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“A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.”
“If my sinfulness appears to me in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all.”
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”
Heaven Is For Real is written by pastor Todd Burpo and it tells the story of his son Colton who, at age 4, visited heaven. His visit came while he was on the operating table after suffering a burst appendix. He told his parents his story several months later and his parents then waited 6 or 7 years to record it in a book. That book has shot to the top of the charts, resulting in many of you sending me emails to ask, “Have you read it?” So I went ahead and read it. Because that’s the kind of guy I am.
You will probably not be surprised to learn that this is not a good book. What I want to do here is offer a very brief review and then I want to tell you why you can legitimately dismiss this book and all the others like it, because I think that’s where many of us feel the tension—what gives me the right to dismiss another person’s experience?
I’ve already given you the broad outline. Colton dies (or something close to it) and visits heaven for an unknown period of time. He returns to his body and over the months and years that follow tells his parents about his time in heaven. He tells about spending time with Jesus, about meeting the sister he never knew he had, about fluttering around with wings, about the pearly gates, and on and on. Along the way you’ll get descriptions of Todd’s various afflictions and you’ll read the fine details of Colton’s battles with constipation and the great relief he experienced passing gas. Riveting stuff, this.
Every one of Colton’s experiences, or very nearly every one, follows a pattern. He tells his father some little detail. His father experiences a gasp or feels his heart skip a beat. “I could hardly breathe. My mind was reeling. My head was spinning.” A Scripture verse comes to dad’s mind that validates the experience. Colton gets bored and runs off. Repeat.
The story is told with short chapters and grade school-level writing. Fine literature it is not. The point of it all is to encourage you that heaven is a real place. Colton went there and his experience now validates its existence. Just like Don Piper went there and his experience validates its existence. Just like Bill Wiese went to hell and can speak with authority to tell you that you really, really don’t want to go there. Just like the Apostle Paul went there and told us all about it in order to…oh wait.
Now, what do I do with a book like this one? It seems to me that there are only a couple of options available to me. I can accept it, agreeing that this little boy is legitimate—he went to heaven and is now telling the tale for our edification. Or I can reject what this boy is saying—he did not go to heaven and this book is fictitious. If I go with this second option (which is exactly what I am doing) I now have two choices before me: either the boy (and/or his parents) is a liar or he genuinely believes he experienced something that he did not actually experience. I know which way I would lean, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.
Either option is very uncharitable and each one leaves me with a further problem: on what grounds can I dismiss this as fiction, as a book that is completely unprofitable?
If I wanted to disprove Colton’s experience on grounds of logic or consistency I might point in a couple of different directions. In the first place, Colton is a toddler who speaks like an adult. His verbatim quotes sound nothing like a 4-year old, and I think I can say this with some authority as the father of a 4-year old. I’d also point to the fact that dad routinely remembers circumstantial detail that there is very little chance he would remember 6 or 7 years after the fact, something that, at the very least, tells me that he is filling in details where he feels he needs to. But there are better grounds.
The better strategy, I think, is to look to the Bible.
Heaven Is Real, but Heaven Is for Real Is Really Not
Article ID: HIR20140416 | By: Hank Hanegraaff
See Hank’s special video resource: Hank articulates ten reasons why both the book and film,Heaven is for Real is a dangerous diversion. Click here to view the video.
To read Hank’s related article: Heaven Is Real, please click here.
There is nothing new under the sun. From the time occult parapsychologist Raymond Moody coined the moniker “Near-Death Experience” (NDE) to the present, bestsellers on NDEs have abounded—Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie; Beyond Death’s Door by Maurice Rawlings;Life after Life by Raymond Moody; The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by Kevin Malarkey; 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper; My Journey to Heaven by Marvin J. Besteman; Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander—to name just a few.
The following are ten reasons I consider the movie
Heaven Is for Real to be a dangerous diversion:
1. It is more than noteworthy to point out that NDEs are predictably contextualized by the backgrounds and belief systems of those who experience them. As such, they hardly provide a unified conclusion regarding the matters of life and death, heaven and hell, and most importantly the nature of God. Muslims encounter the Holy Spirit as the archangel Gabriel. Buddhists are inexorably guided down the pathway to nirvanic realization of “no self.” And the Burpos, who interpret the Bible literalistically, are now convinced that God the Father has enormous wings, blue eyes, and yellow hair, and God the Son is wingless, with sea-green-bluish eyes, brown hair, and a rainbow-colored horse. And the Holy Spirit? Well, He is bluish! Who would have thought?
2. The subjective recollection of NDErs are wildly divergent and mutually contradictory. Logically, while they can all be wrong, they cannot all be right. Orthopedic surgeon Mary Neal, in the wake of a drowning accident, felt her soul being inexorably pulled toward the entry of a “great and brilliant hall,” in which the dead are given “a final opportunity to choose God—or turn away—for eternity.” Conversely, in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, Dr. Eben Alexander experiences an afterlife in which such choices are wholly unnecessary—“You have nothing to fear.” “There is nothing you can do wrong.” This, writes Alexander, “is not only the single most important emotional truth in the universe, but also the single most important scientific truth as well.” In short, Neal, Alexander, and, for that matter, the Burpos and a host of other NDErs paint entirely different and conflicting portraits of the afterlife.
3. There is a substantive difference between clinical death and biological death. Put another way, to be almost dead and absolutely dead are two entirely different propositions. We may rightly suppose that what is experienced during clinical death and what will be experienced at the climax of death are not one and the same. The point here is that NDEs do not provide definitive knowledge of what happens after death in that NDErs by definition have not actually experienced biological death. In short, a near-death experience is the subjective recollection of an experience that occurred during a state of unconsciousness precipitated by a medical crisis, such as an accident, suicide attempt, or cardiac arrest. As such, an NDE is notoriously unreliable as a means by which to determine what awaits us when “the silver cord is severed” (Ecclesiastes 12:6).
4. There is a clear and present danger in turning to Burpo rather than the Bible respecting those things that allegedly will happen in the future. Has Burpo indeed been shown the future? Is he really a direct eyewitness who is now empowered to settle theological issues that the body of Christ has struggled with throughout its history? Has he really had face-to-face communication with the resurrected Christ, John the Baptist, David, Peter, John, and even the archangel Gabriel? If so, Burpo is a treasure to the body of Christ like unto the Bible. If not, we should dismiss the subjective recollections of a three-year-old and instead hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
5. While Christ does not tell us the time of His second appearing, Colton is more than happy to! Indeed, according to Colton, it is within the lifetime of his own father. As a result, Pastor Burpo not only knows that he will be alive during the final battle of Armageddon but also that he will personally slay monsters during this cosmic battle with either a sword or a bow and an arrow.
6. Among the biblical writers who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), not one dared say that like their Lord they could speak authoritatively about heaven from firsthand knowledge. Nor, in contrast to Burpo, did one of them dare prophesy the century of Christ’s return!
7. In the 14th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Dr. Luke chronicles the near-death experience of Paul.
(Note: I will be posting articles about the recently released movie, “Heaven is for Real” based on the best-selling book about 4-year-old, Colton Burpo’s brief trip to heaven and back. Yes, heaven is real, but many of the claims in the book simply are not biblical accurate).
- Friday, April 04, 2014
MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (BP) — How do you compete with cuteness?
Everybody loves the cuteness, innocence and honesty of children. Now comes the story of Colton Burpo who, at age 4, told of a three-minute trip to heaven and returned to tell us Heaven is for Real, a New York TimesBestseller published by Thomas Nelson in 2010.
Millions have read the gripping story that will soon be seen by predictably larger numbers when the movie version is released in April just in time for Easter.
Should this amazing testimony be taken at face value? Or as Todd Burpo, Colton’s father asked in the book’s prologue, “How could he [Colton] have known?” And, “Could this be real?”
Todd concluded that there is only one explanation for his son’s knowledge — it’s an eyewitness account in heaven itself. Therefore, what Colton said must be real. Reading various reviews and endorsements of the book, it appears that many, including evangelical leaders, have come to the same conclusion.
But how should a Bible-believing Christian respond?
The cuteness, innocence and honesty of 4-year-olds as well as the testimony of adults must bow before the divine revelation of God’s Word.
On the one hand I am happy the movie is coming out. What a great opportunity to get people talking about heaven! Those who view the movie will be open to discussing its views of heaven compared to biblical teachings. A clear and accurate presentation of the Gospel can easily flow from this.
On the other hand I am saddened. Many people will succumb to the real temptation to base their view of heaven on the word of a 4-year-old boy instead of the Word of God. This type of reaction has already followed the book.
Space will allow just a few areas in the book that cause concern and may be part of the movie version:
- Colton said that in heaven, “Everybody’s got wings” (p. 72), and “Pop [Todd’s grandfather] has really big wings” (p. 87). This is not found in the Bible. This description could further a common misunderstanding that humans become angels in heaven; but we do not.
- Speaking of Pop on another occasion, Colton said, “He’s in heaven. He’s got a new body. Jesus told me if you don’t go to heaven, you don’t get a new body” (p. 136). The Bible assures believers they will get a new body, but the new body is not received until the resurrection. During the time between physical death and resurrection we continue to exist, but not in a physical body (1 Corinthians 15:12-58; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8).
- Then there are odd revelations by Colton that seem to be accepted without question: God’s throne is “really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is” (p. 100) and the Holy Spirit is “kind of blue” (p. 103). These descriptions are not supported by Scripture.
- My greatest concern is seen in the mostly subtle inferences, and sometimes direct statements, that God’s Word is somehow confirmed by the testimony of Colton. The Bible stands true on its own merits and is not dependent of one’s experiences to confirm it; on the contrary, the Word of God must confirm all experiences.
Remember Todd’s first question, “How could he [Colton] have known” some of the things he talked about? How could a person know information about dead loved ones they didn’t even know existed?
In a new piece for Christianity Today online, Andreas Köstenberger and I look at Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon. Here is a comment on the role of the women that may be helpful to remember:
As you preach this Easter, do not bypass the testimony of the women as an incidental detail.
In the first century, women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law.
Josephus said that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable “because of the levity and boldness of their sex.”
Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a “hysterical female . . . deluded by . . . sorcery.”
This background matters because it points to two crucial truths.
One is Robert E. Lee who surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia 149 years ago this past Wednesday ending the Civil War – at least in the north. During the month following most remaining Confederate generals in the south surrendered their forces. The last surrendered in June.
The other historic figure is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was hanged on the morning of April 9, 1945 by order of Adolf Hitler.
This is his story.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer decided at age 14 that he would be a pastor – a goal from which he never wavered. By age 21 he had earned a doctorate summa cum laude from Berlin University and before age 25 he had completed post-doctoral work that awarded the highest university degree possible.
Still, he was too young to be an ordained pastor, so Bonhoeffer traveled to New York for a year to study and teach at Union Theological Seminary as a Visiting Fellow. Returning to Germany in 1931, he was appointed to teach systematic theology at Berlin University. But he had become interested in ecumenism, perhaps as a result of having been introduced to black churches during his stay in America and having come to understand racism. His papers and letters suggest a shift in thinking from an intellectual interest in Christianity to a transformed faith in the message revealed in the gospels.
Bonhoeffer was ordained later that year having reached the age of 25 just as Nazism was beginning its rise to power under Adolf Hitler. It would brook no rival ideology. Germans were two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic before Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Austria and about half and half thereafter. Hitler was able to strike an agreement with the Catholic Church that would prohibit political activism and Jewish conversions to Christianity. (Many in the Catholic Church power structure were sympathetic to Nazi anti-Semitism.)
The Protestant churches were another affair. When Hitler attempted to unify their 28 sects into a single anti-Semitic Reich Church, some Protestants were sympathetic to expelling Jewish Christians; others weren’t. Those opposed to the Kirchenkampf – the church struggle that sought to Nazify the Protestant church – formed the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer aligned with them.
Early in the Kirchenkampf, Bonhoeffer authored a paper, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” which was sure to attract the attention of the Nazis. He contended that baptized Jews were members of the Christian Church. Those who weren’t members were nevertheless under the protection of the church, which had an obligation to “not only bind up the wounds of those who have fallen beneath the wheel” of the state “but at times halt the wheel itself.”
Thus, Bonhoeffer’s religious ideology put him on a collision course with the Nazi state. It also put him in opposition to Catholic and Protestant church leaders who chose to remain silent in order to avoid attracting Nazi attention. Still, more than 2,000 Confessing pastors joined Bonhoeffer to warn the world of Nazism’s threat.
In 1933 Bonhoeffer accepted a two-year position in London to be the minister for two German-speaking evangelical churches. He spent a good portion of those two years drumming up ecumenical support for the Confessing Church and its fight against Nazism. When he returned to Germany, Nazi suppression of the Confessing Church had grown harsher. Karl Barth, a founder of the Confessing movement, decided in 1935 to return to his home country, Switzerland. The next year Bonhoeffer was denounced for his pacifism, declared an enemy of the state, and forbidden to teach at Berlin University. He turned his energies to training Confessing Church pastors in an underground seminary in Finkenwalde. Another Confessing founder, Martin Niemöller, was arrested in July 1937. That year Himmler declared it illegal to train Confessing Church minister candidates and the Gestapo shut down Finkenwalde, arresting 27 pastors and students.
The product of these persecutions was Bonhoeffer’s best known book, The Cost of Discipleship, an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. In it he condemned “cheap grace” the cosmetic imitation of the “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer likely learned the meaning of cheap grace from the protest culture of the black churches during his American sojourn. It would empower his discipleship during the Nazi era.
Throughout 1938 and into 1939 it became evident that Hitler’s demands would provoke war. The potential for national conscription loomed large. It would require an oath of allegiance to Hitler, a great concern for Bonhoeffer. When his mentor, Reinhold Niebuhr invited him that summer to return to the Union Theological Seminary and arranged a teaching job there for him, Bonhoeffer accepted. But almost immediately he regretted his decision. Despite the encouragement of friends to stay in America, Bonhoeffer wrote Niebuhr:
I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.
Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in late 1939 on the last steamer to sail before the outbreak of war.
Once there he was forbidden to speak publicly. Then he was forbidden to publish, and then he was forbidden to be in Berlin.