Monday, October 1, 2012

Believing the Right Things

I recently received an emailing from the Christian Research Institute regarding a book they are putting out by their president, Hank Hanegraaff (The Bible Answer Man). This book apparently attempts to provide "right" answers to questions regarding heaven, hell, near death experiences (NDEs) and other "afterlife" related subjects.

After a short discussion centered on a particular account of a near death experience, Hank wrote the following.
I have no doubt that Colton and the others had actual subjective experiences, and I am in no way questioning either their sincerity or their motives in sharing those experiences. But our culture has forgotten one very simple fact: you can be sincere and still be wrong.
This is why we must “test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Truth matters, and what we believe about the afterlife will matter for eternity, so it’s vital that we get it right.
I've written my new book Afterlife to help you “get it right” and provide biblical answers to your questions about what life will be like in heaven, the theology of hell, NDEs, and even whether your pets will be with you after death.
I have no quarrel with Hank's particular opinions regarding NDE's and the afterlife. He is welcome to his interpretations and opinions just like anyone else. What I do want to focus in on is the following sentence: "Truth matters, and what we believe about the afterlife will matter for eternity, so it's vital that we get it right."

It wasn't all that many years ago that I would have accepted that statement without batting an eye. And I suspect many in Hank's target audience (fairly conservative, evangelical, etc.) would not bat an eye. But when I read that sentence today I was disturbed by the ramifications, and confused logic, of that way of thinking. If I'm not mistaken, what Hank is saying is that our eternal destiny is riding on our ability to believe the right things about our eternal destiny.

It's not difficult for the average person with access to the Internet to discover that Christians down through history, and Christians across the doctrinal spectrum today, differ widely on their beliefs about the afterlife. Even Christians who put a premium on the inerrancy of Biblical inspiration differ quite significantly from one group to another and even one individual to another. So should we actually imagine God, at the final judgement, making decisions based on what a person believed about the afterlife? From a purely statistical standpoint it is highly unlikely, given the broad spectrum of Biblical interpretation on the matter, that any one group or individual would have managed to "get it right".

If salvation is primarily a matter of "getting it right" in terms of our beliefs, whether they be about the afterlife or pretty much anything else, I'm afraid none of us is looking very good. As my wife always says, "we're all going to be in for some big surprises when we get to the other side. And those who are most certain they've 'got it right' will be in for the biggest surprises of all". But those surprises, as she'd say, won't be the terrifying surprises Hank assumes so many will encounter, they'll be joyful surprises as we encounter the "depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!" - Romans 11:33

1 comment:

Wisengrund said...

Nice post. I'd love to see how Hank reads Matthew 25. If you want to do anything other than clip "aionios" off the end, insist that it means "eternal" in this context, and then ignore the rest of the story, it might be made to work with his theology. Otherwise, I don't see how you get to his theology with anything but a tortured reading. And to bolster your post: everyone in that story is surprised.