The Word of God warns that those who decide to become teachers are to be held accountable for what they say. I believe this applies as well to those who write books that are meant to help or instruct the reader, especially if they choose to write about the things of God for the profit of the people of God. With so many works being published by Christians for Christians, God’s people more than ever need to be discerning, like the Bereans of Acts 17, who compared what they heard preached with what the Scriptures taught.
#1 – Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
#2 – The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson
#3 – Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
#4 – The Shack by William Young
#5 – The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
#6 – Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen
We will now consider a couple more problematic, if not downright heretical, books that I also recommend not reading, along with links to complete reviews and suggested alternative reading.
This book tells the story of four-year-old Colton who claims to have visited heaven while undergoing surgery in 2003. The book is written by Colton’s dad, Todd, who gives much of the story in Colton’s own words. (Watch this brief video which sums up Colton’s story.) However, there a few issues I and many others have with this entire account. Let me explain.
When I hear of people going to heaven, a few accounts from Scripture come to mind. First of all, unless I’m mistaken, there are only two people mentioned in the Bible who didn’t die but were “taken up” into heaven: Enoch (Gen. 5:21-24; Heb. 11:5) and Elijah (II Kings 2:1, 11-12), but they didn’t come back to tell about it. Interestingly enough, we do know of a few people in the Bible who really did die and were raised back to life, but nothing was recorded for us about what they saw or experienced during that time. Lazarus (John 11) was dead for three days, and yet Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about what he saw, because the focus of the account is on Christ!
But there are two passages that mention people being taken to or seeing heaven and returning, and I find it interesting to compare them with the Burpo situation.
The first is in II Corinthians chapter 12, where the apostle Paul humbly refers to himself in the third person and tells about an experience he had:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man…was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (II Cor. 12:4-6).
Paul goes on to say that he will refrain from boasting about it so as not to be taken for a fool, even though he would be speaking the truth. But he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself or have people think more highly of him because of his experience. He isn’t quite sure if it really happened or if it was just a vision, and he doesn’t brag about his experience; in fact he even says he was forbidden to tell about the things he heard.
The other passage is found in Luke chapter 16, where Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus (not the same guy Jesus raised from the dead). The beggar dies and goes to heaven, but when the rich man dies he’s sent to Hades. The rich man in his torments calls out to Father Abraham and asks that Lazarus be sent down to warn his brothers so they may repent.
Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29-31).
We have been given God’s Word, both the Old and New Testaments, and most importantly His Son who came in the flesh. What more do people need to believe God’s Word? Apparently some seem to think a four-year-old boy’s story will do the trick.
Although Todd Burpo is a Wesleyan pastor with (we would assume) a certain amount of knowledge of the Bible, he takes everything his little boy tells him at face value, in spite of the fact that some of the things Colton describes simply don’t line up with Scripture. Things like:
- Seeing Jesus on a rainbow-colored horse.
- Seeing the Holy Spirit, who he describes as being “kind of blue.”
- Seeing his miscarried sister, who has apparently aged, BUT also seeing his great-grandfather, who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, although he had died before Colton was born.
- Seeing humans with wings.
Didn’t it even cross Mr. Burpo’s mind that perhaps his son dreamed or imagined these things? Colton had been exposed to Bible stories and teachings enough to have these concepts in his mind.
One reviewer observed the implications of the title, Heaven is for Real,
to which Christians should turn to one another and ask, “So??” GOD in His Word uses the word heaven over four hundred times [depending on your translation], so if He says it, why should we find this title so startling? Are Christians to be of the opinion that because Colton Burpo has made certain statements that appear to be from his own experience of visiting Heaven, then we should all suddenly be saying to ourselves, “Oh, I guess what GOD has for millennia been saying is reality, because this little fellow has confirmed it.” So now we can go on waiting on other individuals to affirm other Biblical truth, by experience, so they can have something new to hang on to.
Do you see what this book is doing? It’s casting aspersion on the truth of the Word of GOD and hence placing Scripture into a secondary place with respect to truth, for there is no truth but the Word of God. But more than that, it’s adding to Scriptural truth certain things which have no foundation in the Word at all. (comment by J. Duval at Reformed Baptist Fellowship)
In his book The Glory of Heaven, John MacArthur makes the following observation regarding the Burpo account:
It denigrates the authority and sufficiency of Scripture; it confounds faith with superstition; it subtly elevates human experience to a higher level than the Word of GOD; it purports to reveal things about GOD and the heavenly realm that are not taught in Scripture; and it repeatedly insinuates that the testimony of someone who has been mystically enlightened can be a more effective stimulant to faith than Scripture alone (p. 48).
I think that sums it up quite nicely.
Of course Heaven is for Real is not the first account, and I’m sure it’s not the last, written by someone who claims to have died, seen what’s on “the other side,” and returned to tell about it. But for now, we must remain content with the information about heaven that God has chosen to reveal to us in His Word, as in faith we continue to “look forward to that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
More full reviews of this book and subject matter:
- Book review on Heaven is for Real (www.challies.com)
- Another review on Heaven is for Real (www.svchapel.org)
- One more review (www.thegospelcoalition.org)
- Comments on Heaven is for Real (reformedbaptistfellowship.wordpress.com)
- Why stories of trips to Heaven do not line up with the Bible (www.solasisters.com)
- Heaven Tourism (www.challies.com)
- Visiting Heaven and Hell (cicministry.org)
- Why I don’t support Heavenly Tourism (christianmissionaryuk.blogspot.co.uk)
What to read instead:
- The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life by John MacArthur
- Heaven by Randy Alcorn
- Heaven by Joni Eareckson Tada
To sum up the main idea of Love Wins, Bell teaches that God loves everyone equally, without discrimination or distinction, and that a loving God would never send anyone to hell.
It seems that people like Rob Bell think they can separate God’s traits, but they all exist and function as a whole all the time. And I believe that of all of God’s qualities, the overarching one that permeates and regulates, if you will, all the others is God’s holiness. His wisdom is holy, His goodness is holy, His justice is holy, AND his love is likewise holy. And at the end of the day, God’s holy love and mercy AND His holy justice will simultaneously “win.”
Shortly after writing this review, I was listening to an interview on a Christian radio program in which Dr. James White made a comment that explains it this way:
God is seeking to demonstrate all of his attributes to a watching universe. What that means is He’s going to show His justice, He’s going to show His wrath, He’s going to show His holiness (very essential to His revelation), and His power – but He’s also going to show His love and His mercy and His lovingkindness and His grace. And unless you allow God to do all of that you’re never going to have the Biblical God. And if you look at the cross and all you see is the love of God, you’re not really seeing the cross. Because if you don’t first see the stark background of the wrath and holiness of God at the cross, then you’re never going to truly understand the depth of the love and the mercy and the grace that is actually there at the cross.
Bell doesn’t seem to understand this concept, and I’m sorry to be blunt, but Bell’s theology is a mess, as is clearly seen in this book. Rather than explain, I will just let him tell you in his own words his view of God, sin, hell, man’s free will, and his opinions regarding orthodox Christian doctrines in general.
In the Preface of Love Wins, Bell writes:
A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.
Mr. Bell leaves no room in his theology for the Fall of Man which resulted in producing a sinful humanity. In His love, God sent His Son to save the lost from the eternal judgment that they deserve. That’s the Good News of the Gospel. Christ Himself talks about the unrepentant wicked suffering endless torment in hell. But Bells’ good and loving god would never judge sin or punish the wicked:
If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins…Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t.
Again, Bell divorces God’s justice and holiness from His love. Here’s how Bell understands the traditional view of God:
Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way according to the person telling them the gospel, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would insure that they would have no escape from an endless future of agony.
If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.
If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted. Let alone be good.
Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye.
Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?
That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can. . . That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable (p. 173-75).
This is merely a caricature of God drawn from an unbalanced understanding of the holy God of the Bible. Bell’s view doesn’t take into account the sinfulness of depraved man, and it completely ignores the aspect of God’s mercy; that He saves any of us is a wonder for us to reflect upon.
From many of the excerpts I’ve read, Rob Bell often sounds a lot like the serpent in the Garden of Eden who said to Eve, “Did God really say…?” I have one question for Mr. Bell: What Bible are you reading??
If you’re interested in getting a preview of Love Wins, you can actually listen to Rob Bell read the beginning of Chapter One on Goodreads.
More full reviews of this book:
- Tim Challies’ Review ofLove Wins (www.challies.com)
- Another review of Love Wins (carm.org)
- Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Response (thegospelcoalition.org)
- Bell’s Theological Method Behind His Soteriology (veritasdomain.wordpress.com)
- Another Response to Love Wins (www.facebook.com)
- Randy Alcorn’s review of Love Wins (www.goodreads.com)
What to read instead:
- The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer
- God’s Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children by R. C. Sproul
- A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You by John Piper
- Who’s Your Father? by Robert Bernecker
#9 – Joyce Meyer, et al.
Finally, I would just like to offer a word of warning regarding a few currently popular female authors and speakers. Having already discussed Sarah Young in Part One of this series, allow me to add first and foremost, Joyce Meyer, followed by Beth Moore and Ann Voskamp. I believe it’s unbiblical for women to be pastors, but I’m not opposed to these women because of their gender. There are other women writers, Bible teachers, and public speakers whom I do admire and would recommend, for example Joni Eareckson, Elisabeth Elliot, and Corrie ten Boom. What I do oppose is their teachings. Consider a few of the following statements Meyer has made:
The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this. Not really — that is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.
Meyer claims that she receives personal revelation from God, then she proceeds to make authoritative statements that are nowhere found in scripture and some of which is downright heretical. Like this, for example:
I am not poor. I am not miserable and I am not a sinner. That is a lie from the pit of hell…I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner anymore. The Bible says that I am righteous, and I can’t be righteous and be a sinner at the same time.
What she apparently fails to understand is that it’s not our own righteousness that we are to trust in but Christ’s righteousness. We will never stop sinning altogether as long as we are in these mortal bodies. The Apostle John said, “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8) And in Romans 7 the Apostle Paul, grieved over his struggle with sin, cries, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Meyer teaches that when Jesus died on the cross, when He “became sin” for us, He ceased to be the Son of God. She also teaches that Jesus paid for our sins in hell (not on the cross, which is what the Scriptures plainly and repeatedly teach), and that Jesus was born again when He rose from the dead:
He became our sacrifice and died on the cross. He did not stay dead. He was in the grave three days. During that time he entered hell, where you and I deserve to go (legally) because of our sin. He paid the price there…His spirit went to hell because that is where we deserve to go… There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless they believe this truth…He was resurrected from the dead — the first born again man…The minute that blood sacrifice was accepted Jesus was the first human being that was ever born again.
This is just wrong and unscriptural.
Beth Moore may not be as blatantly heretical in her teachings, but she respects Joyce Meyer (as well as Joel Osteen) as a teacher, and like Meyer, she claims to receive special revelation from God, which should always be a red flag when it comes to listening to teachers of God’s Word. Moore believes and teaches that it is our faith that unleashes the power of God, so apparently God’s power isn’t sovereign but is dependent on us to put it to work. And Moore has a habit of misapplying scriptural passages by taking them out of context and giving them meaning that wasn’t intended. As far as Ann Voskamp goes, I’ve written about her book One Thousand Gifts in a separate review.
- Why I called out Osteen and Meyer (churchismessy.com)
- Less about Moore (pulpitandpen.org)
- Beth Moore’s Sabbath Moment Playdate with God (www.donotbesurprised.com)
- Is this the WORST book Lifeway sells? (pulpitandpen.org)
- When you can’t trust your church bookstore (pulpitandpen.org)
- 2014 Bestselling Christian books (adam4d.com)