Sunday, November 20, 2011

Heaven Stories article at Worldview Weekend

An article on various "heaven" stories: by a Justin Peters:

Here's part of the Summary from this lengthy article:

Thus far we have examined specific, current, and popular accounts of people claiming to have been to Heaven and to Hell. With these specific accounts still in view, we will now look at some of the broader challenges, both logical and theological, confronting anyone claiming to have made such journeys.

There is a logical problem with these accounts that is so glaring, it is hard to understand why more people do not take note of it; namely, these various accounts often contradict one another. The three individuals examined in this article only scratch the surface of those claiming to have been to the other side. Mary Baxter (who claimed she went to both Heaven and Hell), Betty Malz, Roberts Liardon, Jesse Duplantis, Kenneth Hagin, Richard Eby, Todd Bentley, etc. also would have you believe they were given a sneak peek into the afterlife. It takes only a cursory reading of these stories to realize that they all contradict one another – and often even contradict themselves! Colton Burpo reports that everyone in heaven, even God Himself, had wings. Piper saw many people in heaven but they apparently did not have wings. Some report that heaven is completely urban whereas Duplantis[43] says he saw homes out in the country. Some saw God on His throne, others did not see Him at all, and some, like Don Piper, can't seem to remember whether they saw Him or not. Colton claims that those in Heaven show no signs of age, yet Piper claims that his grandfather, Joe Kulbeth, still had his "shock of white hair."

Some heavenly tourists say that Jesus has brown hair, others say it is blond. Some report Jesus as having a purple sash about his waist, others say it is blue. Benny Hinn claims to see Jesus often and can even describe what He is wearing from day to day. Some, like Colton Burpo, say Jesus' eyes are blue, others say they are brown. One thing that all of the supposed accounts of Heaven have in common is a minimized description of the glory of Christ. Rather than a description like that in Revelation 1:14: "His chest was girded with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire," these accounts describe Jesus as being rather ordinary and non-glorious. God would never be the source of a vision which downplays the glory of His Son.

The list of contradictions is almost endless. The obvious point is that these accounts cannot all be true. In all likelihood, none of them are.

Now let's turn to the theological issues with all of these accounts. Though with varying degrees of specificity, all who have been to the hereafter and have returned describe people as having physical bodies. They report that the heavenly residents are perfect in every way showing no signs of sickness, disease, arthritis, handicaps, etc. They describe these glorified bodies as beautiful in appearance and perfect in function. There is only one problem with this: the redeemed in Heaven do not yet have their glorified bodies. This statement will likely surprise many readers and, unfortunately, the theological nuances are too involved to fully address here. It is, however, sufficient to note that the Bible teaches that those presently in Heaven are not yet in possession of their permanent, glorified bodies. In fact, Heaven itself is not yet in its perfected, eternal state. Those events will not transpire until the timing of Revelation 21. At present, Heaven is in its "intermediate" state, if you will, and the redeemed there are also in an intermediate state. In Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4, John saw the "souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God" and the "souls of those who had been beheaded" respectively. Those that John saw were not in possession of physical bodies but rather were in a non-corporeal state. The redeemed will be given glorified bodies at the rapture or Christ's return to earth (Parousia).[44] Therefore, the reports of people in the intermediate Heaven as possessing glorified bodies must be rejected.

The second theological problem is one which plagues all the books in the "I've been to Heaven and/or Hell" genre; they are all an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. Even if an account does not directly contradict the Bible per se (and most do), these accounts propose to add to biblical revelation. In these accounts, for example, we learn that hell is 3,700 miles below the surface of the earth, that it is inhabited by ghastly creatures and giant spiders, the pit of fire is shaped like a giant human or maybe it's one mile in diameter (depending on whose account you read) and is ruled by demons – none of which can be found in the Bible. Likewise, Heaven apparently has suburbs, the flowers turn themselves to watch you as you pass by, the fruit is copper colored, individual homes are furnished with ball and claw Queen Anne furniture, people have wings or they don't (again, depending on the particular account), and the souls of babies fly around God on His throne. None of this is biblically supported.

All of this information is unbiblical at worst and extra-biblical at best. This leads us to the issue of new divine revelation knowledge. Is God giving certain individuals new revelation and speaking to them apart from and in addition to the Bible? If any of these accounts are even partly true, then the inescapable conclusion is "yes."

The implications of new revelation are huge. If it is necessary for us to know this information, why has God delayed nearly 2,000 years in giving it to us? Did the saints of previous generations have inadequate revelation of Heaven? Did they not have a sufficient supply of God's truth? If they did, then these and all other accounts of visiting the other side are entirely unnecessary and of no profit to the church.

Whatever God reveals and says to these individuals (most of these individuals quote God directly) should carry with it the very same authority as any verse of Scripture since God cannot speak less authoritatively on one occasion than He does on another. In other words, God cannot speak to us in the Bible and "really, really mean it" but when He speaks to individuals outside of the Bible whether in a dream, vision, audible voice, or trip to Heaven still mean it, but somehow mean it less so than He did in the Bible.

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