A little while ago, I got an e-mail from a pastor friend who was picking my brain about the whole “I went to Heaven” book industry since one of the largest and most successful fleece-job books is now becoming a movie. I couldn’t be more pleased that another Bible(ish), Christian(ish) movie is being made by Hollywood, since that always turns out to be a smashing victory for biblical fidelity and the proclamation of truth, right?
(Remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Angels?)
Here’s what I said to him (with minor edits to remove names…and make it a tad more entertaining):
I’m sorry that I’m responding so late to your e-mail but I’ve been swamped the last little while!
I haven’t written on Gary Wood’s book, nor have I read it, but many people claim to have taken a field trip to Heaven:
If you’re going to talk about the issue of heavenly field trips, I’d point out five things:
1. The Apostle Paul went to heaven and was forbidden to talk about what he saw (2 Cor. 12:1-4)…therefore revealing the various secrets of Heaven might not be as high on God’s list of priorities as some people may want you to believe.
2. John the apostle went to somewhere beyond this world (I doubt that it was actually the intermediate Heaven) and both explicitly and implicitly states the purpose for the visit:
– An explicit purpose is stated in Rev. 22:10-14 where, at the end of the revelation, Jesus calls people to “wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (i.e. turn from their sins and walk in obedience to Christ).
– An implicit purpose is stated in Rev. 2-3 where Jesus calls the churches to clean up their acts because he’s coming soon.
The purpose of all prophecy (whether regarding the present or the future) is repentance and obedience to the Lord. The outcome of revelation should always be repentance, not encouragement/warm fuzzies about how something is “so like totally real”! (You can see this in other places, like 2 Peter 3:11-14).
3. The general message of people who go to heaven is one of encouragement that the Bible really is true, which utterly goes against point #2. The truth of the scripture doesn’t rest on someone’s personal testimony or experience, since the Bible is God’s personal testimony about his experience (of all history). God doesn’t need a “backup witness” and people that suggest otherwise are usually selling something.
4. The people who go to Heaven come back with testimonies that blatantly contradict the scripture (therefore the Bible suggests that their interpretation of their experience, whatever that experience was, is a lie). In fact, the Old Testament is filled with false prophets who actually had visions, dreams, etc. and God calls every one of them “liars” (i.e. Jer. 14:14, 23:25, 23:32; Ez. 13:6, 13:8-9,21:29, 22:28; Zech 10:2). Only true prophets have the possibility of having authentic dreams and visions, and every dream, vision, and any other means of “revelation” is judged by the scripture (Deut. 13:5; Is. 8:19-20; Jer. 23:25-32; 2 Pet. 1:16-21).
5. The people who go to Heaven come back with testimonies that blatantly contradict each other (and they can’t all be true, right?).
In other words, the entire “I went to Heaven” line is illegitimate when considered from every angle. Those testimonies contradict God’s own testimony, God’s purposes in giving his testimony, and all the other competing testimonies.
On the basis of the five aforementioned reasons, I don’t have any problem dismissing all the “I took a tram to heaven” or the “I went to Heaven and got to ride the rollercoaster” or the “I went to heaven and everything was about ME” stories as utterly false…I’m in good company doing so (Jer. 14:14, 23:25, 23:32; Ez. 13:7-9, 21:29, 22:28; Zech. 10:2).