Tag Archive: God

Does God Love Us Unconditionally?

unconditional love

Ask an Evangelical Christian if God loves humans unconditionally and they will likely respond with a resounding YES! God loves us no matter what we do, they will say. If the person is familiar with the Bible, they might even quote Romans 8:38,39:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

OK, does this verse apply to the non-Christian? After all, when the non-Christian dies they go to hell. So, this means they are separated from the love of God, right? Uh, well…the Bible says God is love! OK, where does it say that God’s love is unconditional?

The word unconditional means without any conditions, not contingent, not determined or influenced by someone or something else. I know that Evangelicals desperately want God’s love to be unconditional, but any cursory reading of the Bible shows that God’s love is ALWAYS conditional.

Consider salvation for a moment. Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled before God will save a person? Or does a person go to bed one night unsaved and wake up the next morning saved? Of course not. In order for a person to be saved, they must repent, believe, and follow. These are the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for a person to be considered a Christian.

Both Calvinism and Arminianism teach that God’s love is conditional. For the Calvinist, God’s love for a person is predicated on unconditional election and predestination. For the Arminian, God’s love for a person is predicated on prevenient grace.  If God unconditionally loves everyone then he would save everyone. But, he doesn’t save everyone because he has already determined who he is going to save. But Bruce, the only reason a person is not saved is because they choose not to be. OK, so then them CHOOSING is the condition for God saving them, right? Well, uh…can’t get away from it…God is not the God of unconditional love.

Let’s move on from salvation to what we can know from the Bible about God’s “unconditional” love. When God created Adam and Eve, he told them that his love, favor, and blessing was contingent on one condition;don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course we all know how that worked out.

After Adam and Eve sinned until Jesus died on the cross, God required a blood sacrifice in order to expiate the sins of any human. Forgiveness was contingent on the blood sacrifice. No sacrifice, no forgiveness. Even now, the forgiveness of sin is contingent on the atonement of Jesus on the cross. (and sects argue endlessly about whose sins and what sins were expiated on the cross) Again, it is clear that salvation and the forgiveness of sin is conditional.

When I am talking to Evangelicals about the unconditional love of God, I ask them, give me one illustration from the Bible where God’s love is shown to be unconditional? If they think about this for a moment they likely will argue that God’s love is different from human love, so it is impossible for us to understand it. According to many Evangelicals, God is capable of perfectly loving and hating a person at the same time. This is a nice theory for which there is no proof. (at least from the Bible)

Genesis 6-8 states that God caused a flood to engulf the earth, killing every human and every animal that was not on the Ark with Noah and his family. Millions of people died. Men, women, children, and babies still in the womb, died because God drowned them.  Was God’s love for those that drowned unconditional?

According to Genesis 6:3, God gave humans 120 years to repent. The New Testament tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Noah was God’s warning siren to the inhabitants of the earth. Their survival depended on them repenting of their evil ways. Granted, things were bad. According to the Bible, the sons of God, which many Evangelicals believe were fallen angels, were marrying human women and having sex with them. This sexual union produced what the King James Version calls giants, mighty men, men of renown.

The conditions on earth were so bad that God:

…saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Genesis 6:7,7)

Humans had become so evil that God regretted creating them. He decided to kill everyone except Noah and seven members of his family. Simply put, God hit the reset button and started over.

When an Evangelicals preaches at/to me about the unconditional love of God, I always ask them to explain the unconditional love of God to me from Genesis 6-8. Usually, the Evangelical will quickly say that God killed them because of their sin. So, God’s love was conditioned on them repenting, so his love wasn’t unconditional. Besides, God killed innocent children and unborn babies in the flood.  God loved them so much that he killed them? Perhaps God thought they would be better off dead? (an argument used by more than a few deranged psychopathic parents)

It is clear from Genesis 6-8 that God’s love was NOT unconditional, and no matter where a person reads in the Bible, they are going to find that God’s love is conditional. If the Bible is anything, it is the written record of God’s wrath, vengeance, and hate towards those who do not accept and act on the conditions he gives them. The gospel message of the Bible is this, Do THIS and thou shalt live. Either we do things God’s way or he makes us pay.

Imagine a person saying, I love my wife, kids, neighbor, friend, etal. Yet, this person afflicts, starves, brutally punishes, and kills those he says he loves. Would we not rightly say that this person knows nothing about love? Yet, when the unconditional love God® does these things, he is given a pass. God is right in all he does because God is right. Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 9, many Evangelicals say, how dare you question what God does!. He loves because he says he loves! End of discussion.

Shouldn’t we expect God to at least measure up to human standards? A person who afflicts, starves, brutally punishes, and kills people knows nothing about love. He is likely a sociopath. He is not a person any of us would want to have anything to do with. Yet, when God acts this way, the Evangelical choir begins to sing, What a Mighty God we Serve, followed by, Our God is an Awesome God.

The truth is, many Christians are far more loving than the God they profess to worship. We all should be very glad that many Christians are more God-like than God himself. Imagine what the world would look like if Christians loved what God loved and hated what God hated. (read the Bible for the list of people and behaviors God hates)

I realize that most Evangelical readers and many non-Evangelical Christian readers will reject what I have written here.  They are convinced that God is love, every time, all the time, and he can be nothing but love. They even carry it a step further when they naïvely say, not only does God love unconditionally but we are to love everyone unconditionally too.

While it is hard to “prove” that an invisible God does not love unconditionally, it is quite easy to prove that NO human loves unconditionally. At best, unconditional love is a grand ideal, but back here in the real flesh and blood world, human  love always has conditions.

I am sure someone will say, I love my wife and my children unconditionally.  This person’s thinking is well-intentioned, but it is based on sentimentality and not fact. Suppose for a moment this person went to work, came home early from work, and found his wife in bed with the neighbor. Would his love still be unconditional? Perhaps, he forgives his wife for her indiscretion, but what if she continues to sleep with the neighbor and even starts sleeping with numerous men. Would his love still be unconditional?

Parents like to say that they love their children unconditionally.  Suppose for a moment  a father went to work and when he came home he found his wife and four of his five children murdered. He soon finds out that his teenage son killed his wife and children. Would his love still be unconditional?

But Bruce, these are extreme examples. Yes, and shouldn’t unconditional love work no matter the circumstance?  Remember:

The word unconditional means without any conditions, not contingent, not determined or influenced by someone or something else.

It is important for us to love others, and we all can and should broaden the limits of our love. But, like the God of the Bible, our love does have limits and this is why I must conclude that the notion of unconditional love is a myth. It is a belief rooted in human sentimentality. Perhaps it is a worthy goal, but all I know is that everywhere I look, be it the Bible,the actions of my fellow humans, or my own actions, all I see is conditional love.  Yes, I want to love more, but there are things that those I love can do that will destroy the love I have for them.

Russell Wilson’s God:Does He Love the Seahawks More than the Packers?

russell wilson crying

Russel Wilson crying after God helped him beat the Green Bay Packers

According to Russel Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, the Christian God is a Seahawks fan, at least for this week. Wilson had the worst game of his career, throwing four interceptions and was sacked four times. Wilson practically handed the game to the Green Bay Packers. But, Wilson had a secret weapon that Aaron Rodgers didn’t know about, God. Yes, Wilson called on the big man upstairs to give the Seahawks what they needed to defeat the Green Bay Packers.

Eight hours before game time, Wilson put in a praise order to Jesus:

russell wilson tweet

Russell Wilson Sends a Praise to Jesus so He’ll Remember Him Come Game Time

After the Seahawks stunning comeback win, Wilson and some of his Christian teammates knelt on the field and thanked God for their victory. Wilson later said:

“Just making the plays at the end. Keep believing. There was no doubt, I just had no doubt. We had no doubt as a team. The funny thing is I was on the sideline right before we went off that last drive and I told (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell, ‘be ready for the check’, for the play that we just ran through the touchdown. I said ‘I’m gonna pull a touchdown and win the game’. And sure enough man. I just believe that God prepared me for these situations. God’s prepared our team too as well. Like I said, I’m honored to be on this team. I’m going to the Super Bowl again.”

You see, there’s the problem. God was too busy helping Wilson prepare to beat the Seahawks to devote any time to rape and pillage going on in Nigeria. God was too busy helping Wilson understand the Packers’ defensive schemes to concern himself with children going to bed tonight without eating. What a mighty, mighty God Wilson serves, a God who can’t be bothered with the pressing needs of his creation because he’s too busy fixing a football game in Seattle.

Wilson tweeted out after the game:

russell wilson tweet 2

God Comes Through for Russell Wilson

As an atheist, these kind of masturbatory displays of Christianity amuse me. Since Wilson’s God is a fiction, I know that the game was decided on the field. Green Bay had it in their grasp and let it get away. Wilson found a way to put off his horrible play and bring his team down the stretch to victory.

What troubles me is how many Christians are thrilled when a player or musician makes a public display of God affection. They are almost beside themselves when they hear their God, not just any God, THEIR God, mentioned on TV. Rarely do they consider how such things cheapen not only their religion but the God they worship.

jesus football

Do they really want to speak up for a God who takes time out of his busy schedule to help a football team win a game? The same could be said when people praise God for helping them to find their keys. Is this who the Christian God is, a divine bellhop who stands by waiting to meet the every whim of self-indulgent followers of Jesus?

Christians of every stripe should be offended when players like Russell Wilson attribute their victory to God, the deity who loves every sport.  It seems God helps football teams score the winning touchdown, baseball teams score the winning run, and golfers make the winning putt. I suppose God’s team even has some bowlers on it and he helps them get the 7-10 split to win the game. Is this what the Christian God has become, a genie that grants wishes to those who call upon his name?

If that is so, why then is he silent when millions of people will call on his name asking him to save them from starvation, torture, rape, calamity, and death? Is God so busy with American sports players that he has no time for no account starving children in Africa? Is he so tuned in to helping Russell Wilson grab victory from the jaws of defeat, that he has no time to help those who are being raped, abused, and murdered by ISIS and Boko Haram?

So, I ask you dear Christian,is THIS the God you want me to worship and serve? Is Jesus really little more than Russell Wilson’s touchdown Jesus? If so, count me out. I want nothing to do with such a petty,heartless deity.

The good news is, God is fixing to get an ass-whipping two weeks from today. The Seattle Seahawks will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.  And here’s one thing I know: Tom Brady the Patriot quarterback and his coach Bill Belichick? They won’t spent any time in prayer meetings beseeching God to help them defeat the Seahawks. Instead, they will  bedoing what consummate professionals do. They will study film, they will cook up schemes to help them win, and then Tom Brady and Co will go out on the field and play as smart and as hard as they can. And if and when they win? You can count on one thing, neither of them will be praising Jesus for the victory.

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

heaven is for real

In light of the recent repudiation of The Boy Who Went to Heaven by its author Alex Malarkey, I thought I would repost my review of a similar book of fiction,  Colton Burpo’s story, Heaven is for Real.

Heaven is for Real is the life-near death-back to life story of a four-year old boy named Colton Burpo. Colton is the son of Todd and Sonja Burpo. The story is revealed by Colton to his father over the course of three or four years. (2003-2007) The book detailing the story was written in 2010.

Todd Burpo is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska. A significant amount of time is spent detailing the day the day life of Todd Burpo, pastor. Burpo paints an all-to-typical picture of the ministry. Long hours, overworked,underpaid, under appreciated. As a former pastor myself, Burpo’s story seemed quite familiar to me.

The young Burpo family had their fair share of adversity. Todd was diagnosed  with a severe leg problem, kidney stones, and hyperplasia. A  breast biopsy showed cancer cells which resulted in the surgical removal of Todd’s breasts. Sonja had a miscarriage. On top of these trials,  their son Colton required emergency treatment for a ruptured appendix. Colton was shuffled between 3 hospitals before the proper diagnosis was made. He almost died. Almost…

According to the Burpo’s, Heaven is for Real is a testimony to the power of prayer. Multiple illustrations are given throughout the book that give clear testimony to the Christian God being a prayer answering God.  Todd gives a testimony of being healed of cancer. A biopsy was used to first diagnose Burpo’s cancer. After having a mastectomy, the doctor was astounded to find no cancer in the removed tissue. The doctor said “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how that happened.”  Burpo writes “I knew: God had loved me with a little miracle.”

The focus of Heaven is for Real is Colton Burpo’s near-death experience while being operated on for a ruptured appendix. After Colton came out of surgery, he began screaming for his father. Todd raced to his son’s side. Colton said to Todd, “Daddy, you know I almost died.”

There is little doubt about Colton almost dying. He went five days before being diagnosed with a ruptured appendix. By then, his body was full of infection. The doctors left tubes in Colton’s abdomen to drain the infection. After a grueling ordeal that lasted 15 days, Colton was released from the hospital. Burpo credits the prayers of God’s people for the miraculous deliverance of Colton from the jaws of death.

Burpo tells an incredible story that I have heard time and time again. Doctor bills are astronomical. What are we going to do? Pray! And lo and behold, God comes through with the exact amount needed to pay the medical bills.

A closer look at these kind of stories often yields a different conclusion. Take the Burpo’s case. First, the Burpo’s had insurance. According to the book, the deductible was $3,200.00. Burpo does not say what the maximum out-of-pocket amount is, so readers are left to wonder how much the insurance actually paid and how much did the Burpo’s have to pay? What we do know is that  God provided the Burpo’s with almost $23,000.00 in gifts and donations to be used for medical expenses.

After Colton was fully recovered, the Burpo’s noticed that Colton seemed quite focused on people knowing Jesus as their Savior. (having Jesus in their heart)

Todd writes:

I didn’t know what to think. Where was this sudden concern over whether a stranger was saved , whether he had Jesus in his heart, as Colton put it, coming from?

Four months after Colton’s near-death experience, the Burpo family took a Fourth of July trip to Sioux City, South Dakota to visit Sonja’s brother. While traveling to Sioux City, Todd, Sonja and Colton had a discussion about Colton’s time in the hospital.

Colton: “Yes Mommy, I remember, that’s where the angels sang to me.”

Todd:  “Colton, you said the angels sang to you while you were in the hospital.”

Todd: “What did they sing to you?”

Colton: “Well they sang Jesus Loves Me and Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho. I asked them to sing We Will, We Will, Rock You, but they wouldn’t sing that.” (implication: angels hate rock music)

Todd: “What did the angels look like?”

Colton: “ Well, one of them looked like Grandpa Dennis, but it wasn’t him ‘cause Grandpa Dennis has glasses.”

Colton: “Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.”

Todd: “You mean Jesus was there?”

Colton: “Yeah Jesus was there.”

Todd: “Well, where was Jesus?”

Colton: “I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.”

Todd: “Colton, where were you when you saw Jesus?”

Colton: “At the hospital. You know, when Dr. O’Holleran was working on me.”

Todd: “But you were in the operating room, Colton. How could you see what we were doing?”

Colton: “ ‘Cause I could see you. I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body. And I saw you and Mommy . You were in a little room by yourself, praying; and Mommy was in a different room, and she was praying and talking on the phone.”

And so the story Heaven is for Real begins.

Here are some of the things that four-year old Colton revealed to his parents:

  • Jesus was baptized by his cousin and his cousin was really nice. (John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus)
  • Jesus rode a rainbow-colored horse.
  • Jesus has brown hair and hair on his face.
  • Jesus has pretty eyes.
  • Jesus wore clothes that were purple and white.
  • Jesus wore a crown with a pink, diamond like stone in the middle.
  • Jesus had red markers (nail prints) in his hands and feet.
  • Jesus gave Colton work to do and that was his favorite part of Heaven.
  • There were a lot of kids in heaven.
  • Everyone in heaven has wings and people fly everywhere they go.
  • Jesus didn’t have wings and he went up and down like an elevator.
  • All the people in heaven look like angels and have a light above their head.
  • He saw Pop, his Dad’s grandfather, in heaven.
  • Pop told Colton about his dog that had one blue and one brown eye.
  • Jesus went to Colton’s Dad and told him he wanted him (dad) to be a pastor.
  • Jesus was really happy Dad became a pastor.
  • Colton saw his  8 week old miscarried sister in Heaven.
  • Colton told his Mom it was OK his sister died because God the Father adopted her.
  • His sister didn’t have a name in heaven because her parents never named her.
  • God the Father has a throne in heaven and Jesus sits on a throne right next to him.
  • Jesus sat on the right side of the Father.
  • The angel Gabriel sat on a throne on the left side of God the Father.
  • Colton sat on a small chair near the Holy Spirit.
  • Colton prayed for his parents while he was in Heaven.
  • The Holy Spirit is colored blue.
  • God and Jesus light up Heaven and it never gets dark.
  • There were animals in Heaven.
  • The gates of Heaven had gold and pearl on them.
  • The heavenly city was made of something shiny.
  • Jesus really, really, really loves children.
  • Jesus died on the cross so we could go see God, the Father.
  • No one is old in Heaven.
  • The Holy Spirit shoots power down from Heaven when Todd is preaching.
  • Satan is not in hell yet.
  • The angels use swords to keep Satan out of Heaven.
  • Jesus wouldn’t let Colton have a sword because it would be too dangerous.
  • Colton saw Satan. (but refused to talk about it)

Colton also told of a future day when there will be a war. Good people and good angels are going to fight against Satan, bad angels, monsters, and bad people. While this war is going on, the women and children get to stand back and watch. Colton saw his Dad fighting on God’s side. Jesus wins and throws Satan into hell.

And so, there you have it. Colton told his father that he saw all of the above in three minutes. That’s how long he was in Heaven…three minutes. It took the Burpo’s four years to get the whole story out of Colton.

What are we to make of Heaven is for Real, A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back?

First, Colton was raised in a pastor’s home. He was taught from his earliest days the stories of the Bible. That he was conversant in “church-talk”  should not be surprising. Most preacher’s kids (PK) learn “church-talk” at an early age.

It is quite evident that Colton has a vivid imagination. Having raised four boys myself, I am well aware of the imaginative powers young boys (and girls) have. My three-year old grandson, only 11 months younger than Colton was when he had his vision, has quite an imagination. On any given day he believes he is Batman, Superman, or the Incredible Hulk.

Most of the book is Todd Burpo trying to prove that what Colton saw has a Biblical basis. Virtually every part of the vision was fact-checked according to the Bible. Colton’s vision always matched what the Bible said. Amazing, yes? The Bible is an amazing book. It can be made to say anything and it can be used to prove even the most astounding things.

As I read the book, I found myself saying, “is the story told by Colton in the language of a four year old?”  It isn’t. The story has been polished for publication. Only Todd Burpo knows what the actual story is. I am not suggesting that Burpo is lying, but I am saying the story shows the marks of being shaped by adults. One, seemingly insignificant, example of this stood out to me. Colton asked the angels to sing We Will, We will Rock you. I thought, “would a boy a few months short of four say We Will, We Will Rock you or would he more likely say We will Rock you or Rock you?”

For those who are Evangelical Christians, the book has numerous theological problems. I want to focus on just one of them.

Colton describes heaven as a place filled with people, especially lots of kids. This description flies in the face of orthodox Christian doctrine concerning death and the resurrection from the dead. When people die, they are put in the grave to await the resurrection from the dead. Depending on what eschatological view a person has, the Christian’s body remains in the grave (or wherever its final resting place is) until Jesus comes again or until the final judgment.  At that moment, the Christian dead will be resurrected and given a perfect body. At this moment, there are NO physical bodies running around heaven.

NT Wright writes:

There is no agreement in the church today about what happens to people when they die. Yet the New Testament is crystal clear on the matter: In a classic passage, Paul speaks of “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). There is no room for doubt as to what he means: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life. The rest of the early Christian writings, where they address the subject, are completely in tune with this.

The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God’s ultimate purposes. If we squeeze it to the margins, as many have done by implication, or indeed, if we leave it out altogether, as some have done quite explicitly, we don’t just lose an extra feature, like buying a car that happens not to have electrically operated mirrors. We lose the central engine, which drives it and gives every other component its reason for working.

….When Paul speaks in Philippians 3 of being “citizens of heaven,” he doesn’t mean that we shall retire there when we have finished our work here. He says in the next line that Jesus will come from heaven in order to transform the present humble body into a glorious body like his own. Jesus will do this by the power through which he makes all things subject to himself. This little statement contains in a nutshell more or less all Paul’s thought on the subject. The risen Jesus is both the model for the Christian’s future body and the means by which it comes.

Similarly, in Colossians 3:1–4, Paul says that when the Messiah (the one “who is your life”) appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Paul does not say “one day you will go to be with him.” No, you already possess life in him. This new life, which the Christian possesses secretly, invisible to the world, will burst forth into full bodily reality and visibility.

The clearest and strongest passage is Romans 8:9–11. If the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus the Messiah, dwells in you, says Paul, then the one who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies as well, through his Spirit who dwells in you. God will give life, not to a disembodied spirit, not to what many people have thought of as a spiritual body in the sense of a nonphysical one, but “to your mortal bodies also.”

Other New Testament writers support this view. The first letter of John declares that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. The resurrection body of Jesus, which at the moment is almost unimaginable to us in its glory and power, will be the model for our own. And of course within John’s gospel, despite the puzzlement of those who want to read the book in a very different way, we have some of the clearest statements of future bodily resurrection. Jesus reaffirms the widespread Jewish expectation of resurrection in the last day, and announces that the hour for this has already arrived. It is quite explicit: “The hour is coming,” he says, “indeed, it is already here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and those who hear will live; when all in the graves will come out, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”….

Evidently bad theology is less of a problem for Evangelicals than is was years ago. Heaven is for Real is a bestselling book among Evangelical Christians. At our local library, the waiting list for Heaven is for Real is 488 patrons long. Astoundingly, it is the number one seller on Amazon.com’s book list.

From an non-theist perspective, Heaven is for Real is cheap lit of the worst kind. It is a work of fiction, and not very good fiction either.  Sadly, many Evangelicals will see this as a wonderful, true story. The book reinforces their view that life is filled with tragedy but heaven awaits all those who, through Jesus, faithfully endure what life gives them.

Todd Burpo said in  the preface:

I am not a believer in superstition.

Heaven is for Real is 162 pages of proof that he does.

The Heaven is For Real website.

Book Review: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven

The internet is buzzing over Alex Malarkey’s repudiation of his earth to heaven and back story. Alex now says the story is a lie. In a recent press release, Alex stated:

An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.”

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though He committed none of His own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible … not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

Alex Malarkey

The gist of what has happened here is that Alex and his mother Beth, have repudiated the fundamentalists charismatic/pentecostal beliefs that are the foundation of Alex’s book.  Sadly, they have taken up with a different group that is almost as bad. To the best of my knowledge, Alex and Beth are now in a John MacArthur like, Reformed/Calvinistic church. Their recent statements reveal that they have been deeply influenced by Reformed/Calvinist thinking, especially its emphasis on sola scriptura. For more information on this connection, please read the Pulpit and Pen blog and John MacArthur’s right hand man, Phil Johnson’s article, The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine.

Are Beth and Alex Malarkey in a better religious setting? That’s for them to decide. They should, however, realize that they have traded one form of fundamentalism for another.

What follows is the review I wrote when The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven first came out. I thought it was lost, but I was able to retrieve it from The Wayback Machine.

boy who came back from heaven

The boy who came back from heaven, a remarkable account of miracles, angels, and life beyond this world is written by Kevin and Alex Malarkey.

At the bottom of the front cover are the words True Story. The boy who came back from heaven recounts the story of six-year-old Alex Malarkey who was seriously injured in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed.  While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven and given the grand tour. He returned to earth and his body so that he could share with all of us the story found in the book.  The book also records post-coma trips to heaven by Alex and even includes an angel appearance to Alex’s father Kevin Malarkey.

I almost stopped reading the book after reading the Introduction. Kevin Malarkey, an Evangelical Christian therapist in Columbus Ohio wrote:

I’m not here to beat a drum, convince you of a theological argument, or force you to validate Alex’s experiences. But I humbly offer a challenge: suspend your judgment for just a few chapters. I think your life may be changed forever.

If Alex’s story is to be taken as a TRUE story, then why do I need to suspend my judgment? Should not the truth of the story be clear to all who read it?

According to Kevin Malarkey:

Heaven is real. There is an unseen world at work—an intensely  active spiritual realm right here o earth , all around us. And much of this activity keeps us from focusing on our future destination, the place where we will spend eternity. Alex has been there….

The only thing the book actually proves is that some people believe there is a heaven. The boy who came back from heaven may be a true story, but it is a “true” story without one shred of provable truth . In other words, you are going to have to take the word of six-year-old (or 11-year-old by the time the book is written) Alex Malarkey that what he shares is the truth.

The story begins when Kevin and Alex Malarkey are involved in a horrific automobile accident. Kevin, while talking on his cellphone, turned in front of an automobile coming in the opposite direction. The driver of the other car was a woman with two young children. Alex was injured far worse than anyone else. The accident left him paralyzed and in a coma for 2 months.

At the accident scene, unconscious Alex saw:

  • Five angels carrying his father outside the car. Four were carrying the body and one angel was supporting his head and neck. (the police report said Kevin Malarkey was ejected from the automobile)
  • The devil sitting in the front seat of the automobile accusing Alex of causing the accident.

While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven. What did Alex see and experience while he was in heaven?

  • His father was in heaven too, but only for a short time.
  • Alex saw the five angels that carried his father’s body outside the automobile. The five angels stayed with Alex so his father could have time alone with God.  He pleaded to trade places with Alex, but God told him no. God sent his father’s spirit back to earth and Alex remained in heaven. God told him that he would heal him later on earth to bring more glory to His (God’s) name.
  • While in the emergency room, Alex watched everything that was going on from the ceiling. Jesus was standing right there beside him. Alex felt safe and he was not afraid to die.
  • While in the emergency room, Alex saw 150 pure, white angels with fantastic wings who were all calling his name. After awhile, they said “Alex go back.”  Alex did go back and Jesus came with him and held him  during his time in the emergency room.
  • Alex found himself in the presence of God. God had a human-like body, but a lot bigger. Alex was only allowed to see God from the neck down because the Bible says anyone who looks on the face of God dies.
  • There is an inner heaven and an outer heaven. The outer heaven has a hole that leads to hell.
  • There are lots of colorful, beautiful things to see, and beautiful music too.
  • Heaven is a lot like earth, but it is perfect in every detail.
  • Angels  are white, have wings, and are sexless.
  • Some angels are short, 2 feet tall, and others are much taller.
  • There are different types of angels, with different jobs to do.
  • There are lots of buildings in heaven, but Alex only really noticed the Temple. God never leaves his throne in the Temple. There is a scroll in a glass container that only Jesus can read.

After Alex came out of  his coma, he continued to see other world beings. Angels were present in Alex’s hospital room.The angels helped Alex and the angels talked to Alex and he talked back to them.

One day, Alex told his father that he had something important to tell him. He wanted to make sure his father would not be sad after hearing what Alex had to say. Alex said:

There are two days I look forwards to more than any others in my life. The first is the day I die. You see, I can’t wait to get home. It’s not that I want to die right now; I’m not sad…. The second is the day when the devil goes to the Lake of Fire. I can’t wait for him to be gone for good.

According to Alex, demons and evil spirits came to visit him. He was thankful that his father taught him how to pray and how to take authority over the demons.

Alex had this to say about the devil, about demons  and evil spirits:

  • They are evil, scary, and ugly.
  • They accuse Alex of things, bring him doubt, make him feel sad, tell him he will never be healed, and that God won’t protect him.
  • The devil has three heads and all three heads have hair of fire. (is the devil a redhead?) Each of the heads speak different lies at the same time.
  • The devil has beaming red eyes with flames for pupils.  His nose is nasty and torn up.
  • The devil speaks English to Alex. His voice is screechy like a witch and changes into different sounds. The devil’s mouth is funny looking with only a few moldy teeth.
  • The devil’s body has a human form but has no flesh.
  • The devil wears a torn and dirty robe.
  • The devil personally appeared to Alex. Sometimes, the devil came along with other evil spirits but sometimes he came alone.
  • Demons are often green and they have hair made of fire. Their skin and robes are just like the devil’s. Their eyes are like the devil’s and they have long fingernails.

According to Alex, demons walk around telling lies. In Frank Peretti style, Alex says that there is a spiritual war going on—angels against demons.

Towards the end of the book, Kevin Malarkey lets readers know that Alex has continued to take periodic trips to heaven. Readers are also told that Kevin himself had an experience where an angel named John appeared to him.

The angel John gave Kevin  a message:

I have anointed you with a message of hope…for the church….for the body of Christ…and for those who will be the body…..that He will be raised up and seen in His true glory…This is the word of the Lord given to you by the angel John.

Speak of Me, for Me, and about Me. Use Alex to show who I am. I have chosen him as a screen upon which to show myself. I am unity, the Trinity, a complete circle. Your story  will lead to praise and worship, there will be altar calls. Your bills are the least of my worries. I will be with you all the days of your life. I will speak to you, I will guide you, I am in you. I am about you, you be about me. My love is unconditional. My vengeance is restricted for the holy. My apostles died for Me, will you die for Me? I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

Most of the book is Kevin Malarkey’s explanation of Alex’s trips to heaven and how God is using them to reach other people. One chapter is devoted to the things that Alex knew about his time in the coma. To many people, this is proof above all proof. Alex talked of things that were not possible for him to know.

The story is what it is. Either you believe it or you don’t. Just like the book Heaven is for Real , you have the story of a young child being taken to heaven. Both boys waited for years before their story was put into print. Both stories show clear signs of being shaped by adult human hands. (whether by parents or book editors)

I have no doubt that the Malarkey family believes what is written here. Like many Christians, they are desperate to know that their lives matter and that when death comes there is a new life that awaits beyond the grave.

As a non-believer, the story said little that I would consider as proof that there is a God, a devil, a heaven, a hell, or that life continues beyond the grave. I found myself angry, once again, at a god, who paralyzes a kid in an automobile accident so he can get some praise and glory. With all the suffering, sickness, disease, and death in the world, it seems to me that God has plenty enough praise and glory.

My conclusion? Kevin Malarkey asked me to suspend my judgment as I read the book. I could not do so, and, in my judgment, the book is a bunch of malarkey.(meaningless talk and nonsense)

In June of 2014, I wrote the following update:

Last week, I reposted a review of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey. After my review hit the internet, Beth Malarkey, the mother of Alex, contacted me via Twitter.  She let me know that Alex, now a teenager, did not write the story and he does not agree with what is in the book.

On her blog, Life’s a Journey, Beth wrote:

I never intended this blog to be a place that I would have to defend my son ALex’s indentity let alone the journey that he and he alone has endured. I started this blog as a “fun” thing to do and with the intention of maybe sharing some hope and bits of wisdom that has been learned through the struggles. I have taken this blog down from time to time not sure what to do with it and NEVER wanting to make it appear as if any of the people that I write about are extraordinary individuals…

,,,This past week a movie based off the book Heaven is for Real came out. I have not read the book, do not plan to, and am strongly opposed to the movie. Let’s just say that the Burpo book and the book that has Alex’s name listed as coauthor (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven),as does the Tyndale Publishing website (can not understand how that can be), have a few things in common which I will not get into on here. I am trying to defend my son and truth. Here is something to think about….

It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy who Came Back from Heaven to not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned. I could post facts and try to dispel many of the things contained within the pages of that book (have done a bit of that), I could continue to try to point out how Biblically off the book is (a few strategically placed scriptures does not make a book Biblically sound) and how it leads people away from the bible not to it (have done that as have others including John MacArthur and Phil Johnson), I could talk about how much it has hurt my son tremendously and even make financial statements public that would prove that he has not received monies from the book nor have a majority of his needs been funded by it (a fund that was set aside by a friend a few years ago has actually been paying for most things in the past few years but that fund is dwindling), I could…..but it seems like many people want to believe what they are given despite the wrong that it may be doing or the wrong that was done in the making of it.

When Alex first tried to tell a “pastor” how wrong the book was and how it needed stopped, Alex was told that the book was blessing people. Ok…first, Alex said that while he was struggling physically and trusting this person as someone who seemed to be concerned so the person was invalidating Alex’s feeling while justifying the wrong that Alex was trying to make that person aware of. . The person told Alex to “trust” him. Alex is the ONLY one that supposedly had the experiences being written about(Alex was a 6 year old and coming out of major brain trauma…note I am not saying what is true and not just that Alex was a kid with major brain trauma which alone should raise questions as to validity) Alex is the ONLY one who has endured not only a horrific set of injuries, but having his journey capitalized on. His struggles are NOT past tense nor is the “story.”

The ones making money from the book are NOT the ones staying up through the night, struggling for their breath, or were they the ones at six years old, waking up unable to move or breathe and in a strange place after last remember seeing a car coming right at the car he was riding in. What I have walked through with Alex over the past nine years has nearly broken me personally and spiritually. I have wept so deeply for what I have watched my children go through, been made aware of how ignorant I was of some things, how selfish I was, and how Biblically illiterate I was which allowed me to be deceived! Sure, I had read my Bible A LOT, but I had not studied it. I had listened to teachings but probably enjoyed more ear tickling than I am still even aware of(for that I repent and have experienced deep sorrow) I am so thankful that God is so merciful and patient. I am thankful that God allowed me to go ahead and fall for the junk that I did(and it was that junk)for I am fully aware of what it feels like to be pulled in.

There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read “success” books to try to build better and bigger…”ministries/businesses”. Please, examine what you see and read. I see many things from a different vantage point because of how much I have witnessed and am witnessing first hand…not second hand. I will remain puzzled and remain seeking truth in the Word of God! One more time..Alex did not write the book and it is not blessing him! Saying that it is blessing others to try to justify its wrong is just that…justification of wrong!

Beth is divorced from Kevin Malarkey and continues to be Alex’s primary caregiver.

Guilt, the Essence of Evangelical Christianity

guilt

What would the Evangelical Christianity be without guilt?

Guilt, despite what preachers say, is the engine that powers the Evangelicalism.

Often preachers will try to hide guilt by giving it other names like conviction. But no matter how they try to hide it, guilt plays a prominent part in the day-to-day lives of those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Think about it for a moment. The Bible presents God as a righteous, holy, judging, wrathful, deity. In the Old Testament this God was unapproachable except by a  few chosen people. People who got too close wound up dead.

Who can forget the story about the man who put out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant and God rewarded this man by killing him. Or the story about God killing the entire human race save eight people. (and yet, Evangelicals say God is pro-life)

From Genesis to Revelation we see a God who gives no quarter to disobedience or sin. He demands worship and expects perfect obeisance. He is a God that not only hates sin but hates those who do it. (the hate the sin but love the sinner line of thinking is not found in the Bible) Evangelicals often remind people like me that some day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Bow now or bow later, the thinking goes.

No matter how much the writers of the New Testament tried to cover this up with talk of love, grace, and mercy, the God of the Bible was not one to be trifled with. Those who trifled with him ended up dead. The Bible says, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

There are hundreds of commands in the Bible, commands that God expects every Christian to obey without question or hesitation. After all, according to the Bible, God himself lives inside every Christian. According to the Bible, the Christian has the mind of Christ. The Bible also says that the Christian is to be perfect even as their father in heaven is perfect. Lest one doubt whether God is serious, the writer of First John reminds his fellow Christians that he who sins is of the devil.

The Bible message is clear, obey God lest you fall under his judgment, a judgment that could lead to your death. Put in the words that any child can understand, do what God says or he is going to get you. Remember this is a God who killed two people in the book of Acts for lying. This is the same God who brutalized his son on the cross because of what other people did. This is also the same God that will someday savage the earth and its inhabitants and torture in hell for all eternity all those who are not Christians.

It should come as no surprise then that many Evangelicals live with a backbreaking load of guilt. They know what God expects and they fear him, but, in spite of all their hard work, they still can’t measure up to what God expects of them. What deepens their guilt is preachers that say they speak for God, adding more rules and regulations that God demands every Christian obey. (also called church standards)

I spent most of my life in the Evangelical church. I desperately wanted to be a good Christian. I felt God had called me into the ministry and I wanted to be the best pastor possible. I was willing to sacrifice everything for God. And so that’s what I did. I sacrificed my family, my health, and my economic well-being for God. I held nothing back and I was willing to die for my God if necessary.

A while back someone made a comment on Facebook about my being an atheist. This person has known me for 37 years. They said that they were shocked that I was an atheist because if anyone was a committed, true blue believer I was. Most people who knew me in my Christian days would give a similar account of my devotion to God.

As a pastor I gave 100% to the cause. I worked long hours regardless  whether I got paid. Most of the churches I pastored paid a poverty wage, but that didn’t matter to me. I would have gladly worked for free, and, in fact, I did work many weeks and months without receiving a paycheck. It was never about the money. It was all about faithfully serving God and fulfilling his calling on my life. It was all about being obedient to the commands and teachings found in the Bible.

One would think that someone as committed as I was wouldn’t have guilt, but guilt played a prominent part in my life. Striving for perfection quickly reveals how imperfect you are. Sometimes, I envied Christians who could take a nominal, carefree approach to God and his commands. Why couldn’t I be nominal just like everyone else? I’m not sure I have an answer for that. All I know is this, I worked for the night is coming when no man can work and the more work I put into my Christian faith the more guilt I had.

I often pondered the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus had given his all on the cross for me. Shouldn’t I give my all to him? I took seriously the command to walk in the steps of Jesus. I tried to pattern my life after the example of Jesus and the apostles. I wanted to be found busy working for the advancement of God’s kingdom with Jesus came back to earth.

The Bible teaches that this life of ours is but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (like a steam from a water heat radiator on a cold winter day) Rather than spending time building a kingdom in this life that will soon pass away,  I sincerely believed my  time was better spent  laying up treasure in heaven. Why bother with the transitory, material world that will soon pass away? Better to spend every waking hour serving Jesus than to spend one moment chasing the baubles of this world. Yet, the harder I worked the more guilt I had.

I prayed in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night, and numerous times throughout the day, yet I feared I was not praying enough. After all, the Bible commands us to pray without ceasing. No matter how many people I witnessed to, there were always more people I needed to evangelize. There never seemed to be an end of souls that needed saving. How dare I spend one moment taking care of my own personal needs while countless souls were hanging by a bare thread over the pit of hell. I had no time for talk of heaven or eternal reward. There was too much to do.

I know some readers of this blog will read this post and say, no wonder you were guilty all the time. Look at how motivated and driven you were. Yes, this is true, but I ask you, where do I find in the Bible the laid-back, nominal, easy come easy go, Christian life? While certainly such a life would have lessened the amount of guilt I had, how could I live such a life knowing what I did about the teachings and commands of the Bible?

Look at the examples given for us in the Bible of people who were devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Show me the nominal Christian. In every instance nominal Christianity is roundly condemned. God expects, dare I say demands, 100% devotion and anything less than that is treason against God.

So, for many years I lived with guilt most everyday. I felt guilty when I stopped to enjoy life. I feel guilty when I stopped to attend to my personal wants and desires. I felt guilty when I spent money that could have gone to the church or to missionaries. Why could I not be like the Apostle Paul? Or why could I not be like Jesus himself?

Of course the real problem was that I was a human being. A life of selfless devotion to God was an impossibility. Now that I’ve left the ministry and left the Christian faith, my problem with guilt still remains. I’m no longer guilty over my lack of devotion and I’m certainly not guilty over committing what the Bible calls sin, but I do have twinges of guilt over the amount of time, money, and effort I gave in devotion to a God that does not exist. (perhaps guilt is not the best word to use here. I lament, feel sad, regret) As the old gospel song goes, wasted years oh how foolish.

I also feel guilty over leading people into the same kind of life. I regret causing parishioners to feel guilty over not measuring up to the commands found in the Bible. As I have often said, churches would be empty if it weren’t for guilt and guilt’s twin sister fear.

Perhaps my penance is this blog. I am sure there are many people who read this blog who know exactly what I’m talking about.  Atheism and a humanist worldview has allowed me, for the most part, aside from what I have mentioned above, to live a life free of guilt. (and fear) I no longer have to fear or feel guilty over not keeping God’s commands. No longer are my actions checked against God’s sin list. My actions on any given day are good or bad and when I do bad things I need to make things right if I can and try not to do them again. There is no need for me to be threatened with hell or promised heaven. All I want to do is be a good human being and be at peace with others. If my actions fail this standard then I need to do better.