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?