Learning: Christians don’t need to censor or jettison popular culture’s view of our world. It is crucial for Christians to engage these views in healthy dialogue because it opens the possibility of growth and transformation for both perspectives.
I admit, I have not read or watched the best-selling book and now movie, Heaven is for Real. Chances are you or someone you know has, since it has sold millions of copies and become the “best selling evangelical book of the past decade.” Needless to say, the story has gained our attention.
The story’s impact has certainly caught the attention of one well-known evangelical pastor, David Platt. Through an email sent to me by Verge Network, I clicked on the link PLATT: WHY YOU SHOULD NOT BELIEVE “HEAVEN IS FOR REAL.” As the title suggests, the clip shows Platt taking four minutes and forty-four seconds to passionately discredit any truthfulness of this book and movie.
To be fair to Platt, I want to mention two things. (1) The clip does not allow us to hear the whole context of what he is saying. What he said leading into this clip and how he followed it up are missing from our purview. (2) I agree with the majority of his biblical and theological points, which are:
- “Make no mistake. There is money to be made in peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction in the world of Christian publishing today.
- “Our level of discernment in the Church today on this topic is extremely low. Because the whole premise behind every single one of these books is contrary to everything God’s Word says about heaven.”
- “All the accounts of heaven in scripture are visions not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven in scripture are very, very rare. You can count them all on one hand.”
- “Four Biblical authors had visions about heaven, and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. All of them were prophetic visions, not near death experiences.”
- “Not one person raised from the dead in the Old Testament or New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven.”
- “Notably missing from all the Biblical accounts are the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the best seller list.”
I struggle with his method. Based on how he said it and the lack of context from the whole message, it appears he is taking the defensive. I am hearing his approach as one that is on the attack. It gives off the impression of aggressiveness and one-sidedness. I did not pick up on any hint of cordiality. It is a one-way message.
With books and movies like “Heaven is for Real,” I think both perspectives are hurt by a grenade war. One side launching an argument from a distance and walking away from the damage. Without healthy dialogue, neither perspective is given permission for growth or transformation. You have probably experienced this in one of your own relationships. The other person feels compelled to share his or her opinion of you without interest in your response. It hurts, both of you.
Christians shouldn’t shy away from engaging an open discussion, they should be the first to initiate it. Disagreement with culture or popular Christian views isn’t an opportunity to flex our theological muscles, it is a chance to hear what it is really being said. Rather than obsess over what’s wrong, why not allow what’s different to teach us about others and about ourselves? We could ask, What does the book or movie say about our culture today? How does it help us understand its perspective better? How does it challenge my perspective for greater growth? How can I speak truth back into culture without ignoring what I’ve learned about it? What does it mean to engage a cultural view without projecting moral superiority?
I am not suggesting “Heaven is for Real” should be your source of truth on heaven. It most likely is very far from our future reality. It is also sad to think it is in many ways a source of revenue. But, I am not ready to ban it from every Christian’s library. Like any other book, I believe you can read without guilt. When you do, be courageous enough to engage the story in dialogue. Ask it the hard questions. Let it ask you some as well.
Dialogue with culture doesn’t draw a hard line between us and them. It is less about proving I am right and you are wrong, and more about learning and growing together. Taking the risk to engage in a conversation rather than lecture is less likely to create impenetrable walls between people with differing views. Christians don’t need to construct more walls or create more divisions.
As for my response to “Heaven is for Real,” I’m learning to approach it this way. Heaven is not a topic worth initiating a theological war over. Our doctrine of heaven or how we imagine it might be is not essential to our salvation. It can be, I believe, a catalyst for redemptive conversations.
How do you think Christians should respond to books and movies like “Heaven is for Real?”