“Hell’s a-Poppin'” is how the headline began on a Publishers Weekly article yesterday about best-selling author and pastor Francis Chan‘s new book, Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity and the Things We Make Up. It’s no wonder, given months of public discussion about the topic generated by publication of Rob Bell‘s controversial new release, Love Wins.
David C. Cook is so confident about the potential marketability of Erasing Hell, it has committed to a 250,000 unit initial print run, “a six-figure marketing budget, and a simultaneous audio release from Oasis Audio,” Publishers Weekly reported.
God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins will debut in July, even though its author, Chrisitianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli already reviewed Love Wins for his magazine. Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones and Is Hell for Real? Or Does Everyone Go to Heaven? a compilation by Tim Keller, Albert Mohler and others are also scheduled for summer 2011 release, Publishers Weekly reported.
Dr. Brian Bantum, an associate professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University, is reticent about the current public obsession with hell. Bantum shared these thoughts by email this afternoon:
“In many ways the attempts to revisit the question of hell have been refreshing. Refreshing in the sense that Christians are being confronted by the wonder and transcendence of God in such a way that we believers become displaced or our misplacement is revealed. That is, these discussions have surfaced Christians’ not so uncommon tendency to turn God’s grace towards us into judgment upon others.
“But at the same time I worry that the outrage over Rob Bell and others so often seems to be more intense and vehement than reactions to the many injustices that plague our society. I worry that we do not acknowledge how hell is not a distant reality for some, how the existence of some is marked by perpetual exploitation and suffering that points not to their ‘choice’ for or against God, but of the exercise of power, greed and dehumanization. In this way, I am grieved that some become so incensed over articulating the mystery of a life after death while being so unconcerned with the lives God places before us in this world.”
Harvard professor Robert D. Putman and Notre Dame professor David E. Campbell reported in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us that Americans’ doctrinal commitments are weakening and that a growing number of Christians don’t believe that God will send their non-Christian friends and relatives to hell.
Given this climate, do you think the focus on hell and the afterlife is a distraction from the suffering that exists in our world? Or is it a necessary response to the doubts raised by Bell, and the culture at large, regarding man’s eternal destiny?