Heaven is big at the box office. Hell, not so much.
In a thought-provoking USA Today column, Kirsten Powers wonders aloud why we seem to hear so much about eternal bliss but not eternal judgment. Sony's faith-based drama starring Greg Kinnear “Heaven Is for Real” took in $22.5 million over Easter weekend. Contrasting this, Powers observes: “Books about euphoric visits to heaven rocket up the best-seller list, while those recounting bone-chilling sojourns to Hades languish. You might be surprised to learn they even exist.”
In her article, Kirsten Powers cited a 2009 survey in which 74% of Americans said heaven is real, while only 59% believe the same of hell. She then asserts,
“But the Bible is quite clear. According to evangelical pastor Tim Keller, ‘Jesus taught about (hell) more than all other biblical authors put together.’ To cling to the idea of heaven and then ignore hell is curious.”
Powers is also skeptical of near-death experiences, not unlike many evangelical Christians. Nancy Guthrie, for one, recently said stories like Heaven Is for Real are unhelpful and actually serve to diminish biblical faith rather than encourage it. No one is obligated to believe them. Guthrie’s article We Don't Have to Read the Book or See the Movie to Know Heaven Is Real asserts that such stories elevate claims of supernatural experience over the substance of the Scriptures. She points out: “Jesus himself spoke [in Luke 16:19-31] of the uselessness of such testimony for generating genuine faith.”
“I certainly don’t see a false gospel in the Burpo’s account of Heaven. I rejoice that Jesus is portrayed as the only way to God, in keeping with John 14:6and Acts 4:12. I could have wished for a greater emphasis on confession of sin and repentance, but on major biblical issues I don’t think [the book] contradicts Scripture. Yet on some details… I’m just… uncomfortable. I emphatically agree with the title: Heaven is for Real. Not because Colton Burpo [says he has] been there, but because the Bible says so.”
Your turn. What do you think about the movie “Heaven Is for Real?” Why do you think more people believe in heaven than in hell?
Alex Crain is the editor for Christianity.com
The idea of inclusivity is popular today among many churches.
Inviting non-Christians to “belong before they believe” is a well-intended strategy to involve a wide spectrum of people into community with a local church. But while it sounds nice, the danger is serious. Kevin DeYoung highlighted this in his recent post at The Gospel Coalition, saying:
“If we knowing allow unconcerned, impenitent sinners into the membership and ministry of the church, we are deceiving their souls and putting ours at risk as well.”
“There are few things more important in life than repentance. So important, that Revelation, and the gospels, and the epistles, and the Old Testament make clear that you don't go to heaven without it.”
Jesus calls for repentance, and that’s a crowd-killer. Yet church leaders who desire to be faithful to Christ will be clear about repentance as a component of saving faith.
DeYoung’s post points out three responses that are sometimes mistaken for repentance: (1) regret, (2) embarrassment, and (3) apology. Genuine repentance, on the other hand, is a change of mind and behavior.
“It's like a train conductor driving his train down the tracks straight for the side of a mountain. It's one thing for him to realize and admit that his train his going in the wrong direction. It's another thing to stop the train and it get it going in the opposite direction.”
Your turn. What are your thoughts on repentance? Why do some church leaders downplay Christ’s message of repentance?
Alex Crain is the editor for Christianity.com
Former prosperity gospel advocate, Sean DeMars, thundered back at his former faith recently, calling it “The ‘Gospel’ that Almost Killed Me.” Beginning with his horrific experience as a teen praying to be directly healed from mercury poisoning (rather than tell his mother or go to the hospital) he remembers saying: “Mom, Jesus is my doctor. I'm blessed, and I know that he would have healed me."
Sometime after recovering in the hospital, DeMars did hear the true gospel in a number of ways including the viral internet video: John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel. He now serves as a missionary in Peru.
It is estimated that approximately half a billion people worldwide are caught up in some form of prosperity gospel teaching. About this, John MacArthur writes,
“The gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity.” (Strange Fire, p. xvii, Thomas Nelson, 2013).
“[But] why does David pray for prosperity? For one reason: the glory and delight of the Lord. When God prospers people who are no longer living for their own little kingdoms, but are living for his, the result is the furtherance of his kingdom purposes on earth, which results in his glory. What David is requesting is completely different from the modern "health and wealth gospel" prayers for prosperity. Those prayers for prosperity have one fatal flaw in them. They are prayers for prosperity for the purpose of the delight of the person praying the prayer. Not so with David.”
Sean DeMars closes his post “The ‘Gospel’ that Almost Killed Me” with an impassioned plea for Christians to evangelize those who are caught up in the prosperity gospel:
“If you meet someone lost in this false gospel, please, please, please love them and tell them the truth. Sit them down, buy them lunch, and open up your Bibles. Speak life. Be brave. Odds are, no one has ever loved them enough to tell them the truth about themselves. The truth is they cannot be saved by a false gospel, and the prosperity gospel is certainly that. Jesus saved me from the prosperity gospel, and he can save more.”
Your turn. What do you think about the prosperity gospel? How well do your thoughts align with Scripture?
Alex Crain is the editor for Christianity.com
The historically Christian charity, World Vision USA, recently dropped its ban on same-sex marriage for its employees.
World Vision President Richard Stearns explained the policy change in an article at Christianity Today.
"We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us," said Stearns. "This is not us compromising," says Stearns. “It allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."
But observers note that by this stance World Vision neatly avoids any pressure, law suits, or employee lobby that might have eventually come. Contrary to its stated desire to remain neutral on the issue, World Vision has taken a side in support of same-sex marriage, driving a wedge between Christians who are their donors, partners and employees.
Southern Seminary President, Al Mohler, commented: "It is ridiculous to argue that World Vision is not taking sides on the issue. The objective fact is that World Vision will now employ openly-gay employees involved in openly homosexual relationships. There is no rational sense in claiming that this represents neutrality."
“We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself, in all of its truth and all of its grace. And many will shrink back. There are no riots if the gospel you’re preaching doesn’t threaten the silversmiths of the Temple of Artemis. And there are no clucking tongues if the gospel you’re preaching isn’t offered to tax collectors and temple prostitutes.”
On the one hand, Stearns denies that World Vision wants to guide Christians theologically but then he assigns the homosexual controversy to a category of secondary issues---such as whether one sprinkles or immerses at baptism. Such thinking, however, ignores the clarity with which Jesus Christ and the Apostles exclusively affirmed male-female marriage as God's design for His glory and for human flourishing.
Christian blogger and author, Trevin Wax, summed up why Evangelicals grieve over the impact this will have on children:
“…critics of the evangelical outcry toward World Vision will say, Get over it! Kids matter more than what men and women choose to do romantically!
Strangely enough, we agree. In fact, this is one of the main reasons we’re against redefining marriage. We believe kids matter more than gays and lesbians having romantic relationships enshrined as “marriage.”
Children are the ones who suffer when society says there’s no difference between a mom or a dad.
Children are the ones who suffer when a couple’s romantic interests outstrip a child’s healthy development, whether in no-fault easy divorce laws, or in the redefining of society’s central institution.”
Even as we face accusations of judgmentalism, one evangelical pastor, Doug Ponder, has observed that Bible-believing Christians must strive to be as gracious as we are clear when speaking about the same-sex controversy:
"Evangelicals are sometimes guilty of using unbiblical language when talking about sexuality. We say things like, “You can’t be gay and be a Christian,” which makes it sound like everyone who is tempted with same-sex desires is without hope of salvation. But that is not what the Bible teaches. There is an eternal difference between those who trust Jesus and seek to obey him—even while struggling to resist same-sex desires—and those who refuse to trust Jesus and deliberately rebel against what he says."
Finally, Christians should continue giving to humanitarian organizations. Many cancer societies, heart and stroke foundations do wonderful work, and do not claim to be Christian organizations. Being a Christian is fundamentally about one's relationship to authority. Either Jesus Christ is your Lord, or He isn't. Either you submit your beliefs about human sexuality to Scripture, or you don't. As 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' [i.e., a clear confession of authority] except in the Holy Spirit." At issue now is whether World Vision can legitimately continue clinging to the privilege of Christian identity it has historically enjoyed apart from faithfully maintaining such a confession.
Your turn. What do you think? Do your thoughts agree or disagree with Scripture?
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com.