“…the Bible gives us no indication whatsoever that God will work in this way and that he will call one of us to heaven and then cause us to return. It is for man to die once and then the resurrection. To allow a man (or a boy) to experience heaven and then to bring him back would not be grace but cruelty. The only biblical example we have of a man being caught up to heaven is Paul and it’s very interesting that he was forbidden to tell anything about it.” ~ Tim Challies
With the new HEAVEN IS FOR REAL movie debuting there are concerns we ought to consider when it comes to these types of books and movies.
If you are someone who possesses a decent amount of Biblical knowledge you will likely discern any issues with stories about Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for many who will encounter these stories. As someone who has had to desperately grapple with her own beliefs, these are the people who weigh heavily on my mind when considering the implications of these types of books and movies.
It’s one thing for a mature Christian encountering stories of Heaven and Hell to be sensitive to discernment (and the Holy Spirit), yet something entirely different for a young Christian or unbeliever.
These stories are being marketed and hailed as Biblical truth. They are not and ought to be denounced as such. First and foremost the Bible is our authority and then as a distant second are a significant number of Biblically sound books written on the subject of Heaven, Hell and the afterlife. We would be wise to exhort people far away from these stories and refer them back to sound Biblical teachings.
Here are some thoughts to consider when one of these books or movies comes along:
1.) In the New Testament there are three instances of man viewing heaven. Stephen when he was being stoned to death and he revealed seeing Jesus at the right hand of God as he was dying. (Acts 7:55)
2.) John, who wrote Revelation with the greatest description of Heaven understanding that he was writing authoritative Scripture.
3.) Then there was Paul. He wrote approximately a third of the New Testament and would not speak of what he had seen of Heaven…not only that, but God gave him a thorn in the flesh to further humble him. (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)
4.) The Lord can do as He pleases. (Psalm 135:6) And He has told us in His Word that when it comes to binding and authoritative revelation the canon of Scripture is closed. That means no extra Biblical revelation (which is what these books are claiming). (Hebrews 1:1-2, Jude 1:3)
5.) His Word tells us that there is an appointed time for each of us to die once and then face judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)
6.) The authors may be sincere men, but even a small amount of erroneous or deceitful information being propagated as non-fiction, as truth, as Biblical, and spreading far and wide is at the very least leading readers astray and possibly much, much worse. (Galatians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:6)
7.) Stories like these breach our reliance on the Word of God and our relationship to God because they can’t be reconciled with Scripture, and if you don’t know to reconcile them with Scripture in the first place you are in even greater jeopardy of being deceived.
How do we reconcile that the Apostle Paul was not able to tell us what he saw in Heaven, God left with a thorn in his flesh, the canon of Scripture is closed yet…these authors write and sell books, go on interviews nationwide, make videos, and negotiate movie deals about their visits to Heaven and back (or Hell as some have published)? It’s something to consider. If it’s to bear witness then it has to line up with Scripture.
Experience is a very powerful and compelling source to derive our ‘theology’ from and it is difficult to argue against subjective experience. Specifically ‘spiritual’ ones. People of all religions and even those of none have claimed such experiences. We are warned that even Satan can come as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14) If these experiences contradict Scripture…God’s Word reigns.
The only authoritative description we have of Heaven is contained in Scripture. (Genesis 1, Ezekiel 1:26-28, John 14, Revelation 21-22) Nothing else is authoritative. Any speculation (or extra Biblical revelation which is what these books are claiming) outside of Scripture feeds the notion that the Word of God isn’t sufficient and that we have to add to it and we are warned about such. (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19)
Paul said to be ‘imitators of me,’ (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1) because he, himself, is an imitator of Christ and he never spoke of what he saw in Heaven. It was ‘inexpressible’! Contrast Paul’s behavior with those of today.
Whether these authors are sincere in their promotion does not make the error any less harmful to those who believe it because error is still error. There are many, many unsuspecting and unknowing people being led astray from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture by these stories. These books and movies are a diversion and inadequate to convict people of their sin, their need for a Savior and repentance. They are turning to books and movies like these as ‘truth’ for their spiritual knowledge and sustenance. The dangers of this cannot be overstated.
And as a Mom, the perspective of exploiting a child for profit…well, you probably already know what I believe.
For further study please consider the following:
Book Review by Tim Challies
Book Review by Ann Childress M.A.R. Whitefield Theological College and Seminary
Pulpit and Pen: Heaven Is For Real: Is Discernment Dead?
The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine by Phil Johnson
John MacArthur Ain’t Buying Q & A
Answers in Genesis – Are Visits to Heaven Real
Heaven Is For Real video by David Platt
Heaven Is For Real…DUH! by Clint Archer at Cripplegate