Heaven by Randy Alcorn (Tyndale House, 2004)
Reviewed by Edwin Newby, TBC Staff
Since Dave Hunt published Whatever Happened to Heaven?, a number of books have sought to tell us not only “what happened,” but “what’s happening.” Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven is an expansion of what he calls his “surprising and unconventional” views of heaven. This most recent book was prompted by reaction to his thoughts on heaven, some of which initially cropped up in his popular novels, Deadline and Dominion.
First Thessalonians 5:21 says, “prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” Recognizing that traditional ideas and myths drive conceptions of heaven, Alcorn points to Scripture. This is good. Do saints in heaven wear long robes, have wings, and play harps while sitting on clouds? The author assures us that “by the time you finish reading this book, you will have a biblical basis for envisioning the eternal heaven” (p. 17).
Perhaps the greatest problem in the book is the idea that saints in heaven are conscious of events on the earth and are praying specifically for those who are still there. Not one scripture directly supports this. Reliance upon speculation about perceived implications drives many of the author’s concepts. For example, Alcorn uses the “witch of Endor” account (1 Samuel:28:5-25) to speculate that Samuel has been actively observing Saul from the “other side.” Yet, Samuel asks Saul why he has been “disquieted.” Further, his words are limited to his previous prophecies (1 Samuel:15:28), with 1 Samuel:28:19 being the sole exception. It, however, is certainly not prompted by direct observation of Saul, but something revealed to Samuel by the Lord.
Many speculations follow. Alcorn states (p. 70) “Earth is center court, center stage, awaiting...Christ’s return and the establishment of his kingdom. This seems a compelling reason to believe that the current inhabitants of Heaven would be able to observe what’s happening....” Compelling? Samuel was disquieted to be returned to earth. Would it not be correct to ask how comforted one would be to see every death or apostasy of one’s children, friends, and relatives?
“Precious” in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Psalm:116:15). Alcorn notes that Christ watches what transpires on earth and that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repents....If angels, why not saints?” Well, saints are neither angels nor Christ. Alcorn tries to make “in the presence” of angels mean that others are rejoicing. Yet, the original words used can literally mean “in the faces of angels.”
Finally, 1 Corinthians:2:9 tells us simply that it hasn’t even entered “into the heart of man,” what God has prepared for them that love Him. That’s in context. Verse 10 does not say that we now know by the Spirit every detail of heaven. The “them” in “God hath revealed ‘them’ to us” is in italics.
Yet, Alcorn is correct in saying that this “revelation is God’s Word” (p. 19), which brings us back to Scripture, with no room for dogmatic speculation. What Scripture does say is that heaven is a place where people are comforted, tears are wiped away, perfect peace rules, and joy abounds forevermore. It also allows us to say to those who claim to have seen heaven in a vision, “Heaven is better than anything that you saw.”
Alcorn is concerned that of the 100-plus commentaries that he owns, there is very little written about the details of Heaven. We would submit that this is wisdom on the part of those saints.
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (Zondervan, 2005)
Reviewed by Rob Yardley, TBC Board Member
Rob Bell is hip, he is cool, he is cutting edge...and he is dangerous.
Bizarre, unbiblical doctrines squirm in the pages [of Velvet Elvis] like maggots in a long-dead animal. I’ll touch on just a few of his statements and references, but I hope they will sufficiently warn the potential reader.
After mocking those who insist on foundational doctrines like a literal creation week, Rob Bell says, “What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?” (p. 26).
The virgin birth isn’t essential? Bell later affirms that he holds to the virgin birth, the Trinity, and the inspiration of the Bible, but indicates that there are no foundational doctrines.
Bell doesn’t limit his blasphemy to the inerrancy of the Scriptures. He also attacks the sufficiency of the Scriptures:
“This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that ‘Scripture alone’ is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible from the church voting on what the Bible even is. So when I affirm the Bible as God’s Word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true” (p. 67-68).
After overthrowing the Protestant reformation (and showing his ignorance of the true church throughout the ages), Bell turns to showing his ignorance of faith: “I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has faith in me” (p. 134).
Even though Bell doesn’t trust the Scriptures, it doesn’t keep him from poor exegesis. He says, “I was reading last year in one of the national newsmagazines about the gathering of the leaders of a massive Christian denomination...they had voted to reaffirm their view of the importance of the verse that says a wife’s role is to submit to her husband. This is a big deal to them. This is what made the news. This is what they are known for. What about the verse before that verse? What about the verse after it? What about the verse that talks about women having authority over their husbands? What about all of the marriages in which this verse has been used to oppress and mistreat women? It is possible to make the Bible say whatever we want to, isn’t it?” (43-44).
We can make the Bible say whatever we want? I shouldn’t be surprised that a man who doesn’t believe in the power of God’s word would espouse such folly. Incidentally, the verse he references as granting women authority over their husbands is footnoted as being 1 Corinthians:7:4; of course it does nothing of the sort.
I could cite many other problems, e.g., Bell says, “As one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, put it...” (p. 54). Anne Lamott is a noted Democratic Party activist and writer for liberal Salon Magazine, hardly someone you would want to recommend.
I don’t think that spending any more time on this subject would be edifying. Zondervan not only publishes, but heavily promotes this book. In footnote 65, author Bell cites Zondervan vice-president Stan Gundry as an authority on why the Bible canon cannot be trusted. Ironically, or perhaps hypocritically, Zondervan, the self-proclaimed “Leading Christian Communications Company,” derives the lion’s share of its income from publishing bibles that “cannot be trusted,” including the Catholic New American Bible, complete with the Apocrypha as part of its canon.
In the wider scheme of the growing apostasy, and shameful though it is, Velvet Elvis is sadly just one more example of how evangelicals are being fed a diet that is systemically weaning them away from their trust in the Word of God.