Yesterday on my Facebook page I posted a video critiquing the way Christians are consuming this new found love for near death experiences. Pastor David Platt, author of Radical was speaking to a group concerning the validity of these experiences. Click Here for Platt’s Video. His main points included: A. Christians are buying up these accounts of the afterlife in droves, B. He is wary of affirming any of these encounters as reality, and C. He intends to make clear the Biblical view of Heaven is accurate according to the Bible, God’s Word.
Comparing and contrasting the encounters quoted in various books, Platt proposes that we are in danger of living in a world where heaven is seen through the eyes of modern day Lazurus’ including images like halo’s, wings given to little children, and images of God that are seemingly in contrast with how the Bible describes God in Heaven.
When I posted the link, I thought I was just helping to inform people of a viewpoint, boy was I wrong.
After looking at the insights on that particular post, it has become the most viewed, commented on, liked, and argued post I’ve put up in a while. So I thought I would take a minute and write a bit of a narrative helping the reader’s here on The Journey how I view the controversial subject.
1. Heaven is For Real (and it’s not just a book)
Included in my World View is the reality of an Afterlife.
I believe there’s something more out there.
I’m more than comfortable attributing that something to what some call a “higher power,” and I reference that “higher power” to the God of the Bible.
In this modern age of reason and technology we live, I understand that’s not a popular pop culture view; but as I tell my students, “Everyone chooses a story to live by. Some by Science, Some by Faith, and others by whatever tickles their fancy in the moment. EVERYONE on the planet has a core belief system that guides them, forces them to interact with fellow humans, and predictably gives them some kind of hope to wake up in the morning. Some people believe everything we know about the world can be seen, tested and proved. Others believe in some sort of collaborative deity, and nearly 2/3rds of the world believe in One God.”
The questions come when our belief system overrides our rational understanding of the world around us. May believers in the Christian faith can believe in an idea they were taught at their church growing up, maybe they were mentored by a parent or leader, but in reality; we are all comprised of what we know based on our choice of story. Let me be clear, I BELIEVE heaven is real, but I’m not 100% sure. After all, if my belief were founded on quantifiable statistics, I wouldn’t include the word FAITH in my discourse.
FAITH is the ability to believe in something even though we can’t prove it with the scientific method.
So my BELIEF in heaven is based on the teachings I learned as a child, my experience as an adult, and my study of a resource existing outside myself. Believe me (pun intended), this is very complicated. When something seems to be sure, it’s easy to mend your story to the surety. Everybody does that. But when FAITH is included in the conversation, we tend to be on shaky, unprovable, unquantifiable ground.
Let’s be honest, I’m not alone and neither are you.
The Atheist believes there is no God, but can’t definitively prove it.
The Hindu believes in Vishnu, but has little in the way of sensory knowledge. i.e. seen, touched, smelled, or heard.
The Muslim believes in Allah, and shapes his life through the five pillars.
And the Jew has a mixture of Torah, Race, Nationality, and history to confirm his story.
ALL OF US, are doing the best we know how to choose the story that we think is true. If a Christian comes to you and says, “I can prove God exists beyond all doubt or imagination” RUN! That’s not part of this faith.
This faith is built on a long history of academic, social, and divinity study; but in the end, we can only know what we know to a certain percentage of solid provability.
When Platt calls out the pop-afterlife books Christians are devouring today, I think He’s trying to make sure we understand the root of our faith has to be somewhere consistent. For example, if the Bible references someone who sees God and reports on that encounter, it’s important we make sure those stories are consistent with each other AND with the stories we hear today. Platt sources four different authors of the Bible who all saw God in a Majestic Setting with Angels all around Him. None of them reference seeing people in heaven and coming back to give comfort to their relatives. None of them reported receiving Halo’s. And None of them were given the opportunity to go back to earth because God “had more for them to do.”
The discussion of heaven is a touchy issue due to the fact we all have these imaginary ideas of what it’s going to be like. To defend Platt’s point, if we are going to BELIEVE in the heaven of the Bible, then I agree we should make sure the visions and reports of heaven we hear are clearly aligned with the descriptions found in the book we BELIEVE God gave us.
2. The Demonic section of his speech
One particularly offensive section of Platt’s video was when he quoted John Macarthur’s view concerning the rapid sales of books like HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. He proposes this wide spread hunger for people to read about the afterlife from books that are ‘fiction’ are demonic ways to keep our eyes of the One True God.
How crazy is that?
Many people on the Facebook wall seemed to be concerned with idea that all these people who are now having conversations about heaven are actually being led by some evil demonic force. And I couldn’t agree more. Any conversation we have about faith is one that can be extremely fruitful. Remember, John Macarthur who is himself a best selling author, is staunchly opposed to the idea of the supernatural existing in today’s world. His book Charismatic Chaos was one that refuted the Pentecostal movement which embraced speaking in tounges, prophecy, and healing. In as much as he criticizes the books detailing the personal experiences of the afterlife, one may make a pretty good case that Mr. Macarthur also sits on a bed of systems teaching people to view the Bible in His preferred liking.
The lesson we can take away from Platt’s message isn’t that HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is demonic, but rather; this can be a prime opportunity for all of us to begin discussions about what WE think Heaven is like. If then, we compare those ideas to a solid Biblical perspective, then we have some sort of outside standard to compare our own ideas with what God says. You and I both know of people who believe dogs are going to heaven, or horses will be there, or whatever crazy ideas we have when we want to feel comfortable about our belief system. I think it’s good practice to read the books, see the movies, and then go and compare. Ask the hard questions about What is Heaven like, and how do I get there.
3. Heaven and Salvation
This is probably the core issue most people were dealing with yesterday, and I think I can say this with as much confidence as Facebook analytics will allow. When over 10K people have seen, commented, or shared a certain topic across social media; I’m always looking to find the CORE issue they’re really dealing with. I think, and please know this is pure speculation, I think most people who BELIEVE in heaven, and maybe those who don’t, are always wondering about who is in and who is out. This is where Platt’s message has to be seen in the context of his work.
David Platt is an evangelical Christian pastor.
His knowledge of the Bible and countless hours of preaching, discussing, and sharing is more than impressive.
I’ve seen him give sermons where he quotes sections of scripture by the chapter.
And even though Platt is knowledgable of the Bible, Believes in His system so emphatically, and takes great efforts to make his view of heaven and salvation compelling for those who listen, I’m not here to defend Platt’s stance.
Throughout history the message of Heaven and Salvation have taken some pretty drastic polarizing positions. Some early Jewish converts to Christianity had no concept of an afterlife like our modern western world has come to adopt. Early Christians believed God’s grace so overwhelmingly covered humanity that God was intent on making sure every person on the planet would receive forgiveness, grace, and be able to qualify for heaven-after death. In reality, it’s only within the last 150 years that evangelicals adopted the “Ask Jesus in Your Heart and You Will Be Saved” message. We can discuss all these differences in later posts, but the reality is; historically people BELIEVED much like we do. They tried their best to understand the message in the Bible and call people to follow Jesus in whatever capacity was thought to be the TRUE WAY. (please don’t get hung up here. I realize this is controversial and many Christians from a variety of backgrounds would be able to post their view. This post is about Platt and HEAVEN IS FOR REAL) I’m only writing because I sensed this was a discussion many people were having yesterday, so my hope is we continue the discussion.
In the context of Platt’s broader view of Salvation, I’ve found he is adamant about bringing people to a true knowledge of God. He bases his speech on the Bible, and confidently declares that it’s written in scripture so anything that distracts a believer from knowing God through the Bible is a fraud. He even went so far to say that asking Jesus in your heart is a great misleading of what God has called us to do and who He has called us to be on this earth.
You can see why Platt thinks the way He does. He truly believes people are misrepresenting something so serious about faith and the gospel, he is willing to call into question ANYTHING that might disagree with the Bible.
So What Now?
As I stated in my Facebook message, I don’t believe seeing the movie HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is going to convolute your idea of heaven. It’s a story. It’s makes us feel good. And maybe the kid in the movie was spot on, who knows? The more important issue here is, What do we really BELIEVE?
When you walk through your day to day life, what is your driving core value? (and it doesn’t have to be Christian)
What do you think about the afterlife?
What do you base those thoughts on?
How do you believe the world will be reconciled? Or will it ever?
This isn’t an agenda filled blog to get people to believe what I believe.
I think it’s an opportunity for all of us to be careful not to get swept up in a tidal wave of cultural acceptance, and take a long hard look at why we think the way we do.
All that to say, go watch the movie, read the book, take a friend, and have some meaningful discussions about what it means to believe in something. That’s where the heart of living and dying exists. Don’t wait on your opportunity to receive angel wings, start thinking today.