Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

heaven

June 18, 2012

Travelling to heaven and back is where it’s at today. Don Piper spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn’t know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids’ edition accounting for another half million. Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks. There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing—a genre that is selling like hotcakes, or Amish fiction, for that.

I’ll grant that the cost of this type of journey is rather steep (you’ve got to die, though only for just a few minutes), but it’s a sound investment when you factor in the sales figures. I can think of quite a few authors who would trade a few minutes of life for 50+ weeks on the bestseller lists and a few appearances on TBN.

The most recent heaven tourist is Mary C. Neal. Much like Todd Burpo, who is responsible for taking his son’s adventures to print, Neal only decided to write about her experiences many years after the fact, after all those other “I went to heaven” books began to sell in the hundreds of thousands. But that’s definitely just coincidence. She initially self-published her book To Heaven and Back, but once it started generating buzz (i.e. selling lots and lots of copies), Waterbrook Multnomah stooped down and scraped it off the bottom of a shoe somewhere, and promptly re-issued it. With the extra marketing nudge, it has now made its debut on the New York Times list of bestsellers. I gave it a skim—I just couldn’t bear to read it all the way—and found that it is much the same as the others. In fact, it may be worse than the others in that it contains even less Christian theology, less gospel and far more New Age, sub-Christian nonsense. That a publisher of Christian books would even consider taking this to print is appalling.

I am not going to review To Heaven and Back. It’s pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity. But I do want to address a question that often arises around this book and others in the genre: How do I respond to them? How do I respond to those who say they have been to heaven? When a Christian, or a person who claims to be a Christian, tells me that he has been to heaven, am I obliged to believe him or at least to give him the benefit of the doubt?

No, I am under no such obligation. I do not believe that Don Piper or Colton Burpo or Mary Neal or Bill Wiese visited the afterlife. They can tell me all the stories they want, and then can tell those stories in a sincere tone, but I do not believe them (even when they send me very angry and condescending emails that accuse me of character assassination). I am not necessarily saying that these people are liars—just that I am under no obligation to believe another person’s experience. Here’s why:

October 30, 2011

Last week I shared a quote from Edward Donnelly’s book Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Today I wanted to share another one that stood out to me as a great encouragement. Read it and be blessed on this Lord’s Day!


What is … amazing is that our Lord and Saviour will himself be thrilled as he looks at us in heaven. Gazing upon his people, he will be filled with affection and delight. “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11).

That will be true of his redemptive work in general. Christ will see all his sheep safely gathered in, everyone of the elect in glory. There will be no empty spaces, no one missing or lost. He will feel no sense of incompleteness or regret. He will be satisfied with the results of the labor of his soul.

But the Lord Jesus will also be satisfied with each of us individually. We may find that hard to believe, because we are far from satisfied with ourselves. All too aware of our weaknesses and limitations, we are often discouraged with ourselves, ashamed of what we are. We do not see ourselves as loveable, so how could Christ love us? A nagging fear enters our minds that, although he will be gracious and kind as he welcomes us into heaven, he will at the same time feel a distinct sense of disappointment. We may not be what he hoped for.

We need not be afraid, for we will by then be changed, conformed to his likeness. God’s work of grace in each and all of us will have been brought to such a pitch of perfection that the Lord will be ravished with love for his bride, “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27). We will be all he wants, everything he desires. We will be the people he chooses to be with him for ever. “Behold, you are fair, my love!” he will exclaim (Song of Sol. 1:15). We will then be able to say with joyful assurance, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” That will be heaven.

It is himself that Christ will see in us, himself that he will love in us. That is why we are promised that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). For it is nothing other than his own holy beauty that he will admire.

April 26, 2009

In his little book Fear Not!, an examination of death and the afterlife from a Christian perspective, Ligon Duncan writes about the horrors of hell. Having done so, he offers a final reflection on the ultimate difference between heaven and hell. And, though I’ve read extensively, I do not recall ever hearing someone express it quite like this. These are words that are worthy of some reflection. Though he has already discussed hell, there is one more thing he wishes to say.

*****

It is a surprising thing to note, because so often we speak of hell as a place where God is not. Let me, however, say something provocative. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator. Hell is eternity in the presence of God, being fully conscious of the just, holy, righteous, good, kind, and loving Father’s disapproval of your rebellion and wickedness. Heaven, on the other hand, is dwelling in the conscious awareness of your holy and righteous Father, but doing so through a mediator who died in your place, the One who absorbed the fullness of the penalty of your sin. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with the One who totally eradicated sin from your life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

March 23, 2009

Last weekend I enjoyed participating in the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, both as a blogger and an observer. It was a joy to gather with almost 5,000 other Christians so we could spend three days focusing on the holiness of God. This marked my third time going to this conference and each one has proven valuable to my knowledge of God and my love for him. This one may well have been my favorite, at least when I think back to the speakers and their messages. I would encourage you to find and purchase the conference audio as I know you will be blessed.

There is one feature of this conference that always jumps out at me—interpretation services for the deaf. Of course this is not the only conference that offers this service and if you have been to a major conference you may well have seen Chuck and Nancy Snyder or another set of interpreters doing their work at the front of the auditorium. It is one of my pleasures, a guilty pleasure perhaps, to occasionally pause during singing to watch the deaf believers sing (sign) their praises to God. For some reason I always find it tremendously moving.

I don’t know exactly why it is that I am so moved and sometimes even brought to tears by watching these believers praise God in their own way. I want to be careful not to romanticize deafness, realizing, of course, that deafness, as with any physical condition or affliction, is a result of man’s Fall into sin and the kind of condition that Jesus healed while he was on this earth. It is a condition that will be fully and finally cured when we go to be in his presence.

The chapter 35 of Isaiah, the prophet writes of just such a day:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

What a day that will be.

I wonder, though, if their praise so moves me because I see them using their whole bodies to offer praise to God. And in so doing they seem to have found a kind of freedom that few of us feel. We are all accustomed to singing praises to God with our lips but as I looked around during one of the occasions that we worshiped God with music, I saw a lot of people singing joyfully, but doing so while standing stock still. But up at the front were two rows of Christians singing for joy with their hands, their lips, their whole bodies. Perhaps no sound came from their lips, but praise came from their hearts and expressed itself through their bodies. Time after time, when I’ve gone to conferences and paused to watch these brothers and sisters worshiping, I’ve seen this unique expression of praise. Every time it has been a tremendous encouragement to me.

While I was watching them praise God I began to think how much they must anticipate that great day where their ears will be unstopped and they will at last be able to enjoy the music they have been worshiping to, when they will be able to hear the voices of the ones they love, and when they will be able to hear the words of their Savior as he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But then I realized that I was standing still as I brought my gift of praise to God, worshiping with my mouth but giving little other outward evidence of my joy for all that God has done and for all that God is. And I wondered, in heaven, will they be more like us or will we be more like them? My guess is that we will probably meet somewhere in the middle.

Nancy Snyder
Nancy Snyder Interpreting for the Deaf

February 18, 2008

I got to bed just a little bit later than usual last night. But when I settled into bed, I felt that kind of comforting fatigue—the kind that is not so overbearing that I’m exhausted, but the kind that means I’m really looking forward to a good night’s rest. You know the kind, I’m sure. It’s the kind of tired that makes stretching out between the sheets a real pleasure.

There was one false start before I got to sleep. I was just drifting off when I heard the bedroom door rattle and Abby walked in. She told us that she couldn’t sleep. Aileen got up and tucked her back in, turning on a light to make sure she wouldn’t be scared. A few minutes later we were all asleep. But then, probably around 1 AM, I heard Abby calling for me. She was scared again and was crying. I have no memory of what happened next, but I guess I must have tucked her back into bed, convinced her that everything was fine, and crawled back into bed. A couple of hours later it was Nick’s turn. He marched into our room and woke me up, telling me that his ear was hurting so badly he couldn’t sleep. All things pain-related are Aileen’s department, so she dosed him with some kind of medication, put some hot cloths on his ear, and we went back to sleep. An hour later Michaela was awake, scared by the sound of the strong winds blowing through the trees outside our window. We awoke to her cries of “Mommy!” She ended up in bed with us—all twenty five hot, pointy, fuzzy pounds of her. At this point I turned off my alarm and figured I’d just have to let myself sleep in so I wouldn’t be completely comatose all day. And so the night went. I awoke at seven in the morning (which is sleeping late for me) feeling not the nice kind of tired, but the exhausted kind of tired that comes from too little rest; too little sleep. It’s the kind of tired that leaves circles under my eyes and requires an extra kick of caffeine to be able to go about the usual routine. It just wasn’t a very good night, even if it did begin with promise.

A few weeks after Nick was born, our first child, Aileen and I were facing the exhaustion that comes with a newborn baby. We were just learning to be parents and still assumed that every cough and every sigh meant he was dying. He was a restless baby and didn’t settle into good sleep patterns for a long time. Aileen and I both spent many nights pacing the floors with him. I remember talking to my mother around this time and the words she said stuck with me: “The next time you feel well-rested, you’ll be in heaven.” They may not have been particularly comforting words, but they were realistic. Mom said that, by the time the kids really settled into good sleep patterns, I’d be too old to sleep well anymore. When we had that first child I guess I threw away any hope of really feeling well-rested.

It’s worth it, of course. I wouldn’t trade my children for any number of good night’s sleeps or any amount of rest. But as I lay in bed last night, in those moments where I was just too tired to get to sleep, I began to wonder about heaven. What will it be like to feel really, really well-rested? What will it be like to be able to feel one hundred percent? Will there be fatigue in heaven? Will there be rest? Heaven will, of course, be rest…but will there be sleep?

As I tend to do when I’ve got questions about heaven, I opened Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven this morning and, sure enough, he had some things to say about this. He says:

Our lives in Heaven will include rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). …

Eden is a picture of rest—work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, abundant food, a beautiful environment, unhindered friendship with God and with other people and animals. Even with Eden’s restful perfection, one day was set aside for special rest and worship, Work will be refreshing on the New Earth, yet regular rest will be built into our lives.

To be honest, I am a little skeptical when it comes to Alcorn’s reasoning here, but he does make an interesting case. But what really stood out to me were his next words:

Part of our inability to appreciate Heaven as a place of rest relate to our failure to enter into a weekly day of rest now. By rarely turning attention from our responsibilities, we fail to anticipate our coming deliverance from the Curse to a full rest.

Make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). It’s ironic that it takes such effort to set aside time for rest, but it does. For me, and for many of us, it’s difficult to guard our schedules, but it’s worth it. The day of rest points us to Heaven and to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary … and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Rest is innately good. God Himself rested after completing His work of creation—a perfect being resting after completing the perfect work of creating a perfect world. God built rest into this world. And God gave us one day to practice rest—to learn how to rest. How good it is to set that day aside and to use it just to rest. But beyond that day, God also gives us little glimpses of the rest that is to come. When we used to own a cottage, one of my favorite things to do was to head out alone over the lake in the canoe. And halfway across the lake I would just sit back with a Coke in one hand, a book in the other, and the sun shining on my face. And I’d just relax and let the water take me where it wanted. It was such a beautiful time of peace and rest. And maybe it was a foretaste of the rest that is to come. Today a similar feeling comes as I kick back on a Sunday afternoon with a cold Coke, a good book, a comfortable couch, and a ballgame on TV. It is rest and it is good.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that only rarely will I really feel anywhere close to one hundred percent while on this earth. To be an adult, to be a parent, is to be tired. But as life goes on, I begin to look to those moments of rest as more than just a chance to rejuvenate. I see them also as a glimpse of what is to come. I see them as opportunities to learn how to rest—to learn how to enjoy the rest that will come with the new heavens and the new earth. They are a taste, even if only a faint one, of the true rest.

October 04, 2005

No system of religion exalts women higher than biblical Christianity. That is quite a claim, I realize, but one I feel can be easily proven by examining Scripture. A few days ago a person sent a question to the Reformed Baptist mailing list. He recounted that he is teaching eighth graders and one young lady asked about Adam and Eve. This girl noted that after Adam named all of the animals and saw how they were paired, he realized that there was no counterpart to him. And so God created Eve as a helper to Adam. It seems, suggested the girl, that God created Eve only to serve as a partner to Adam in allowing him to procreate. It is almost as if women were an afterthought in God’s mind. So why didn’t God create man and woman together as He had done with the animals? Why did He introduce Eve in such a way that she seems primarily to serve her man?

Genesis 1:27 tells us that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The next verse reads, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living things that moves on the earth.” It must be noted that God created both male and female in His image, and that He did so before He actually called either into being. In reality, then, men and women were created concurrently for they are inseparable in their God-given role of multiplying and subduing the earth. God could hardly create only a man and command him to be fruitful and multiply!

One astute member of the mailing list replied that this girl has probably created in her mind a romanticized version of the events leading to the creation of Eve. In Genesis 2:20 we read that “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Previously, in verse 18, God has already said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.” While it makes a nice story to believe that Adam named all of the animals and then, noting that there was no helper suitable for him, felt loneliness, the Bible does not state this. Scripture tells us that it was God, not Adam, who noted “that it was not good that the man should be alone.” We have no basis to assume that Adam was in any way lonely or that he felt any insufficiency. Adam lived in a perfect world and had perfect communion with God. Surely he did not feel any sense of loneliness. The person concluded, as do I, that Adam did not need Eve to fill some deep-rooted emptiness in his life, but that he needed a wife to fulfill his God-given mandate. Thus woman was not created to fill a social or sexual need in Adam, but to complete the Lord’s purpose for humans. Eve was not needed to complete Adam, but to complete God’s command to Adam.

So let’s return to my claim that the Bible regards women in a way that is higher than other religions. The reason for this is obvious: the God who created us male and female, also prescribes created our roles. Only the Bible outlines the Creator’s instruction to His creatures. We must understand that while God affirms equal worth, He speaks of differing roles. For example, women have the unique role and privilege of bearing children. Because they are physically weaker than men they have a need for support and protection, and this is a need God has commanded husbands to fill. God also establishes proper order in the family by assigning to men the job of headship in home and church.

One of the best (and most succinct) summaries of Scripture’s position on women comes from the introduction to John MacArthur’s upcoming book, Twelve Extraordinary Women (which, according to Amazon, is available for preorder and will ship on November 1). MacArthur makes several important points about women, some of which I am borrowing here.

Special Honor - While recognizing role disctinctions, the Bible sets women apart for special honor. A husband is commanded to live sacrificially and to value his wife’s life higher than his own. Women are highly valued by God and are to receive this same value from men.

Due Distinction - The biblical accounts of the great men of the Old Testament consistently give distinction to their wives. Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel are only a few examples of women who play prominent roles in Scripture. Other women who are integral to the Bible are Eve, Miriam, Deborah and Ruth. We even find Wisdom personified as woman and the church being called the bride of Christ. God does not shy away from giving credit to women of faith and to using metaphors that require female imagery.

Religious Equality - Women were never excluded from the social and religious life in either the Old or New Testaments. Women participated in feasts and times of public worship. They were not required to be silent or to be hidden from sight behind veils. Jesus’ group of disciples included several women, a practice almost unknown at the time. Over the past few days I have been reading Acts and I have seen time and again that women are given constant mention among the first converts and among those who played integral roles in the early church. One could almost argue that God goes out of His way to point to the importance of women in these situations.

The biblical teaching on the value of women stands in stark contrast to that of other religions, and especially religions of that day. Women in pagan societies were often treated with little more dignity than animals. Many systems of religion and philosophy taught that women were inherently inferior to men, a claim that is clearly revoked in Scripture. Pagan religion, while it may have paid homage to female deities, devalued women by creating elaborate rituals which required sacred prostitutes. These religions, while supposedly honoring women, in reality debased them.

MacArthur concludes that “Wherever the gospel has spread, the social, legal and spiritual status of women has, as a rule, been elevated. When the gospel has been eclipsed (whether by repression, false religion, secularism, humanistic philosophy, or spiritual decay within the church), the status of women has declined accordingly.” Secular efforts to increase the status of women have largely failed, as we have seen with the feminist movement of the twentieth century. This movement sought to elevate the status of women, but did so at the cost of their femininity, seeking to rob women of what makes them so distinctive. The whole message of the feminist agenda is that there is nothing all that extraordinary about women, for they are just like men. The Bible, though, tells a different story. MacArthur states that “[W]henever the Bible expressly talks about the marks of an excellent women, the stress is always on feminine virtue. The most significant women in Scripture were influential not because of their careers, but because of their character. The message these women collectively give is not about “gender equality”; it is about true feminine excellence. And this is always exemplified in moral and spiritual qualities rather than by social standing, wealth or physical appearance.”

The Bible continually affirms that women are extraordinary. Women have value and worth that is in every way equal to men. Women are no mere afterthought, but are an integral and equal part of God’s design for human beings. The Bible is unique in that it honors women as women, exalting them for their femininity, and encouraging them to seek honor in a uniquely feminine and God-glorifying way.