Heaven by Randy Alcorn
I am currently reading the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn and I am really enjoying it. The subject of Heaven caught Mr. Alcorn’s interest many years ago and he has proceeded to collect every book on the subject he can find. In fact he claims that he now owns at least 150 books on Heaven many of them being old and out of print. The premise of “Heaven” is that the Bible has a lot more to say about Heaven than most Christians have been led to believe and it has nothing to do with us “sitting on clouds playing harps” for eternity. This has caused Mr. Alcorn so much consternation that he is out to set the record straight. The book is interesting and I would recommend it with a few caveats.
The first caveat is that Mr. Alcorn’s Gospel presentation borders on Lordship Salvation which I strongly disagree with. Here are two paragraphs that are part of that presentation:
Because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness. “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities…. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).
Forgiveness is not automatic. If we want to be forgiven, we must recognize and repent of our sins: “He who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Forgiveness is established by our confession: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
We are “freely offered” forgiveness but forgiveness “is not automatic?” Does salvation come through faith alone in Christ alone or through faith plus repentance? The repentance he is speaking of in these paragraphs doesn’t appear to equate to faith so it does seem that he is adding to faith. Also, I don’t believe that the passages he lists have anything to do with salvation from eternity in the Lake of Fire. Suffice it to say that I would be reluctant to give this book to an unbelieving friend without some other Gospel material accompanying it.
[UPDATE: To get a taste of how this kind of view of repentance can sow doubt in the mind of believers please follow the link and read “From Salvation to Doubt and Fear, Then Back to Biblical Assurance.”]
Mr. Alcorn provides many short quotes by different theologians almost all of whom are Calvinist in theology. There are definite differences between his theology of Heaven and what I have been taught. This doesn’t mean that I think there is no value in the book but it makes me careful not to accept all that he says too quickly. For instance here is a quote from “Heaven” regarding the interpretation of Luke 16:19-31 (the rich man and Lazarus) which seems to cause him some concern:
The problem with a strictly literal interpretation of this passage is that it presses too far, suggesting things that are unlikely and not taught elsewhere, such as that people in Heaven and Hell talk to each other. The problem with a strictly figurative interpretation is that it makes it difficult to know what, if anything, to take seriously. If no real conclusions can be derived from the story, what is the value of the details?
He goes on to take an interpretive position that is part figurative and part literal which I don’t think works. In the Luke passage the rich man does indeed speak with Abraham but Abraham is not in Heaven. Before Christ’s ascension all of the souls of the dead went to one of the two compartments of Sheol. The unbeliever was sent to the “Torments” compartment and the believer was sent to the “Paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom” compartment. Paradise is not the same as heaven and, while I have no reason to believe there was regular communication between the compartments, it is not unreasonable that God would permit such a thing for our instruction. After Christ’s ascension all believers in Paradise were relocated to Heaven.
If anyone is interested in a detailed study on the place of the dead please link to “The Place of the Dead” by Arnold Fruchtenbaum (in the “Come and See” section of his website). Dr. Fruchtenbaum is very thorough, certainly more thorough than Mr. Alcorn is on this topic, and worth reading if you are interested in such things. My suspicion is that Mr. Alcorn knows the biblical teaching about Sheol but chose not to mention it. I have no idea why that would be though.
All of the caveats aside here is a quote from the book which I think is very worthwhile:
By the time you finish reading this book, you will have a biblical basis for envisioning eternal Heaven. You will understand that in order to get a picture of Heaven – which will one day be centered on the New Earth – you don’t need to look up at the clouds; you simply need to look around you and imagine what all this would be like without sin and death and suffering and corruption.
When I anticipate my first glimpse of Heaven, I remember the first time I went snorkeling. I saw countless fish of every shape, size, and color. And just when I thought I’d seen the most beautiful fish, along came another one even more striking. Etched in my memory is a certain sound – the sound of a gasp going through my rubber snorkel as my eyes were opened to that breathtaking underwater world.
I imagine that our first glimpse of Heaven will cause us to similarly gasp in amazement and delight. That first gasp will likely be followed by many more as we continually encounter new sights in that endlessly wonderful place. And that will be just the beginning, because we will not see our real eternal home – the New Earth – until after the resurrection of the dead. And it will be far better than anything we have seen.
So look out a window. Take a walk. Talk with your friend. Use your God-given skills to paint or draw or build a shed or write a book. But imagine it – all of it – in its original condition. The happy dog with the wagging tail, not the snarling beast, beaten and starved. The flowers unwilted, the grass undying, the blue sky without pollution. People smiling and joyful, not angry, depressed, and empty. If you’re not in a particularly beautiful place, close your eyes and envision the most beautiful place you’ve ever been – complete with palm trees, raging rivers, jagged mountains, waterfalls, or snow drifts.
Think of friends or family members who loved Jesus and are with Him now. Picture them with you, walking together in this place. All of you have powerful bodies, stronger than those of an Olympic decathlete. You are laughing, playing, talking, and reminiscing […]
Heaven by Randy Alcorn
I could go on but I think you get the point. It does make Heaven sound like the pearl of great price doesn’t it?