I am very privileged to be part of a group of writers at Thesis, the BibleMesh blog. I don’t know if you’ve been following our work there, but we’ve been pumping out content for several weeks now. We’ve got Greg Thornbury (dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University), Ben Mitchell (noted ethicist and moral philosopher), Mark Coppenger (distinguished Southern Seminary philosophy professor), Michael McClenahan (Irish pastor, Edwards scholar), John Starke (Gospel Coalition editor) and me (Christian rapper) on the docket.
Yesterday, Greg wrote a piece entitled “Yes, Heaven Is a Real Place, But…” on a literary phenomenon that has swept the country, Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is for Real. With clarity and wit, Greg sets the stage for the story:
Authored by Todd Burpo, a pastor from Nebraska, and professional nonfiction writer Lynn Vincent (who helped Sarah Palin produce Going Rogue), the book tells the story of a four-year old boy who claims to have been near death, gone to heaven, and come back to tell his story.
The boy, Colton, was rushed to the hospital with a burst appendix—a scenario to which I can relate since I went to the hospital at age four under exactly the same circumstances. But while I woke up wanting to talk to my Grandpa Taylor about Evel Knieval, Colton came back saying that while he was in surgery, he went to heaven and had experiences with various biblical figures and yes, you guessed it, Jesus himself. Initially, his stories about his time in heaven were met with caution by his parents, but the detail with which he described the events baffled Todd and Sonja, his mother and father. While Colton was only “there” in heaven for about three minutes, he purportedly and variously: sat on Jesus’ lap, heard about a coming battle with Satan at the end of the world, reported that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, realized that God is a Trinity of persons (hey, the kid’s a trinitarian!), and learned that no one grows old in heaven, among other things.
Aside from the fact that, as Bill Hybels once wisely pointed out, you don’t lead with your best “weird God story” when you’re trying to evangelize someone, I am more bothered by the high regard and sheer enthusiasm many well-intentioned lay evangelicals are affording to Todd Burpo’s book. Nor am I embarrassed by the discussion of evidence for the afterlife, having written about it previously, and commending Dinesh D’Souza’s fine book about the subject along the way. What bothers me about the reception of Heaven is a Real Place is what it says about the relatively low view of the sufficiency of Scripture among evangelicals today. In other words, it’s not good enough for us to hear about heaven from the holy apostles, Church Fathers, and trusted commentaries on Scripture. No, we need a little boy sitting on Jesus’ lap to tell us that instead. Then we will believe it. And that phenomenon ultimately bodes ill for everyone who really does love the Bible: pastors, teachers, parents, and yes, even children.
Greg has a great point here. We need not fear the supernatural working of God in our world. However, our faith rests in the Word, which is sufficient for all of life, faith and doctrine. We don’t need unusual testimonies of deliverance to credit Christianity. God has spoken everything he wished to say and everything we need to hear. We’re not “Bible idolators” if we take the Word at its, well, word. We’re Christians filled with the Holy Spirit and thus able to break free of doubt, distrust, and sin.
I would commend the whole BibleMesh blog, Thesis, to you. If you’re so inclined, check it on a regular basis. There is a great deal of good content of a Christ-and-culture nature that we’re producing, all for the strengthening of the church for the glory of Christ.