Heaven is for real, but are all the books and movies about visits there?

Midwestern Baptist Seminary President Jason Allen takes on that issue in a recent article, in which he notes: “afterlife books and resources have congealed into something of an industry—an industry of books, paraphernalia and movies—with a consequential and costly underbelly. This new industry is generating massive revenues for those with a compelling afterlife story to tell. Whether it comes from charlatans intentionally profiteering off of duped Christians or persons sincerely, but mistakenly, substituting their own dreams and imaginations for heavenly experiences, I’m deeply skeptical of the afterlife industry for a number of reasons.

“The Finality of Death. First, the Bible associates death with finality. Not finality of existence, for each person will last forever in heaven or hell. Rather, the Bible states that death happens once, not in multiple iterations or in multiple stages. As the author of Hebrews makes plain: ‘It is appointed unto man once to die and then face the judgment’ (Heb. 9:27). Death may occur slowly, and one may be in a suspended state of near-death, due to medicinal treatments or other physiological phenomena, but one only truly dies once.

“Heaven is God-Centered, not Man-Centered. Second, afterlife testimonies typically present heaven as remarkably man-centered. These accounts include protracted, personal interactions with Jesus, and enjoying and touring heaven with Christ. It is as though Jesus’ main concern is to make the short-term visitor feel welcome and happy. This does not correspond with the Bible’s accounts of heaven. In Scripture, the great heaven scenes reveal worship centered on the throne (Isa. 6:1-4; Eze. 1; Rev. 4-5). The focus of heaven is on worshiping Christ, not taking a victory lap with Him. In heaven, Jesus is not preoccupied with us. We are preoccupied with Jesus.

“Incompatible with Biblical Accounts of Heaven. Third, the biblical accounts of individuals who saw heaven depart in content and tone from afterlife testimonies. Consider those in Scripture who actually experienced heaven or were raised from the dead. On the rare occasion when God granted a living person firsthand knowledge of heaven, it occurred as a vision—not an actual tour—and the accounts are relatively brief and remarkably consistent. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul and John all received visions, not private tours, and certainly not afterlife or near-death encounters. What is more, the Bible never recounts any person raised from the dead—including Lazarus who was dead four days—elaborating on heaven or the afterlife. Whether from personal vision or resurrection, the Bible studiously deemphasizes such experiences.

“The Contradictory Testimonies. Fourth, one does not have to read many testimonies of those who supposedly went to heaven, received a tour and returned to earth to find how much these accounts vary. Beyond the typical ‘saw bright lights, experienced joy, everything was beautiful, etc.’ reflections, there often is a stunning degree of contradiction. Heaven is for real, but contradictory testimonies about heaven cannot be.

“A More Sure Word. Fifth, experientialism plays well on daytime talk shows and in pop-culture; but for Christians, Scripture alone is our authority. It is God’s special revelation to us, and it is a perfect, sure and adequate divine disclosure to us.” (Click to read the full article.)

Michael Duduit

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