Or Why I, as a Christian, will be boycotting the film Heaven is for Real.
A few weeks ago I posted an image to my Instagram feed with the caption “I have hate in my heart.” I did so because I do so. I hate - hate – that there is a movie adaptation of the book Heaven is for Real. Actually, I am not that thrilled that the book exists, let alone is sold by my denomination’s bookstore (in about as many different packages as they can make a buck off of). I am positively disgusted (although not surprised in the least) that it has been adapted in to a movie that WILL BE RELEASED THE WEEK OF GOOD FRIDAY.
I’m sure many, if not most, who read this will think I’m looney, too harsh, or a jerk for the preceding paragraph. Any chance you’ll hang around for me to explain?
I’ll have to begin with the source material. Colton is a cute kid. What he and his family experienced is an outright tragedy and a gift of God’s kindness. I’m thankful the Lord chose to preserve his life and restore him to his family. God is good.
What has happened afterwards, however, I am not thankful for. Innocently or not (you never can tell with Christian publishing and retail), his story has become a chief diversion to the central event of the Christian faith.
Heaven is indeed for real – but Christians don’t believe that because of some supposed experience had by Todd Burpo’s kid, Jesse Duplantis, Don Piper (if you aren’t familiar then my denomination’s bookstore, again, will be happy to make a buck educating you) or any other after-life-experience salesman. We believe it because Christ told us:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
The existence of this book, this movie, and their combined marketing campaigns push believers to find validation (or, at minimum , confirmation) of their faith outside of the authoritative declaration of Christ. This is necessarily a step away from the truth of God’s revelation of and in Christ toward the inward and subjective (synonyms for unreliable). In reality this book that is lauded as so supportive of our faith ends up taking us in the opposite direction of Biblical faith.
Interesting, isn’t it, that the one time in Scripture where someone is granted a trip to heaven from which they return to earth that person is expressly told not to discuss what he witnessed and heard. That establishes a precedent, doesn’t it? Why, then, would Burpo, Duplantis, Piper, etc get license to tell what Paul said cannot be told and speak that which Scripture says man may not utter? Doesn’t it seem more likely that they didn’t? I believe so, strongly.
Finally, this whole idea of “a confirming witness” coming from these books doesn’t just erode our confidence in the revelation of Christ. It also, and not subtly, undercuts our appreciation of the resurrection of Christ as the singular confirming event in our faith. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:1-20 that the resurrection, alone, validates the claims of Christ and our belief in them through the word firstfruits in vs. 20. This is a technical term referring to the first products of the ripening harvest that guarantee more of the same kind to come in the future; Paul’s usage indicates that since Christ has been raised all who believe in Him will be raised as well.
It is this final point that so antagonizes me about the film, specifically its release date. Whether or not you celebrate Easter and despite it’s connection to ancient pagan holidays Western Christians have historically associated that holiday with the celebration of the resurrection. What we will have is a move away from a historic celebration of the actual historical event which is central to the faith known as Christianity to an innovative, unreliable, marketing-driven counterfeit! To have this unhelpful, distractionary, subversive, and unbiblical narrative released at this time is (at best) a cash-grab aimed at a Christian community far too ready to pay for their deception as long as it comes in “Christian” packaging.
*Edit* One other point that I intended to make but failed to include in the original draft which my friend Terry reminded me of is addressed to those who think Heaven is For Real might be useful to provoke faith in those who read or watch: that possibility specifically ignores what the Bible says about how faith is birthed in an unbelieving heart. It is through hearing the gospel that faith comes (Romans 10:17). The story of Christ’s righteous life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection is that which has the power of God to save (1 Corinthians 1:17-31) – not the stories of afterlife-experience hucksters. As a matter of fact, this notion of a story about a regular person dying and returning being seedbed for faith is specifically contrary to Jesus’ own words in Luke 16:19-31 – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, [ i.e. the testimony of Scripture] neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” *Edit*
So what’s the take-away? Do I think you are a bad person (or bad Christian) if you read, enjoyed, or recommended Heaven is for Real? Do I think everyone has to agree with me or feel as strongly as I do about these things?
No, across the board.
What I’d like for you to do after reading this post is to make a fresh commitment to be a thinking Christian, to never take off the lenses of discernment no matter what your eyes are aimed at, and to cherish the Word of God and the Resurrection of Christ above every substitute that presents itself.
As for that Wednesday before Good Friday and Easter? I hope that you have a chance to spend it in a local church, with believers you live with and love, celebrating the greatest thing that ever happened to us – that greatest events in history – and which gives us the fullness of our confidence.