Why “Heaven is for Real” Scares Me

 

In a few days the movie based off the best selling “Evangelical Christian” book of the last decade, Heaven is For Real, debuts. Some of the truths in the sentence I just wrote frighten me and cause me to wonder if we have a biblically discerning, “Berean” culture in today’s Evangelical Church (cf. Acts 17:11). If you have not read the book, the basic premise of this supposedly true story is that a little boy is pronounced dead during an emergency surgery, goes to heaven, is revived, and recounts what heaven looks like in the ensuing months. There are all kinds of verses that come to mind that raise concern for our discernment about this story. David Platt highlights two of them while quoting John McArthur in this video clip from last year’s Secret Church

However, my biggest concern is the number of Christians who say this book bolsters their faith. These responses concern me greatly because they betray our lack of confidence in the sufficiency of the scriptures. Why do we look to a story about a boy’s “experience” with more excitement and awe than we do the Word of the Living God? But this type of demand for additional assurance than biblical truthfulness is nothing new. We have seen this before—in fact, about 2,000 years before. Jesus tells us a story about such a man in Luke 16:19-31 in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The parable is about the rich man dying and going to Hell while Lazarus dies and goes to Abraham’s side. The climax of the story records the rich man’s plea to Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead. Here is what is recorded for us in verses 28-31: “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house-for I have five brothers-so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.‘”

Christian, you do not need a dream of a 5 year old boy or someone spending “90 Minutes in Heaven” to prove to you that Heaven is for real or bolster your faith. You have the Prophets and Apostles! For 2,000 years they have been shouting to us through the Word that One came back from the dead and offers us both a resurrection like his and eternal life. Yes, Heaven is for real, and it’s a certainty for the believer. We shouldn’t garner our hope in the testimony of a 5-year-old boy, but in the power of our Lord and Christ who vacated a tomb in the Middle East and is right now at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. After all, we know Heaven is for real because in Christ we have already been raised from the dead and are right now seated in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

All this we know because the Bible told us so.

 

Post by Nate Akin, director of B21 and Pastor for Disciple-Making at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC

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15 thoughts on “Why “Heaven is for Real” Scares Me

  1. I agree that we should not look torwards others stories or movies for bases of our faith. But I can see how we can all be drawn to more information of the wonders of Heaven. And if this turns just one person torward Jesus, did ir not do its job? We are all supposed to reach others, all with different talents, gifts and venues.

  2. I personally don’t have a problem with people’s accounts of heaven. Maybe they are right, maybe not but have you died and returned? Do you have the perfect interpretation of scripture or the afterlife for that matter? The answer would be a resounding NO… regardless of any pet scriptures. God is infinitely bigger than our interpretation of the “Word”. I hope to never underestimate his grace and love for humanity. I also don’t claim nor think anyone else should on how he judges a human heart, what heaven looks like, or anything else.

  3. Read the book, saw the movie, read the post: For accuracy, the child never “died” by his account. I do not have a problem with movies, books, or even non-believers’ rants that might drive someone to search and examine their faith. (Even “NOAH” did the same. Searching should not be a condemnation implying that one does not have biblical discernment. Just the opposite occurs when you read God’s Word with an open, rather than closed mind. The belief that Jesus’ parable contradicts a personal testimony is isogesis.

  4. I could be mistaken, but I read this post four times so I’m pretty sure I understand the intent…

    I do not see where Nate has discredited this testimony, called the child a liar, suggested that you’ll be a bad Christian if you go see this movie, or warned that this will bring certain harm to non-believers. Each of those points could be argued or defended, but I don’t think that’s the intention here.

    Rather, I believe that the intention of this post is to remind Christians where to place their hope and joy– in Christ alone and in Scripture alone.

    Here’s what we can know for sure about Heaven: God has revealed just enough in Scripture about Heaven so that we can trust in Him and long for our future home.

    We also know that just enough has been left out. There’s some mystery! And I think God’s a genius for doing it; He’s kept us talking and thinking for centuries!

    But even in all of its mystery, the revealed Scriptures are to be enough. Nate points this out with his use of the Lazarus passage. The Rich Man begged for a witness to go and bear personal testimony to his family about the realities of the afterlife, but his plea was denied on the basis that the Law and Prophets already bore sufficient witness and that if people rejected such esteemed men as the Prophets, then what more will some other guy’s story contribute? Additionally, this was at the time that Jesus was literally walking the earth in a physical body. People could touch, see, hear, smell, (taste?! kidding…) Him, yet they still disbelieved. If they had all of that proof, one more human testimony really wouldn’t matter, and the point is that it still doesn’t matter today. If someone has chosen to reject the realities of Heaven, even with access to Scripture and the Church and even with the full, omnipresent reality of the Holy Spirit, then what more can a Hollywood, romanticized telling of a young child’s story going to do?

    Can God use this story? Certainly. However, this post is a commentary on the thought processes of our culture, not on whether or not the story is accurate and not on whether or not God can use the movie for His glory. The story may be accurate (none of us have died and come back, as someone else pointed out) and God indeed works all things for His purposes. But again, that’s not the point.

    The point is is that we have all of the revelation about Heaven that we need. If we needed more, God would have given it to us in His Word. However, the Bible’s intent is not to woo us with Heaven (which may be why a description of Heaven is not so explicit or why Heaven is not the “main character” of Scripture). Rather, the Bible is about God and His relationship with His creation. The Scriptures are enough.

    If you want to see the movie, go see the movie. If you want to get excited about Heaven and learn more about it, read Revelation; it’ll leave you more awestruck and captivated than any Hollywood telling ever could.

  5. I simply wanted to comment that Bekah said quite eloquently what needed to be said and I agree with her as a born again Christian. Our hope is in Christ alone.

  6. I agree with the blog yet I don’t see anything wrong with being excited that God still does miracles!! He is the same then as He is right now.. So it just excites me to see Him at work! We need to be careful not to quench what He is doing right now.. If glory goes to Jesus we should celebrate! We spend too much time tearing down rather than building up.. Saying what is beneficial and edifying to our family. We are on the same team. Having said that.. Balance grace and truth. Truth is you are right we shouldn’t be more excited about someone’s testimony than the Living Word.. But still rejoice in what God is doing today!!

  7. Well written, Nate. Yet another clear biblical passage, like John 3:13 & 2 Timothy 4:3-4, which points to the problematic nature of these types of ‘accounts.’ We need to be often reminded of the sufficiency of Scripture. Thank you.

  8. Its a movie people…. and in a society filled with movies depicting every evil imaginable plus some I am excited that we now have uplifting choices for entertainment. Conversations such as this are exactly what many people fault organized religion for.

  9. I want to say a few things in response to the comments. I would say first that most of you that have had issues with this post have not really engaged with what I have written or argued:

    1) I am not addressing whether this is a good thing to get people talking about Heaven (or christianity) or searching heaven out, nor am I arguing that God can’t use this movie for greater good (He does that all the time even in things that are not good. As I heard Pastor Matt Chandler SAY just because a son in his church got saved when his mother was killed in a car wreck does not mean we should then start a car wreck ministry). God can use things how He desires for His glory, that does not change however whether we should be discerning in whether we employ them as a strategy to “reach” people. If this book/movie does cause an UNbeliever to search out truth about Heaven and find the truth in scripture not in this boy’s testimony than I rejoice! I was addressing believers in this post, not unbelievers but I hope we can all agree that no one is saved apart from the Word (Romans 10) and so only in so far as this movie pushed an unbeliever to the scriptures should we rejoice.

    2) The idea (one again about which I actually was not even writing or arguing) that we cannot critique someone’s personal testimony is very misguided. We do this all the time! There is not one of us who is a genuine christian who actually thinks that Joseph Smith saw an angel from God. We all do and can do this with visions/dreams/Testimonies because we have the scriptures to filter the vision through, that is what it means to be a discerning christian. And if the vision cannot stand up to the Bible then they are not biblical.

    3) Many of the comments on this post are exactly why I wrote this post. We have elevated experience above the Bible. And that is exactly what Luke 16 is about (its not Eisegesis). It’s about the Rich Man telling Abraham that if his brothers have “proof” with someone coming back from Heaven that it is real then they’ll believe because the Scriptures aren’t enough. That is exactly what happens when people say this book is what bolsters their faith.

    4) Dismissing this conversation by saying it’s just a movie seems naive. It’s not just a movie, it’s a movie making theological argument based off a real life testimony that will cause people to have theological thoughts rather they label them that or not! To just dismiss it as a movie is misguided.

    Please check out the video clip if you have not and check out Justin Taylor’s post on this if you havent seen it: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2014/04/16/david-platt-on-why-you-should-not-believe-heaven-is-for-real/

    If you still disagree with me that is fine. We can disagree charitably, but please disagree with what I have written and argued.

    My main intent with this post is to raise our love and our dependency on the Scriptures for life and doctrine and to see the bible as sufficient for these things.

    Sola Scriptura

    Nate

  10. John 3:13 Jesus says: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven.
    If the story of the rich man and Lazarus is literal and not a parable, then Lazarus will spend eternity in in the bosum of Abraham.
    Heaven is the kingdom of God that he will established on the new Earth.

  11. Let’s not forget that we are all human & we forget about the miracle of bible stories that we have heard over & over & may become numb to them. Whether the stories we hear may be about a sermon of a scripture that sheds a light on the scripture that we’ve never heard in such a moving way before or a testimony of the woman who was malled by a bear & her cellphone automatically dials her husband or the boy who’s been shot 3 times & is encouraged to stay awake by a “person” whom no one can account for, who’s to say God himself doesn’t send these stories to us or make these things happen for His glory to spark our faith again? We are emotional human beings who are impacted by our emotions & if that’s what God uses to give us a jumpstart, what’s wrong with that?

  12. Good comments!

    Here are some thoughts that I had: Shouldn’t someone’s experience (or testimony) confirm Scripture – if it is true. Imagine someone coming up to you and saying, “I accepted Christ last night” or “God has been working in our lives and causing us to become more dedicated” or “we are reading the Scripture more.” Don’t these testimonies encourage you, don’t they confirm Scripture?

    We should never look at someone’s testimony as authoritative more than it is just more evidence that the Scripture is true!

    Those are my thoughts.
    Aaron

  13. While I share some of the concerns (as I do about a large % of gen-Xers and below getting most of their news from John Stewart … not that JS is a bad guy, but he is not the news) … there is another angle. It is a Hollywood script w/Hollywood quality (and sadly that quality is higher than the standard to which most more unquestionably Christian movies hold). People are going to see this movie. I have not seen the movie or read the book, but have seen many glimpses. It would appear that the movie is not heretical per se (of course that may be a source of debate) … and thus I would say, let’s engage the culture with it. I could not go as far as many Christian brothers and sisters did doing wo with “The Davinci Code” … but this movie could open doors and conversations … since it doesn’t appear that it’s turning anyone away from our Savior … why not let that open door (although the door may not be truly square (construction term square, not geometric term)) allow us to talk about the amazing things Christ has planned for those who accept him as their Lord and Savior.

  14. Thank you, Nate. I have said the same concerning so many “out-of-body experiences”. We have to be careful that we are in line with scripture. Solid piece.

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