According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Piper's "90 Minutes in Heaven?" or Wiese's "23 Minutes in Hell?" True or Not?

 
 


What do you think about all these afterlife memoirs?

by Rachel Held Evans
June 21, 2012

Dan and I have a running joke that if A Year of Biblical Womanhood flops, I can always revert to Plan B: “fall” off the treadmill, claim to go to Purgatory for the duration of my blackout, and then write a guaranteed bestseller entitled 7 Minutes in Purgatory. (Cause no one has done Purgatory yet, right?)

It’s a joke of course, but beneath it is a twinge of concern regarding the increasing popularity of books in which authors claim to have died, gone to heaven or hell, and returned to tell us about it.

Tim Challies wrote a rather scathing assessment of the phenomenon earlier this week in a post entitled “Heaven Tourism":

“Don Piper spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn’t know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids’ edition accounting for another half million.

Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks.

There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing—a genre that is selling like hotcakes, or Amish fiction, for that...”

“...I do not believe that Don Piper or Colton Burpo or Mary Neal or Bill Wiese visited the afterlife. They can tell me all the stories they want, and then can tell those stories in a sincere tone, but I do not believe them (even when they send me very angry and condescending emails that accuse me of character assassination). I am not necessarily saying that these people are liars—just that I am under no obligation to believe another person’s experience."

I confess that I too am skeptical.

I wouldn’t go so far as to categorically reject each of these experiences as false, but like Tim, I don’t feel obligated to believe every word of them either.

And I can’t help but wonder what the success of these books says about how many Christians view their faith—namely, that being a Christian is about securing that ticket to heaven and fire insurance from hell, that the gift of salvation is something that kicks in after death with little relevance to day-to-day life. How easy it is to forget that the Kingdom of Heaven is for real...and it is here, among us, now! [sic, see Jeff Cooks last article on Heaven. - res]

Or perhaps the popularity of afterlife memoirs has more to do with that deep longing within each one of us to know for sure that death is not the end, that we will see our loved ones again. I feel this ache profoundly each time I think about my grandparents, and especially my beloved Uncle Gary.

One of the biggest questions I’ve had to confront in my years of wrestling with doubts about my faith is what it means to live without the absolute, unfailing certainty that I will go to heaven when I die. Working through that question has been both terrifying and challenging.

What do you think?

Are you skeptical about afterlife memoirs?

Do you ever doubt the existence of an afterlife?



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Heavenly Tourism

by Tim Challies
June 18, 2012
Travelling to heaven and back is where it’s at today. Don Piper spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn’t know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids’ edition accounting for another half million. Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks. There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing—a genre that is selling like hotcakes, or Amish fiction, for that.

I’ll grant that the cost of this type of journey is rather steep (you’ve got to die, though only for just a few minutes), but it’s a sound investment when you factor in the sales figures. I can think of quite a few authors who would trade a few minutes of life for 50+ weeks on the bestseller lists and a few appearances on TBN.

The most recent heaven tourist is Mary C. Neal. Much like Todd Burpo, who is responsible for taking his son’s adventures to print, Neal only decided to write about her experiences many years after the fact, after all those other “I went to heaven” books began to sell in the hundreds of thousands. But that’s definitely just coincidence. She initially self-published her book To Heaven and Back, but once it started generating buzz (i.e. selling lots and lots of copies), Waterbrook Multnomah stooped down and scraped it off the bottom of a shoe somewhere, and promptly re-issued it. With the extra marketing nudge, it has now made its debut on the New York Times list of bestsellers. I gave it a skim—I just couldn’t bear to read it all the way—and found that it is much the same as the others. In fact, it may be worse than the others in that it contains even less Christian theology, less gospel and far more New Age, sub-Christian nonsense. That a publisher of Christian books would even consider taking this to print is appalling.

I am not going to review To Heaven and Back. It’s pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity. But I do want to address a question that often arises around this book and others in the genre: How do I respond to them? How do I respond to those who say they have been to heaven? When a Christian, or a person who claims to be a Christian, tells me that he has been to heaven, am I obliged to believe him or at least to give him the benefit of the doubt?

No, I am under no such obligation. I do not believe that Don Piper or Colton Burpo or Mary Neal or Bill Wiese visited the afterlife. They can tell me all the stories they want, and then can tell those stories in a sincere tone, but I do not believe them (even when they send me very angry and condescending emails that accuse me of character assassination). I am not necessarily saying that these people are liars—just that I am under no obligation to believe another person’s experience. Here’s why:

In the first place, we have no reason to believe or expect that God will work in this way—that he will call one of us to the afterlife and then send us back to our old bodies. The Bible says that it is for man to die once and then to experience the resurrection. There are many experiences we can have in a near-death state I am sure—dream-like experiences that may even seem real—but the Bible gives us no reason to believe that a person will truly die, truly experience the afterlife, and then return. Those who have a biblical understanding of life and death and heaven and hell will know that for a person to die and visit heaven, to experience sinlessness and the presence of Jesus Christ—for that person it would be the very height of cruelty to then demand that they return to earth. None of these books are at all consistent with a robust theology of heaven and hell, of the work of Jesus Christ, of the existence of indwelling sin. On the surface they may seem compelling, but in reality they raise far more questions than the few they may appear to answer.

In the second place, the very idea of God calling a person to heaven and back and then having that person share his experience in order to bolster our faith is the exact opposite of what the Lord desires for us. We have no reason to look to another person’s experience of heaven in order to prove that heaven is real or hell is real. The Bible promises blessings on those who do not see and yet believe. Our hope is not to be in the story of a minister or toddler or doctor or anyone else who insists they have been to heaven; our hope is to be in Jesus Christ as God has graciously revealed him to us in the Bible. Faith is believing that what God says in his Word is true and without error. You dishonor God if you choose to believe what the Bible says only when you receive some kind of outside verification. You dishonor God if you need this kind of outside verification.

A question remains: How do I respond to a Christian who has read these books and who finds great joy or comfort in them? You point that person to what is true. You will need to be careful with tone and timing, but ultimately, it will be a blessing for any Christian to direct his faith to the worthy object of faith. Faith will be strengthened by reading the Bible and believing it. Faith will be weakened by reading the Bible and believing it only after reading 90 Minutes in Heaven. You can serve any Christian by directing him to the Bible and helping him to see that we are called to believe God on the basis of what he says in his Word, not on the basis of another person’s experience. 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is For Real and all the rest are not books that beautify the doctrine of heaven, but books that attack the doctrine of Scripture. The Bible insists that it is enough, that it is sufficient, that we have no need for further special revelation from God; these books insist that it is not.



* * * * * * * * * * * *


Reimagining Heaven
                     
By Jeff Cook
February 3, 2011
 
If heaven is more than harps, and halos ... what is it?
 
Often when we think of heaven, what comes to mind is escape. According to Medieval art and modern cartoons, “heaven” is about leaving. Heaven is about getting as far away from what we and others have broken as possible. Perhaps we think this world is too base, painful and irreparably shattered to fix, so our only hope is to leave. As such, “salvation” isn’t about a new life, a transformed character or a brilliant new experience of God. Salvation is about departure. Salvation is about “going to heaven,” being rescued from this dysfunctional world and entering a new home that is trash bag-free.
 
There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to suffer anymore, or wanting to be with God (which are some of the things that come to my mind when thinking of heaven). But when Jesus taught about heaven, He never spoke of it as a distant land of clouds, bath robes and harp music waiting for the souls of the dead (which sounds a bit more like hell to me). Instead, Jesus spoke of “the kingdom of heaven.” It is arguably His favorite topic. Jesus refers to this kingdom more than 100 times—more than He speaks of love, peace and money combined. Apparently, the “kingdom” aspect of heaven was vital to Jesus and His teachings.
 
But notice—kingdoms are power structures. They are an area of authority. As such, when He spoke of heaven, Jesus was emphasizing heaven’s present power and work. When Jesus told stories that began with similes (such as, the kingdom of heaven is like a man sowing seed in a barren field), He was showing His culture what it looked like when heaven was in control. This was what Jesus wanted His followers to know about heaven. For Jesus, heaven was primarily about God’s will being done on earth. We don’t need to leave earth, because heaven is coming here. Because “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” it makes sense that the Son’s highest concern would be repairing the world His Father loves—saturating it with the life of heaven (John 3:16, NIV).
 
Now and Not Yet
 
Jesus and the rest of the New Testament writers consistently speak in a way that suggests both that heaven—the sphere of God’s reign, presence and repairing poweris already here in a new way and that it is not yet fully here in another.
 
When the early Christians expressed their hope in God’s future, they pointed at the resurrection, but there was something else that was more tangible, specific and informative about God’s plans for each of them. They spoke of experiencing God’s Spirit within them and within one another. The Spirit that had once hovered over chaos and helped make the world, the Spirit they saw in Jesus—that same Spirit was now in them. It was tangible, and they felt it transforming them inside and making them more like Jesus.
 
Jesus believed the Spirit’s renewal—of both human beings and God’s world—had begun. The Spirit’s work is how new creation happens. Notice, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a tiny mustard seed sprouting and eventually growing into an enormous tree filling all the sky. He compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast that slowly worked into a large lump of dough. Both parables imply that the kingdom of heaven will not be instantaneous. Jesus thought heaven had just now begun to grow here, had just now begun to reclaim all the places that had been neglected.
 
As such, we should think of heaven and the age to come chasing us, meeting us, enlivening us and beginning to grow right here in our midst. It’s as though the renewal of all things has begun, and you and I are being transformed now into what we will always be.
 
The Sight of Heaven
 
If we are willing, we can choose to see heaven. We can see it in the lives of those around us who are transformed not by lucky flukes, but the Spirit of God. We can see it in the life and resurrection of Jesus, and in ourselves. We can choose to see places in our own story not as an accident, but as a real encounter with the God who is making everything new. It is a mistake to think of heaven as ever distant, unexperienced, always a step beyond our lives now. The Bible is filled with stories not of people being hurried out of here, but of God descending and drawing the world to Himself.
 
In the early days of creation, God descended into the Garden of Eden. During the exodus, God descended in a guiding pillar of cloud and fire. During the Jewish exile, God descended into a Babylonian fire to be with three would-be martyrs. In the Gospels, God descended in the incarnation of Jesus. At the origin of the Christian community, God descended like tongues of fire, which communicate to every nation a new reality. When Paul pictured the end of the age, he wrote again of God descending: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command … and the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The final chapters of the Bible end with a grand culmination where heaven and earth are fully wed and God makes His home with us here. What results when our lives are united to that reality—to the reign of God and the work of His Son—is new creation. As God Himself says to close the Bible:
 
“‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning
or crying or pain, for the old order of things [the present age] has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”
 
- Revelation 21:3-5
 
Do we choose to see our world this way? Do we choose to see heaven slowly engulfing everything and waiting for its full revelation in our midst? Our hope then is that we will continue to be transformed, that “he who began a good work in you [now] will carry it on to completion [then]” (Philippians 1:6). You and I have not yet arrived. We are not yet perfect. We are always in transit. Our lives are a work of tension—the tension between a work “begun” and a work “complete.” But for those who experience God’s Spirit, the future is clear. We are being made more and more like Jesus who has given us His Spirit.

As such, when we choose mercy over indifference, when we choose action over apathy, when we choose self-restraint and chastity over a life given over to our many reckless desires, we choose to live now in the kingdom of heaven. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, house the homeless and die to ourselves for the sake of another, we enjoy the life of the age to come. When we hear the voice of God telling us we are loved, that our many sins are forgiven, we experience now what we will experience forever. When we eat together, laugh together, sing together, serve together, take communion, love our enemies and cancel debts, we choose to live the best kind of life—the life of God’s future connected to Him and to one another.

Of course, Jesus is central to all this. He is not simply the one announcing a new kingdom. He is the king—the Christ—and in the pantheon of potential deities, Jesus alone is doing the work of restoration. He alone has a history of making everything new. In Jesus alone do we get the sense that repair may actually become a reality. We see the defeat of evil in the events of Good Friday and Easter, for the cross and resurrection are the sign to all that there is a new king, for death could not overcome the life rising up in God’s Son.


Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado, and is the author of Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan 2008) and the upcoming Everything New (2011). This article is excerpted from one that originally appeared in RELEVANT. To get more articles like this, you can subscribe by clicking here.



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