One Protestant Who Couldn’t Get With ‘Heaven Is for Real’
Heaven is not only â€śfor real,â€ť itâ€™s prettyÂ much forÂ everyone in the new movie based on the near-death-experience visions of a precocious preschooler.
The original bookÂ Heaven Is for RealÂ was a 2010 sales sensation.Â Nebraska pastor Todd BurpoÂ detailed his 4-year-old son Coltonâ€™s visions of a blue-eyed JesusÂ in a rainbow-bright afterlife populated with everyone his family ever loved.
The filmâ€™s co-producer, Dallas megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, says he wants the film to prompt people â€śto explore theÂ death, burial and resurrection of Christ,â€ť especially as the film was released during Holy Week and Easter.
But where the best-selling book tagged every imageâ€”however tenuouslyâ€”to a passage from Scripture, the film jettisons doctrine.Â Instead, it celebrates an unabashed â€śGod is loveâ€ť view that goodness in this life gets you, your friends and your family a crown and wings in the next.
This friend-and-family-plan approach rings all the bells of popular attitudes toward heaven.Â For conservative Christians, however, itâ€™s theÂ theological equivalent of feasting on marshmallow Peeps and calling it Easter.
â€śI donâ€™t want to impugn the motives of the filmmakers who made this with good intentions as something helpful for the church at large. We just come down on the side that itâ€™s not really that helpful,â€ť saysÂ Chris Larson, president of Ligonier Ministries,which publishes and broadcasts traditional Christian teachings from a Reformed Protestant perspective.
â€śHeaven is a real place, not just a concept, and we know 67 percent of Americans agree with this,â€ť says Larson, drawing on research Ligionier commissioned from LifeWay Research.
â€śWe just wish many people would go to the Bible, rather than the cinema, to find out what heaven is,” he says. “The Bible says thereâ€™s only one way to salvationâ€”through Jesus.â€ť
Larson has not seen the film, and he admits, â€śI didnâ€™t read all the entire book. I donâ€™t have a strong enough stomach. When you are describing the Holy Spirit as a kind of blueish image, we have definitely entered into the realm of speculative spirituality. … Experience does not validate Scripture. Scripture validates experience.â€ť
So heâ€™s not likely to catch the film, in which Coltonâ€™s second sister (never born because their mother, Sonja Burpo, miscarried early in pregnancy) grows into a little girl on heavenly turf and his long-dead great-grandfather strolls about in youthful prime, although no one ever knew whether Pop accepted Jesus.
Such a â€śconvenient heavenâ€ť is a dangerous thing, says pastor Tim ChalliesÂ of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, whoÂ shredded the bookâ€™s theology on his blog. Challies has no plans to see the film, although if his children want to go, he says heâ€™d let themâ€”providing they discussed the film with him.
Source: Charisma |Â CATHY LYNN GROSSMAN/RNS