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Southern Baptists Condemn All “Heaven” Books

Heaven is for Real books

If you haven’t heard, blogger Kristine McGuire summarizes the story accurately in this introduction,

There is an article on Charisma News which is reporting that the Southern Baptist convention has issued a resolution stating books (and now presumably movies) such as Heaven is for Real and others like it (such as My Journey to Heaven by Marvin Besteman, To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary Neal, and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper) are not in line with “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and are determining to remove Heaven is for Real from Lifeway Christian Stores.

And it’s taken them how many years to come to this decision? Heaven is for Real has been in stores since 2010…

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Christian Retailing reported the same story:

…The parent body of LifeWay Christian Stores stopped short of calling for such products to be pulled from the retail chain, however.

Delegates—known as messengers—to the Baptist body’s assembly focused on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife,” cautioning against putting books about personal heaven experiences on the same level as the Bible’s description of the hereafter…

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But certainly the rule here should be caveat lector, let the reader beware. By extension, isn’t any Christian book in danger of being elevated to the same status of the Bible? And doesn’t this happen in certain circles, where the words of both Charismatic and Reformed superstars are given an almost divine authority.

Black Christian News reported:

In another cultural pushback, Baptists affirmed “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and criticized best-selling movies and books that have focused on heaven and suggested descriptions of it.

“Many of these books and movies have sought to describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” they said.

In the same session where the resolution was passed, a messenger asked that Heaven Is for Real be removed “for theological reasons” from LifeWay Christian Stores, which are affiliated with the SBC. The request was ruled out of order.

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J.D. Hall at the blog Pulpit and Pen notes:

What’s forgotten is that Burpo’s book (and Wallace’s movie by the same name, Heaven is for Real) is nothing new, novelty, or unique. Phil Johnson gives a good list of books with similar testimonies that have become so prominent in the evangelical marketplace that Tim Challies has come to call the genre “Heaven Tourism.” Johnson gives the list including My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . .A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man’s Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese.

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Heaven is for RealHis article is titled “Heaven is for Real: Is Discernment Dead?” and makes the point that in the final analysis, “the details of the book ought to strictly and immediately raise the red flag of discernment for even the most elementary of Christians – let alone those serving as provost of Southern Baptist seminaries.” But he seems to disagree that giving so much stock to the child’s story as to render it worthy of condemnation is the wisest move. Good, personal discernment is all that’s needed.

Many articles noted that LifeWay did not actually end up having to remove the book from sales. There’s too much money to be lost, and LifeWay is a cash cow for the denomination. In various places here we’ve reported on instances where the company puts profit over principles, such as Southern Baptists’ wholesale condemnation of women in ministry, while at the same time publishing and promoting the ministry of Beth Moore.

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  1. June 13, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I’ve not yet managed to find a full text of the actual resolution: but key points appear to be that some/many of these books and films “cannot be corroborated” and “contain details that are antithetical to Scripture.” It apparently goes on to say that “Many devout and well-meaning people allow these to become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife rather than scriptural truth” … “the doctrines of the afterlife are critical to a full understanding of salvation and repentance,” and to “reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.”

    Doctrinally, that seems like a pretty good summary of the position. But whether such books should be excluded from Christian bookshops is much more debatable. Some folk will dismiss out of hand anything that can’t already be found in Scripture: whereas others accept almost anything that people say, as long as they claim to be Bible-believing Christians.

    I rather think that the Southern Baptists have got it about right. Books like this don’t just attract the attention of Christians: they can also be great conversation starters. But they do need a ‘doctrinal health warning,’ as do many end-time novels, etc.. And if commercialism is beginning to dominate, then I think Christian booksellers are well-advised to be selective as to which titles they stock.

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