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, April 22, 2014

Reflecting on the Hollywood Movie "Heaven is for Real"


Allen Fraser/Sony Pictures - Todd (Greg Kinnear) shows Colton
(Connor Corum) a picture of his grandfather in TriStar

What Hollywood gets wrong about heaven
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/21/heaven-is-scary-for-real/?sr=fb042314heavenscary5pStoryGallLink

Opinion by Drew Dyck, special to CNN
April 21, 2014

(CNN) - The 4-year-old boy sees angels floating toward him. They start out as stars, then slowly become more visible, wings flapping behind orbs of white light.

As they approach, they sing a melodious song. The boy cocks his head, squints into the sky, and makes a strange request. “Can you sing ‘We Will Rock You’?”

The angels giggle.

So do people in the theater.

The scene is from “Heaven is for Real,” the latest in a string of religious movies soaring at the box office. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the real-life story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy who awakens from surgery with eye-popping tales of the great beyond. The film took in an estimated $21.5 million in opening on Easter weekend.

Even Colton’s religious parents (his dad, Todd, is a pastor) struggle to accept the celestial encounters their son describes: seeing Jesus and his rainbow-colored horse, meeting his sister who died in utero, and talking to his deceased great-grandfather, “Pop,” who, Colton exclaims, has “huge wings.”

The book and film are part of a larger trend. Depictions of journeys to heaven have never been more numerous or more popular. There’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “To Heaven and Back,” “Proof of Heaven,” and “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just to name a few.

What Does the Bible Tell Us About Angels?

So what should we make of such accounts? And what does their popularity say about us?

Some may be surprised that the Bible contains not one story of a person going to heaven and coming back. In fact Jesus’ own words seem to preclude the possibility: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man” (John 3:13).

Scripture does contain several visions of heaven or encounters with celestial beings, but they’re a far cry from the feel-good fare of the to-heaven-and-back genre.

In Scripture, when mortals catch a premature glimpse of God’s glory, they react in remarkably similar ways. They tremble. They cower. They go mute. The ones who can manage speech express despair (or “woe” to use the King James English) and become convinced they are about to die. Fainters abound.

Take the prophet Daniel, for instance. He could stare down lions, but when the heavens opened before him, he swooned. Ezekiel, too, was overwhelmed by his vision of God. After witnessing Yahweh’s throne chariot fly into the air with the sound of a jet engine, he fell face-first to the ground.

Perhaps the most harrowing vision belongs to Isaiah. He sees the Almighty “high and exalted,” surrounded by angels who use their wings to shield their faces and feet from the glory of God. Faced with this awesome spectacle, Isaiah loses it. “Woe to me!” he cries, “I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Angels in the New Testament

New Testament figures fare no better.

John’s famous revelations of heaven left him lying on the ground “as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). The disciples dropped when they saw Jesus transfigured. Even the intrepid Saul marching to Damascus collapsed before the open heavens – and walked away blind.

How different from our popular depictions. And it isn’t just “Heaven is for Real.” In most movies angels are warm, approachable – teddy bears with wings. God is Morgan Freeman or some other avuncular presence.

Scripture, however, knows nothing of such portrayals. Heavenly encounters are terrifying, leaving even the most stout and spiritual vibrating with fear – or lying facedown, unconscious.

Yes, the Bible teaches that heaven is a place of ultimate comfort, with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

But it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme –and that’s scary.

Can the Story Be True?

Did a 4-year-old boy from Nebraska really visit heaven? I don’t know. My hunch is that the popularity of such stories tells us more about our view of God than the place in which he dwells.

Ultimately I believe we flock to gauzy, feel-good depictions of heaven and tiptoe around the biblical passages mentioned above because we’ve lost sight of God’s holiness.

I fear we’ve sentimentalized heaven and by extension its primary occupant. I worry the modern understanding of God owes more to Colton Burpo than the prophet Isaiah. And I think this one-sided portrayal diminishes our experience of God.

We can’t truly appreciate God’s grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won’t be lifted by his love until we’re humbled by his holiness.

The affection of a cosmic buddy is one thing. But the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who Isaiah says “dwells in unapproachable light,” means something else entirely.

Of course it means nothing if you think it’s all hokum. If for you the material reality is all the reality there is, any talk of God is white noise. But if you’re like me, and you think heaven is for real, well, it makes all the difference in the world.


Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journal and author of “Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying.” The views expressed in this column belong to Dyck.


Heaven Is For Real Trailer 2014 Movie - Official [HD]





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A Theologian’s Reflections on the Movie “Heaven Is for Real”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/04/a-theologians-reflections-on-the-movie-heaven-is-for-real/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=rogereolson_042214UTC040427_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=45678704&spUserID=Nzg4MDU4NjI4MjkS1&spJobID=422632338&spReportId=NDIyNjMyMzM4S0

by Roger E. Olson
April 20, 2014

Either serendipitously or providentially, this coming week my Christian Theology class is studying personal, individual life after death—”heaven” and “hell.” After that they/we will study corporate, cosmic eschatology—the future of creation. So, seeing that this week, before class, the movie version of the best-selling book Heaven Is for Real was being released, I asked my students to see it, if possible, and told them we will devote some class time to discussion of the movie.

I read the book soon after it was published—about four years ago (2011). I don’t remember enough details to compare everything in the movie with the book. I just remember that it’s the purportedly true story of a four year old boy, son of a Wesleyan pastor in Nebraska, who visited heaven while undergoing surgery. According to the boy, he saw Jesus, heard and saw angels, and met his great-grandfather (who died before he was born) and his sister whom he didn’t even know ever existed (because she died in the womb two months before she was to be born and his parents never mentioned her to him).

Naturally, as an evangelical Christian, I’m inclined to believe in some “near death” experiences (which are sometimes actual death experiences but in Colton Burpo’s [the boy's] case he did not actually die). Others I’m not so sure about. I probably was - and am inclined to - take this one more seriously just because the boy seems not to have been coached (unless his parents are simply lying) and his parents are Wesleyan Church pastors. I like the Wesleyan Church. (If I wasn’t a Baptist and lived near a Wesleyan Church I’d probably attend it. Or if there wasn’t a “good” Baptist church I’d probably attend the Wesleyan Church. But I digress.)

First let me say I went to the movie with a healthy mood of combined openness and skepticism. I rarely see evangelical Christianity portrayed in movies fairly. Usually, everything is going along okay until, suddenly, the movie makers put a huge crucifix on the church wall behind the pulpit—or some other gross anomaly. Or they have the allegedly evangelical Protestant congregation singing “Ave Maria” or something. It’s a pet peeve of mine. But I tend also to be skeptical, not unwilling to believe, of personal experiences of God and Jesus. So many I’ve encountered are grossly unbiblical, silly, ridiculous—by any standard.

Second, I will say the movie was not at all bad. I was pleasantly surprised. For the most part, evangelical Christianity was treated sympathetically or at least realistically. (I actually convinced myself that the Hollywood movie makers would not allow the church to be “Wesleyan” but would make it generically Protestant. I was pleasantly surprised to see the sign outside the church say “Wesleyan.” Maybe some people will actually go home and look that up and read about it!) I found the pastor’s (Todd Burpo played by Greg Kinnear) skepticism about his son’s experience a little surprising; I would think your typical Wesleyan pastor would be more open than that. Same with the church leaders. And the culminating sermon left something to be desired; it was a little vague and could be interpreted as saying it doesn’t matter whether heaven is a literal place or not.

I was glad the movie didn’t try to depict God the Father or heaven in too much vivid detail or for very long. Even Jesus was depicted with a soft focus lens. At the end of the movie, of course, a girl’s painting of Jesus is declared to be just what Jesus looks like. That’s a bit startling as he has green-blue eyes! Jesus was and is Jewish and not many Jews of Palestine in the first century would have green-blue eyes.

My wife says I’m overly nit-picky. I realize that. But that’s the side effect of being a theologian and really caring about theology.

So here comes my main critique of the book and movie. I believe in the “intermediate state”—the technical theological term for conscious life after death before resurrection. But I fear the book and movie will reinforce the popular idea that the intermediate state is actually the fullness of heaven (and therefore not an intermediate state!). It isn’t. In fact, we are told very little about it in Scripture. Jesus called it (for the saved) “Paradise.” Paul referred to it as the “third heaven.” But Jesus told his disciples he would go away and prepare a place for them, then return and take them there—to his “Father’s house” with many rooms. So the fullness of heaven is after Christ returns. The “blessed hope” of believers in Christ has always been not the intermediate state, a bodiless existence of being with Christ, but the resurrection [with new bodies] and the new heaven and new earth—liberated from bondage to decay (Romans 8).

The book and movie force us to think about this issue. Do we have to choose between the Bible’s revelation of personal eschatology (intermediate state then resurrection and heaven) and personal experiences of life after death?

As fascinating, inspiring and emotionally titillating as Colton Burpo’s experience was, we must not allow it or any other such testimony to become the basis of Christian belief. Our belief is based on Christ and his resurrection and on the Scriptural witness to him and to God’s plan for us. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “We should not want to know too much about the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.” The key is “too much.” We can only “know” (believe) what Scripture says about life after death before the resurrection and that’s not much.



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