Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brief Comments on Heaven is for Real

I was asked in a clergy group recently what I thought about the popular book, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. I'm sure the book is intended as heart-warming, and is an expression of a profound experience the family went through. No doubt.

However, I think it is misleading and gives a false sense of hope. It panders to popular sentimental notions of heaven that simply do not match the biblical understanding of death, the resurrection of the body, and the coming kingdom of God. Yes, it's a description of one person's personal experience, but these "personal" experiences are being exported into our communities and reinforcing a false understanding of eternal life in God. We need to find faithful and caring ways to rebut the book and clarify what Scripture teaches about God's coming kingdom.

When I have conversations with folks about the topic, the biggest stumbling block is the Christian confession concerning the resurrection of the body. We have trouble getting our heads around the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and so end up quasi-believing in the transmigration of souls. All of these "out of body" experiences people have and then share in books and on television reinforce a Gnostic out-of-body faith that is more Platonic than Christian.

Heaven is coming to us, we're not going to heaven (see Revelation). God's kingdom is not a place we migrate to when we die; it's going to be established here, on earth, as we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

If you're looking for a few resources to help reframe some of these ideas (perhaps especially if you've already read Heaven is for Real, I recommend these:

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

Difference Heaven Makes: Rehearing the Gospel As News

The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 7)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comments Clint. I couldn't agree more, and have found myself discussing this often in our weekly lectionary studies with parishioners. I have pointed folks to some of the books you have recommended, and more importantly looked at Scripture with them. It's one thing when folks flock to pop theology because they're not being fed elsewhere, but it's so disheartening when they flock to it and use it as undeniable "evidence," even though they are regular Scripture readers, Bible study participants, and worship leaders.