to classes.  This is going to be a tough semester, Reader, because I have A LOT going on.  Prayers appreciated.  For now, I have this evening and tomorrow to prepare for all church stuff on Sunday, rewrite my Christianity lecture for Monday, work at least three hours, clean the house, and plan my weekends for the semester.  Sure.  Bring it.


3 thoughts on “People of the Books: The Universalism Debate, part 2

  1. […] Prudence understood was that I am an exclusivist in my theology, which means that I do believe in a Heaven and a Hell and I do believe that dying isn’t an automatic ticket to Heaven, although I also don’t […]


  2. […] heaven beyond “yup, there is one.”  I have a few more ideas on hell because I read up on it, but even that I don’t think about it in a visual sense.  (Odd, considering how spatially […]


  3. […] Good News Good Is God.”  I think I was drawn to this in light of the Hell-wrangling I did this past summer, because Piper points out the conundrum that if we’re going to get really excited about […]


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