This past week the Southern Baptist Convention met in Baltimore. Chad and I love to watch the convention online. I guess that’s a sure sign that we are Baptist nerds. I hope someday we can go and sit there through all of the discussion and reports and teaching.
This year an especially interesting resolution was passed. It’s called “Resolution on the Sufficiency of Scripture Regarding the Afterlife.” In light of the wildly successful book Heaven is for Real and, more recently, the movie of the same name, more and more churches have been discussing the validity of near death experience stories. But, “Heaven Tourism” books are certainly nothing new. We were pleased to see the SBC take such a strong stance on the importance of making the Bible our first and only source of information and inspiration regarding Heaven.
Here it is:
RESOLUTION ON THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE REGARDING THE AFTERLIFE
WHEREAS, There have been numerous books and movies purporting to explain or describe the afterlife experience; and
WHEREAS, These books and movies have had a considerable impact as seen in the best seller lists and high box office receipts; and
WHEREAS, Many of these books and movies have sought to describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated; and
WHEREAS, Many of these are not unified and contain details that are antithetical to Scripture; and
WHEREAS, Many devout and well-meaning people allow these to become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife rather than scriptural truth; and
WHEREAS, Though the Scriptures include explicit accounts of persons raised from the dead, such as Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus, in God’s perfect revelatory wisdom, He has not given us any report of their individual experience in the afterlife (Deuteronomy 29:29; Mark 5:21–43; Luke 7:11–17; John 11:35–44); and
WHEREAS, The Apostle Paul wrote about “a man in Christ” who was caught up “into the third heaven” who “heard inexpressible words” that “a man is not allowed to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:1–4); and
WHEREAS, The doctrines of the afterlife are critical to a full understanding of salvation and repentance (Luke 16:29–31; John 3:16–18); now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, June 10–11, 2014, reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.
Unfortunately, despite the sure-footed language used here, the SBC still hasn’t decided to pull the Heaven books from Lifeway’s shelves. I think this resolution is a giant step in the right direction, but I pray that wisdom will prevail among the powers that be at Lifeway so that our convention will stop confusing people by selling the very books that we have resolved are not edifying to the devout and well-meaning Christians that are mentioned here.
A friend of ours named Jim Hammond was actually just recently fired from his youth ministry job at First Baptist Church Fort Stockton, Texas, because of a disagreement over the Heaven books. His church has planned a revival for October of this year featuring Don Piper, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven. Jim was hesitant about this story and teaching coming to his church, so he met with the pastor to discuss his concerns. Just a few weeks later, the pastor met with the deacons and they decided to ask for Jim’s resignation.
Jim, his wife and his two children live in the church parsonage, so they were given two months to find another place to live and were not allowed to meet with the youth group again. So, Jim and his family were evicted from their home, and their ministry, which they are passionate about, was abruptly terminated without even an opportunity to say goodbye to the teenagers. All over 90 Minutes in Heaven. You can hear the whole story in Jim’s interview with Justin Peters, which aired on May 26th. A follow-up interview was posted today.
So, yes, I’m glad that the SBC is addressing the issue of the Heaven books because they are causing confusion and division in our churches. These books aren’t Scripture, even though some people seem to think they are infallible testimonies. No Southern Baptist minister should be pressured to accept extra-biblical revelation as authoritative. He certainly shouldn’t be seen as insubordinate for not believing 90 Minutes in Heaven. It’s important that we afford each other the right to disagree with these stories on biblical grounds.
So, bravo to the SBC and this resolution. Now, here’s a plea from an SBC pastor’s wife: follow through and remove the books from our Lifeway stores. We already have a best seller that tells us all we need to know about the afterlife. It’s the Bible, y’all!
Maybe next year Chad and I can go to the convention and indulge our Baptist nerdiness to the fullest. Until then, I’m thankful for live streaming, for faithful messengers, and for the sufficiency of Scripture. Not necessarily in that order.
What are your thoughts on the resolution, the Heaven books, and the situation in Fort Stockton?
Although I’m not a Baptist, I wholeheartedly agree with you-the Bible is the only book we need to learn about Heaven. I believe that our brains and bodies are under such an extreme amount of stress during a near death experience that what we may remember from that afterwards isn’t necessarily a reliable source of what is actually happening. Just my opinion, though.
I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading it every day!
Thanks, Jan C! I’m so glad you’re reading!
Great Post. If people are relying on “Heaven Is For Real” as their proof of the afterlife, and if it comes out someday that the book was a fraud, or if the father coached his son, then a lot of people are going to be angry, bitter, and will doubt the existence of heaven. We don’t need another book to tell us Heaven is real. We already have one. I enjoyed reading your post. Sorry to hear about your friend in Fort Stockton.
I guess my issue is with a pastor telling his youth that they can read the book but they should read it as fiction. Ummm, it isn’t fiction. It is a person’s experience, told first hand by that person. That would be non-fiction. Now just because someone has an experience, it is theirs and it doesn’t have to become your new theology. Are pastors so worried that their sheep might be exposed to something new and different but aren’t intelligent enough to determine if this person’s experience lines up with scripture and sounds like they truly went to heaven or if it was possibly a dream-like state that was driven by visions of previous life experience and exposure.
I think he is sharing a story that many people find fascinating. I do not think he is doing anything wrong by sharing his story. I would hope that he is doing it responsibly but even if he isn’t – we are still thinking creatures that need to think for ourselves. I don’t believe in insulting people’s intelligence by limiting exposure to the experiences of others…as long as it is age appropriate. From a scientific/biological point of view I find after-life stories fascinating, I find the human body and the power of the brain fascinating.
I have listened to the interview…hearing someone talk about “what if people want to go to heaven just to see a relative” …really? If that is why they decide to follow Jesus then the pastor didn’t really explain salvation very well. It just hit my ears as a stupid remark that was intellectually insulting to the Christian population. That might not actually be his feeling but it kind of sounded like it. Like we are all a bunch of stupid sheep – just struck me wrong.
My children ask me hard questions all the time. I tell them what I have experienced and seen, what the Bible says, and what others believe. Somethings aren’t the same for everyone…they need to know that. I also tell them that God didn’t put us on the earth to see who could figure it all out – who can come up with all the right answers.
Some questions we get answered on earth and some we will get answered when we get to heaven. The Bible doesn’t give us every answer for all of our questions. It does however give us the answers to what we need to know – God’s love for us, the sacrifice of his son, the forgiveness of our sins, our gift of salvation if we choose to receive it, our mission to spread the love of Christ to others.
If the church would focus on that – we would all probably have our time occupied and if the church body finds that they are filling their time and headspace and heartspace with splitting theological hairs – sounds like a few priorities out of line.
Put yourself in the shoes of the unsaved, unloved, souls seeking refuge and they constantly see the church sitting in their meetings arguing over the dumbest things.
I constantly imagine God in heaven looking at us spinning our wheels (and money) to right-fight with each other – just wishing we would turn our eyes in a different direction and focus on what he told us to focus on – pretty specifically – no gray area.
He can fill in the blanks on the peripheral parts when we get to heaven. That is perfectly fine with me (I might be alone in that sentiment)- I think I would rather not have all the answers. It isn’t necessary for me.
I grew up in the church and thank God that my dad – that became a pastor later in life – encouraged us to always seek out answers for ourselves, listen to the experiences of others, consider others perspectives, put ourselves in the shoes of others and think about how things look from a different angle.. I hope I can teach this to my children and to use their brains and their heart and listen to Gods voice and not wait for a bunch of old dudes to make some decree about what they needed to think and believe. He taught us that the Gospel was not weak – and neither are we.
It just pains me…this is what the church fills their time with….but try to get a church to fully commit to taking ownership of the widows and the orphans in their own community….9 times out of 10…they will pray about it. So yes – this whole line of theological bugs me…I want to be a better steward over the precious time I have been given here on this earth. I think I would rather focus on that.
Sorry to rant – just annoyed this morning I guess.
Tara, I think I understand where you’re coming from with this comment. But, as you rightly point out, what we think and how we understand things does matter and is important in the Christian faith. You state that you want people to use their brains. That’s what theologians and apologists do. I don’t really understand the idea that if we are discussing and thinking about theological issues then we aren’t helping the widows and orphans. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
“I have listened to the interview…hearing someone talk about “what if people want to go to heaven just to see a relative” …really? If that is why they decide to follow Jesus then the pastor didn’t really explain salvation very well. It just hit my ears as a stupid remark that was intellectually insulting to the Christian population. That might not actually be his feeling but it kind of sounded like it. Like we are all a bunch of stupid sheep – just struck me wrong.”
I should have clarified. I was not talking about discerning Christians, I am talking about someone who walked into the church that knows little about scripture to hear a celebrity preacher and decides the reason they are going to go to heaven is because they want to see their grandma, or a rainbow colored horse. If that is why they decide to go to heaven, they have missed the whole point of the gospel. The other problem is this, and you hit the nail on the head, the pastor isn’t explaining salvation very well. Trust me there are more issues involved than just Don Piper.
I used to work in a Christian bookstore (family owned), and those types of books always rubbed me the wrong way. Ditto for the ones about people “spending time” in Hell. As I came to learn, there are many, many books out there under the Christian label that are probably misguiding a whole lot of people.
My argument is that Heaven is way too far above us in our present human state to write about, if it is true that we have been there. Indeed, if we seriously consider scriptural precedence, there is nothing there to encourage one to write about any “heavenly” experiences they have had in detail. There is something about Heaven that I am convinced we should revere… even Paul said he couldn’t talk about the things he saw there; why should we?
I’ve watched the movie last week , but I haven’t read the book yet. I don’t know why people have to question which is which to believe. For me, again for my own purpose, I believed heaven and life after death as the Bible says, and the Book “Heaven is for Real” is just a testimony. It take that as simple as it is. No questions… Maybe I’ll write something about this book in my blog too http://www.iloveyoumomforever.com/ and till then, thanks a lot.