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Tim Challies

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4 years 6 months ago
When he was still just a young man, Jonathan Edwards wrote out a series of resolutions and among them he included these words: “Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” Edwards saw value in thinking about death, and not just death in the abstract, but his own death and the circumstances which might surround it. Martin Luther would have agreed that this was a good idea. He wrote, “We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime, inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and on the move.”

I guess this may sound morbid to some and especially so in a culture in which we flee from death and live in denial of its power and inevitability, but I have to throw in my lot with those giants of the faith. I try to make books on death a regular part of my reading diet and find that they always challenge me.

Death is the subject of Mike Wittmer’s little gem of a book The Last Enemy. This is a realistic, powerful and hopeful book. He gets right to the point and begins like this:

You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else. The rest of the world may pause to remember—it will give you a moment of silence if you were rich or well known—but then it will carry on as it did before you arrived.

Death will, indeed, take us all. The world will move on and we will be gone. But, of course, death is not the end which means that each of us needs to be prepared to face it and to face what comes beyond its dark door. This is what Wittmer seeks to do in this book, to prepare us to face death with hope and strength and confidence.

The first part of the book introduces the enemy and what Wittmer does exceptionally well is remove some of the romance that Christians may attach to death. Though we have hope in death—hope secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ—we should never forget that death is an evil intruder in this world, that, as the title of the book suggests, it is the last enemy. He warns,

We must not confuse the good that God brings out of death with death itself. Often people who are facing death say their cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. They mean that the cancer stopped them in their tracks and shocked them into reevaluating their priorities, and now they are spending more time with their kids and focusing on things that matter. But note that it’s their right response to the cancer, not the cancer itself, that is the good thing. Their impending death is unmistakably evil. How else could it shake them awake?

Where the first part focuses on the enemy, the second part focuses on the victor, on Jesus Christ who has conquered death on our behalf. Here he looks to the good news of the gospel and the power and hope of the gospel. He looks to heaven, speculating on why books describing journeys to heaven have become so popular, and writing of the value of lament. Each of the chapters is short, of the size that can be read and digested in just a few minutes.

As a book reviewer I am always looking for books like this one—powerful, biblical books that may otherwise be overlooked and go unnoticed. The Last Enemy is a book that will benefit anyone who reads it. It offers hope to the believer and a life-or-death challenge to the unbeliever. It is an ideal title to stock up on and have on-hand to give away.

5 years 7 months ago
Questions matter. They can help you to grow deeper in your knowledge of the truth and your love for God—especially when you’re dealing with the harder doctrines of the Christian faith. But questions can also be used to obscure the truth. They can be used to lead away just as easily as they can be used to lead toward. Ask Eve.
Enter Rob Bell, a man who has spent much of the last seven years asking questions in his sometimes thought-provoking and often frustrating fashion. And when he’s done asking, no matter what answers he puts forward, it seems we’re only left with more questions. This trend continues in his new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, where Bell poses what might be his most controversial question yet:

Does a loving God really send people to hell for all eternity?

The questions you probably want answers to as you read this review are these: Is it true that Rob Bell teaches that hell doesn’t exist? Is it true that Rob Bell believes no one goes to hell? You’ll just need to keep reading because, frankly, the answers aren’t that easy to come by.

How he asks the question is just as important as the question itself. “Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this ‘good news’?” They say that the person who frames the debate is going to win the debate. That is especially true when the debate is framed in this way, through these particular questions. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. No offense, and no pun intended.

The Toxic Subversion Of Jesus’ Message

Bell begins the book with surprising forthrightness: Jesus’ story has been hijacked by a number of different stories that Jesus has no interest in telling. “The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” (Preface, vi)

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…. 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. (ibid)

You may want to read that again.

It really says that. And it really means what you think it means. Though it takes time for that to become clear.

Heaven Is A Place On Earth—and We Are Making It

Bell frames much of the book around time and place, around what the Bible means when it speaks of the when and where of heaven and hell. He points to Revelation 21, citing that the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, is coming down to the new earth. He also affirms that heaven is a real place where God’s will alone is done and that at present, heaven and earth are not yet one (pp. 42-43). These are points that few Christians could seriously question.

His argument progresses to this: Because heaven will eventually come to earth, if we’re to take heaven seriously, we must take the suffering that exists in the world seriously now. Therefore, we are called to participate “now in the life of the age to come. That’s what happens when the future is dragged into the present” (p. 45). In light of this, humanity’s role within creation is redefined so that we are not so much stewards as we are God’s partners, “participating in the ongoing creation and joy of the world” (p. 180), and engaging in creating a new social order with Jesus (p. 77). This language of partnering and participating is frequently applied by Bell to causes of social justice.

But what about hell? Is hell a future reality or a present one? Is it an earthly reality or one that exists elsewhere?

Hell appears to be more about what we do to each other than what we’ve done to God. Bell reads Jesus’ warnings of divine punishment as addressing only the temporal, rather than both the temporal and the eternal. These warnings were for the religious leaders of the day, and had very little to do with some other reality or some other time, he argues (pp. 82-83). Instead, hell is “a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep without our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way” (p. 95). There’s no fire and no wrath, at least, none that is extrinsic to us.

Does Rob Bell deny the existence of hell? He would say no. We would say yes. He affirms, but only after redefining. And that’s just a clever form of denial.

Exegetical Gymnastics

Understanding what Bell truly believes and what he is truly seeking to teach can be a battle. The reader will find himself following many rabbit trails and arriving at several dead ends. It seems that where Bell’s arguments begin to break down, he simply walks away instead of pursuing consistency and logic. This book could not stand the rigors of cross-examination. It has little cohesion, little internal strength.

The reader will also find broad statements offered as fact. “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church has been the insistence that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins.” Is that true? It is easy to say, but can it be proven? Again and again Bell turns to the original languages but he quotes no commentaries, points to no sources. He says things like “’forever’ is not really a category the biblical writers used.” But he offers no proof. Again, it is easy to say, but can it be proven? Can it be proven from a legitimate source?

Throughout the book he engages in what can best be described as exegetical gymnastics, particularly in dealing with the Greek word aion, a small word that is crucial to his arguments.

While this word is commonly translated as “eternal” or “everlasting,” Bell argues that it can also mean “age” or “period of time,” or even “intensity of experience.” Using this approach, he briefly argues from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) that eternal punishment isn’t eternal, but rather an intense period of pruning.

Now here’s the thing: aion and aionos definitely can mean “age” or “period of time,” they also mean “eternal.” The word’s context helps us to determine its meaning. So if we assume that these words primarily mean “age” or “period of time,” what happens when we apply that definition to John 3:16 where aionos is used?

For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life for a period of time.

Not as encouraging, is it? While Bell might argue here that “life abundant” might be a better fit (playing on the “intensity of experience” angle and tying it to John 10:10), at the end of the day, we’re left with an approach that gives more credence to living your best life now than it does to worshipping Jesus.

The Good News Is Better Than This

Throughout the book, there are a number of points where we would agree with Bell, particularly when he identifies some of the goofy things that people have concocted to make God’s absolute sovereignty palpable. But his answers are equally unsatisfying. Even his good critiques are simply a bridge to bad conclusions.

As he makes his case, Bell seems to delight in being obtuse, creating caricatures of opposing views that lack logic and compassion. He paints himself as the victim of the hateful, toxic, venomous denizens of certain corners of the Internet that believe “the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do” (p. 185).

Thus, Rob Bell appoints himself a martyr for his cause, and anyone who disagrees with him is preemptively silenced. It’s a useful technique, that, but hardly a fair one. Meanwhile he acts as if those who hold to the belief that, in Bell’s words, “we get this life and only this life to believe in Jesus,” a view passionately held to by the vast majority of Christians throughout history, are blowing smoke rather than dealing honestly with the Scriptures. He subtly redefines the questions and answers, and in doing so, also shifts the battle lines.

As he moves those lines, he moves closer and closer to outright blasphemy. Turning on 1 Timothy 2 (where Paul states that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth) Bell reflects on a traditional (orthodox) view of hell and asks:

How great is God?
Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do,
or kind of great,
medium great,
great most of the time,
but in this,
the fate of billions of people,
not totally great.
sort of great.
a little great.

A God who would allow people to go to hell is not a great God, according to Bell, and the traditional belief that He would is “devastating … psychologically crushing … terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (pp. 136-7).

God is at best sort of great, a little great—great for saving some, but evil for allowing others to perish. Dangerous words, those. It is a fearful thing to ascribe evil to God.

So what of the gospel? Where is the gospel and what is the gospel? Ultimately, what Bell offers in this book is a gospel with no purpose. In his understanding of the Bible, people are essentially good, although we certainly do sin, and are completely free to choose or not choose to love God on our own terms. Even then he seems to believe that most people, given enough time and opportunity, will turn to God.

In This Is Love

If Love Wins accurately represents Bell’s views on heaven and hell (at least if our understanding of the book accurately represents his views on heaven and hell), it reveals him as a proponent of a kind of Christian Universalism. He would deny the label as he tends to deny any label. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, you know how it goes.

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims. Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.

Not true.
Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone,
is saving everybody.

And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.

People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.

Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.

Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.”

What we see Jesus doing again and again—in the midst of constant reminders about the seriousness of following him living like him, and trusting him—is widening the scope and expanse of his saving work.

That is what we know as universalism. And it is cause for mourning.

Christians do not need more confusion. They need clarity. They need teachers who are willing to deal honestly with what the Bible says, no matter how hard that truth is. And let’s be honest—many truths are very, very hard to swallow.

Love does win, but not the kind of love that Bell talks about in this book. The love he describes is one that is founded solely on the idea that the primary object of God’s love is man; indeed, the whole story, he writes, can be summed up in these words: “For God so loved the world.” But this doesn’t hold a candle to the altogether amazing love of God as actually shown in the Bible. The God who “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), who acts on our behalf not so much because His love for us is great, but because He is great (Isaiah 48:9, Ezekiel 20:9,14,22,44, 36:22; John 17:1-5).

That’s the kind of love that wins. That’s the kind of love that motivates us to love our neighbors enough to compel them to flee from the wrath to come. And our love for people means nothing if we do not first and foremost love God enough to be honest about Him.

This review was co-written with my friend Aaron Armstrong who writes at Blogging Theologically. All quotes are taken from an Advance Reading Copy of the manuscript that was provided specifically for review purposes; they will be verified against a final bound copy of Love Wins following the book’s release.

7 years 2 months ago
That the Bible advocates and even commands the enforcement of the death penalty seems almost like it should be beyond controversy. The dignity God gives to humans, created as they are in his image, demands the utmost penalty for those who would recklessly and deliberately destroy life. Yet controversy abounds with many of those who profess Christ insisting that a God of love and justice would never endorse the use of this ultimate human punishment.

Into the midst of this controversy wades Ron Gleason, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, California in his new book The Death Penalty on Trial. Written primarily for Christians, so they can support the death penalty and do so coherently from moral, historical and biblical perspectives, this book offers a thorough defense of the death penalty and a defense against the arguments, both secular and Christian, so often lodged against it. Gleason sets the book firmly in the context of church history, looking first to the death penalty in history and then in the history of the church, showing how through the years the majority of Christians have believed that the Bible gives license to the state to execute those guilty of murder. He looks as well to the Old and the New Testament. Though it is difficult to deny that God supports capital punishment in the Old Covenant, many Christians have argued that it should no longer apply in the New. Arguing straight from Scripture, Gleason shows convincingly that this is simply not the case—the New Testament assumes capital punishment and insists upon the right of those in authority to enforce it. The government, after all, (as we learn in Romans 13) does not bear the sword in vain, but is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Gleason dedicates a chapter to answering the objections of secularists and another to answer the objections of Christians (though, surprisingly, many of the objections are not far removed from one another). Writing as an American to a primarily American audience, he questions whether the death penalty can be considered cruel and unusual punishment and shows how the framers of the Constitution clearly believed in the capital punishment. He answers objections that the death penalty devalues human life (showing that, in fact, the opposite is the case) and that it has not been proven to be an effective deterrent (to which he responds, in part, that at the very least it is a deterrent to the one who has been executed). When looking to the arguments of Christians he answers objections that Jesus’ new ethics removed the need for the death penalty, that those who are forgiven by Christ ought to be forgiven by men and that the death penalty is an affront to God’s justice. In each case he answers well from Scripture or from plain reason. It bears mention here that Gleason is Presbyterian and at times his book is a little more Presbyterian-friendly than Baptist-friendly. This is to say that he would acknowledge a level of continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament that many Baptists might deny. But though this may affect one or two of his arguments, it certainly does not detract much from the power of his arguments.

A theme that runs throughout the book is this: all murder is killing but not all killing is murder. Thus a person who murders another can be justly executed by the governing authorities without multiplying the evil. To kill a murderer is not to commit another murder. Rather, terrible though it is to have to take a life, it is an act of justice and a fitting penalty for one who would destroy a person made in God’s image.

This is the first book I’ve read by Gleason, an old family friend and my former pastor from his years ministering here in the Toronto area. I was impressed with the logic and the fluidity of his writing as well as with the power of his arguments. The book is well-researched and well-documented, drawing from a wide range of sources. And though, as a scholar, Gleason could easily have written an academic treatise, this book is suitable for the rest of us. His argument are as easy to follow and digest as they are to read. Though it deals with a niche topic, this book deals with an important one and I commend it to you.

8 years 4 months ago
I suppose it was inevitable that, with a bestselling book describing an author’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” one would soon follow detailing a journey to hell. Sure enough, Bill Wiese follows Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven with his own 23 Minutes in Hell. And interestingly, if you visit Amazon.com you’ll see that you can get a deal if you buy both of these books together. Clearly they are being read and appreciated by the same audience.

Wiese’s story is simple. One night, while sleeping, he was transported to hell. There God showed him hell in all its horror and terror. He was thrown into a barred cell, he was abused by demons, he was shown lakes of fire, and he saw people suffering torment. After a brief visit with Jesus, he was transported back to earth in order to tell people that Jesus is returning soon and to assure them that hell is a real place (and one that exists in the center of the earth, apparently). Wiese’s hell seems to be equally influenced by the works of Ray Comfort, Mary Baxter and Gary Larson. That is to say it is at times biblically accurate, at times patently unbiblical, and at times near-comical.

There are many things that can be said about this book from the perspectives of literature and theology. I will focus on just one under each heading. In terms of literature, there is little that can be said. This book is just plain bad. It is poorly written and seems cobbled together. It is something of a chore to read, though it is blessedly short and, unlike hell, the punishment does not last for long. I have read worse, of course, but there is no doubt that this is not a well-written book.

My foremost concern involves theology. And here I want to point to the error that also plagued Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven. It regards the necessity of such visitations. Don Piper travels the world now under the banner of “The Minister of Hope.” He brings hope by telling people that he has been to heaven and can attest that it is a real place. Bill Wiese now shares his message that hell is also real and is a real place (a really bad place). Yet in the Bible I find no reason to believe that God would want or need people to carry this kind of message based on their own experiences. God has given us the Bible precisely so we do not need such people! When a man travels around carrying a message like this one, he implicitly denies that the Bible is warning enough; his ministry indicates that he feels we need something more than “merely” the Bible in order to warn people of the joy to come to those who believe and the wrath to come for those who do not. These messengers, perhaps inadvertently, deny the uniqueness and the sufficiency of the Bible. If people will not believe the words of God as given in Scripture, why should or would they believe the fanciful words of a mere man?

All this is not to say that 23 Minutes in Hell does not have any redeeming qualities. The author shares many things about hell that are true. He often quotes excellent teachers (and ones who would be less than thrilled, I’m sure, to see their names printed inside this book!). He does not downplay the horrific nature of hell or, as do so many today, attempt to deny its reality. However, one thing that is conspicuous by its absence is any mention of hell being the presence of God in His wrath. Wiese describes it as a place where people are punished for not believing in Jesus; yet the punishments are inflicted by demons and fire rather than by God Himself. From the Bible it seems clear that God is the one who is active in hell and that He punishes both humans and demons. If Wiese does downplay the awfulness of hell, it would be right here.

Like 90 Minutes in Heaven, this book is plagued with theological errors and, also like Piper’s effort, it does not deserve a place in anyone’s library. Take a pass on it!

9 years 12 months ago

As I read books, I tend to jot down interesting or important quotes. I realized that I had collected a few of these recently and thought it would be interesting to share them with you. So here are four quotes from four books that caught my attention.

The first quote is from God’s Bestseller, a biography of William Tyndale written by Brian Moynahan. The author, comments about Thomas More’s bloodlust when considering heretics. More thought that, for too long, heretics (i.e. Protestants) had been “mollycoddled, allowed to escape through recantation and faggot-carrying, and in this the bishops and the church officers were ‘almost more than lawful, in that they admitted him to such an abjuration as they did, and that they did not rather leave him to the secular arm.’” He goes to explain this curious phrase.

The little phrase, ‘leave him to the secular arm’ is very much less innocent than it seems. In legal terms, a prisoner was ‘relaxed’ after the Church had found him guilty of heresy. This did not involve a period of rest and relaxation for the unfortunate, of course, far from it. It meant that the Church authorities ‘relaxed’ their hold on him by transferring him to the secular authorities for execution. The ritual handing over was designed to preserve the principle that Ecclesia non novit sanguinem, the Church does not shed blood. It provided an ecclesiastical fig leaf, since laymen carried out the actual burning, but it was a singularly transparent one. No churchman exonerated the Pharisees for the death of Christ on the grounds that they had merely handed Jesus to Pilate for sentencing, and that Roman soldiers had performed the crucifixion.

The second quote is taken from Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, a book that is intended to be “a measured refutation of the beliefs that form the core of fundamentalist Christianity.”

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 12 percent of Americans believe that life on earth has evolved through a natural process, without the interference of a deity. Thirty-one percent believe that evolution has been “guided by God.” If our worldview were put to a vote, notions of “intelligent” design would defeat the science of biology by nearly three to one. This is troubling, as nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design. But the current controversy over “intelligent design” should not blind us to the true scope of our religious bewilderment at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The same Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans are actually creationists. This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect our presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah’s ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the earth, and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, but the hand of an invisible God.

Among developed nations, America stands alone in these convictions. Our country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one’s friends.

Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen—the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves—socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency. The book you are about to read is my response to this emergency…

The third quote is only brief, but profound. It is drawn from David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs.

This moment of tragedy and evil [the events of September 11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.

And finally, a quote from John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini’s new book Can We Rock the Gospel, which attempts to expose rock music’s impact on worship and evangelism. The book is premised on the view that rock music is dividing the church, destroying local congregations and turning Christian against Christian in arguments about musical styles. They ask, given rock music’s well-earned “worldly reputation…”

Why do worship leaders, evangelists or church musicians work so hard to perfect the use of it? To accommodate this inconsistency, Christian rock apologists have had to construct a new faith system to offer religious cover to those who do so. This system requires adherence to one or more of the following credos:
  • God created all music—therefore rock music was inspired by him.
  • Although rock may have been corrupted by bad people, we have the power to redeem it for God.
  • Music itself is neutral and amoral, and only the lyrics matter. Therefore, there is no such thing as “evil” or “good” music.
  • The end justifies the means—if it brings someone to Christ, God can use it. If it brings me into God’s presence during worship, it must be from God.

The lyrics of Christian rock songs may in and of themselves be respectful of God and Christian principles, but can anyone honestly say that these Christians have created a “new” song, or that their music compositions are inspired by God rather than by men? The evidence suggests otherwise and leads us to believe that Christian rockers are simply copying and imitating a music style that was created and inspired by men who in their lust for freedom—for sex, freedom to get high on drugs anytime they please, freedom to seek a god of some sort through altered states of consciousness, and freedom from any kind of authority—have rejected the God of the Bible.

10 years 4 months ago
Already more than a year has passed since Terri Schiavo died. Though her story is well known and was the subject of near-constant media coverage, I will repeat the most important points. In 1990, Schiavo, then 26, collapsed in her home and experienced both respiratory and cardiac arrest. She was in a coma for 10 weeks and was subsequently diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Her husband Michael was determined to preserve her life and to seek therapy to increase her quality of life. But after successfully suing a doctor who had failed to properly diagnose bulimia before her collapse, he had a sudden change of heart. While he was awarded over a million dollars, most of which was for Terri’s medical care and therapy, he did very little for her. In 1998, once it became legal to do so, he petitioned a court to have Terri’s feeding tube removed. Terri’s family (the Schindlers) fought desperately to keep her alive. The battle raged until 2005 when the tube was removed and Terri was allowed to dehydrate over a period of thirteen days until she finally died. Rush Limbaugh declared the day of her death the day America hit rock bottom. Many people, both within the United States and outside, would agree.

David Gibbs was the attorney who represented the Schindler family throughout much of their battle for Terri’s life. He did this on a pro bono basis. I suppose it was inevitable that he would write a book. I found it interesting that his memoir, Fighting For Dear Life, is published by Bethany House, a Christian publisher. In this book, which is due for publication in August, Gibbs provides an interesting inside perspective on the fight for Terri’s life.

While his denominational background is not clear, it seems that Gibbs is a Christian and he certainly writes from that perspective. He often mentions praying with the Schindler family, committed Roman Catholics, and praying for various aspects of the case. He seems to have fought both on his knees and in the courtroom. While there are only a few mentions of Scripture, it is clear that Gibb’s desire to save Terri was born primarily from a biblical perspective of the value of life.

While I, as with so many people, followed the Schiavo case fairly closely over the final few weeks of Terri’s life, I do not know enough about it to know whether there is information provided in this book that is new. I have not read any of the other books dealing with this tragedy. Certainly, though, the perspective offered by Gibbs is unique and in that way, very interesting. Gibbs describes what it was like to be in the midst of the battle. He describes interaction with judges and lawmakers, friends and family. He describes the often frantic efforts to save the life of a woman who was loved so desperately by her family.

It is difficult, when reading this account, not to regard Michael Shiavo as a villain. And it seems that he was just that. It is exceedingly clear that he acted very often out of motives that were selfish. While it seems that he was initially willing to fight with and for Terri and to stay with her for the rest of his life, his resolve soon failed. Only months after her collapse he began to see other women and had a long-term affair that produced two children before Terri’s death. During the final days of Terri’s life, he was especially selfish, denying her family access to her and, after her death, to her body. They were not even told of her funeral until it was over. In a move of almost despicable irony, Michael had her grave marked with the words “beloved wife.”

Fighting For Dear Life is an interesting book. It’s a shocking book. It is nearly enough to make a reader scream in frustration as he sees attempt after attempt to save Terri’s life end in failure. This woman, though certainly handicapped, was just as certainly alive and active. Her death was a grave injustice that does mark a low point in American history. Perhaps reading this book or another like it will stir people to grapple with the issues that led to her untimely and unfair death. We can only hope that her death will not have been in vain.

10 years 6 months ago
We know of three people, from Scripture, who were privileged to see heaven. All of these men, Stephen and the Apostles Paul and John, were alive when they were given a glimpse of the wonders of heaven. Don Piper, a Baptist pastor, claims to be a fourth, though unlike the other three, he first had to die. Returning home from a conference, Piper’s car was crushed under the wheels of a truck. Medical personnel declared him dead at the scene of the accident. But ninety minutes after this accident, a pastor, waiting at the scene, was told by God to pray for the dead man. He did so, and Piper immediately returned to life. For the 90 minutes that his body lay lifeless inside the car, Piper claims to have been in heaven. He now carries with him memories of paradise and in 90 Minutes in Heaven, a book which has sold over 500,000 copies, he seeks to encourage other Christians with a description of our eternal home. “Because I was able to experience heaven,” he says, “I was able to prepare [friends] for it. And now I am preparing you.”

The title may be deceptive. One might assume, from the title, that a significant portion of the book is dedicated to describing heaven. The reality is that the author’s time in heaven comprises only 15 pages of this 205-page book. A further seven pages, appended to the end of the book, engage very briefly and unsatisfactorily with the “why questions.” The bulk of the book describes Piper’s accident, rescue and convalescence with some attention to the ministry opportunities that have arisen since his time in heaven. The book is, in reality, a biographical sketch of Don Piper and a lengthy description of the trials he faced as he recovered from devastating bodily injuries. Following the description of heaven, there is little further reflection on paradise. There is little attempt to describe how the author’s life and perspective on Scripture have changed because of his experience. There is little interaction with the Bible. There is little gospel.

Piper’s description of heaven left me cold. I was dismayed to find that his heaven seems largely man-centered. In fact, if you were to ask your unbelieving friends and neighbors to describe heaven, they would probably create a place very much like this. Piper did not see Jesus, nor did he see God, though, to be fair, he saw only the “outskirts” and did not pass through the gates. Despite this, he was exceedingly joyful and feels that he experienced the very joys of paradise. For ninety minutes he walked through heaven, greeted by those he knew in this life, all of whom were (quite conveniently), the same age they were when he had last known them. As I read this description of heaven I thought immediately of a quote from John Piper’s book God is the Gospel. He asks:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

From the descriptions in 90 Minutes in Heaven we would would have to respond, “yes!” It seems that Don Piper’s heaven is a heaven where we are fulfilled without Christ. Piper’s heaven was a place of reunion with loved ones, a place of beautiful music and a place of literal pearl (or “pearlescent”) gates and literal streets of gold. It is a heaven that can be so easily described to a human mind using mere human words, as if it had originated in a human mind. Piper is able to describe it in some detail, but what he presents is surely far too human to be heaven.

A further troubling aspect of the book is a clear lack of theological precision. For example, Piper continually describes miracles that surrounded his rescue and recovery, yet these are often not the type of events that theologians would classify as being miraculous. They may have shown God’s grace and power, but they were not, strictly speaking, miracles. He also uses his experience to minister to people who lack assurance of their faith. But what true, lasting assurance can we find in the dubious experiences of another mere human? Our assurance is to be in God and His promises through Scripture, not in man.

I do believe Don Piper is a sincere man and one who loves God. He seems to sincerely believe that he experienced heaven and has been called by God to share his experience with others. But I do not believe that he did see heaven. I cannot say what his experience was, whether it was purely psychological or whether it was even some type of demonic deception. What I do know is that the Scriptures are wholly sufficient for believers. We do not need to see or experience heaven in this life. Nor should we desire Don Piper’s heaven.

I see no reason to believe that God wants us to know more about heaven than He has revealed to us in His Word. As the old hymn asks, “What more can he say than to you he has said?” God surely desires that we desire heaven, but only if we desire heaven primarily so we can be with the Savior. This is the heaven which we glimpse only dimly in Scripture, but which we await with eager expectation. It is most certainly not Piper’s 90-minute heaven.