Menu Close

Missing Heaven by Eighteen Inches

eighteen inches head heart

Most Evangelical Christians believe humans are tripartite beings comprised of body, soul, and spirit. Some Evangelicals believe humans are bipartite beings — body and soul. According to the doctrines once delivered to the saints by Billy Graham, every human has an eternal soul. No one has ever seen a soul, but that doesn’t stop Evangelicals from asserting that it exists. Evangelicals believe in all sorts of fanciful, mythical things:

  • Jesus’ mother was a virgin whom God impregnated.
  • Jesus died and resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus healed blindness with dirt and spit.
  • Jesus turned water into wine.
  • Jesus walked through walls and walked undetected through a crowd.
  • Jesus walked on water.
  • Jesus raised people from the dead.

These are just a few of the myths Evangelicals believe are true, so it is not a stretch of their imagination to believe that humans have souls. Ask an Evangelical WHERE their soul resides, he or she will most likely point to their heart. One the favorite church hymns of my youth was the song He Lives! The first verse and chorus go like this:

I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him He’s always near.

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
along life’s narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

You ask me [the Christian] how I KNOW He [Jesus] lives? He lives within my heart.

It is the soul, then, that must be saved. It is the soul that goes to Heaven after death, awaiting the day when it is united with a new body. Evangelical preachers implore congregants to be soulwinners. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution that prided itself in training soulwinners to reach sinners with the gospel. Students were required to attend chapel daily. One song that was frequently sung during chapel went like this:

“Souls for Jesus!” is our battle cry

“Souls for Jesus!” we’ll fight until we die

We never will give in while souls are lost in sin

“Souls for Jesus!” is our battle cry

Students fanned out over the Pontiac-Detroit area looking for souls in need of saving. Each week, students were required to report how many souls they won to Jesus. Many students quickly learned the art of speaking “evangelistically” — inflating the number of notches on the grips of their gospel guns. After graduation from Midwestern, many students started new churches or pastored established churches. Their goal remained the same as it was in college — win souls. I pastored a church in Southeast Ohio that had over six hundred souls saved over an eleven-year period. Children were bused to the church so trained soulwinners could share the gospel with them and pressure them to get saved. While this was going on in the church annex, I was busy preaching the gospel to teens and adults in the church sanctuary. A “good” Sunday was defined by the number of souls saved. A “bad” Sunday was when no one walked the aisle to be saved.

Most Evangelicals think that the soul is separate from the mind. Long-time readers have witnessed countless zealots tell me that I was never a Christian; that I had HEAD knowledge, not HEART knowledge; HEAD salvation, not a HEART salvation. The head (mind) is where the intellect resides. According to these zealots, I had an intellectual understanding of Jesus, but not a heart understanding. When asked how the heart “thinks” apart from the mind, Evangelical eyes glaze over, revealing that they have no idea about how someone can have head knowledge but not heart knowledge of Jesus. They just know it is true because their preachers say it is. Religious faith will do that to people – it results in them believing things that would be considered signs of mental disturbance in any other setting.

People raised in Evangelical churches have likely heard a sermon or two (or five hundred) on people missing Heaven by eighteen inches. Eighteen inches is the distance between the mind (intellect) and the heart (where the soul resides). Paul Empet explains it this way:

Can anyone actually get that close to heaven and yet hear the Lord say, “I never knew you: depart from Me”?

However, this will be the terrible fate of many professing Christians in our churches today. Some of these people are even in responsible positions in the church, but they only have a “head” or intellectual-acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Tragically enough, even teachers, preachers, and religious workers are not exempt from the possibility of the chilling indictment above.

The distance between the head and the heart is 18 inches. Unfortunately, a “head” knowledge of Jesus Christ—fully knowing and giving mental assent to the plan of salvation…without a “heart” acceptance that brings the personal relationship that the Bible demands—avails nothing to anyone.

Listen to Paul’s heart cry concerning Israel as he spoke under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” He was speaking about misdirected efforts, energies expended in the strength of the flesh but not under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The lack of power today in many of our churches, as well as the lack of power today in the lives on many professing Christians, can be laid directly to this.

It is only as we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word as without excuse and without hope, utterly lost and undone, that the truth of the Scriptures convicts us, for the bible clearly reveals that this is how God sees us.

Then, when the wonderful truth of the Gospel brings us to recognition of our own sinfulness, and in true repentance we cry out to God asking forgiveness and help, asking Him to come into our hearts, not our heads, we experience the new birth.

Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” The Bible also tells us that “He that hath the Son hath [eternal] life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”

Also, the Bible promises “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Christ wants your heart, not just your head because “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

It is vitally important that you make sure it is not just head knowledge and mental assent you have given to Jesus Christ. He needs your complete trust so that you can be truly born again.

Eighteen inches can mean eternity with Christ or an eternity without Christ. Are you sure of your personal relationship to Him? Why not settle the question in your heart once for all right now?

Bruce, this is nonsense, nothing more religious gobbledygook. Yes, it is, but millions and millions of Americans believe this to be true. They KNOW in their heart of hearts that Jesus is their Savior and the Holy Ghost lives inside of them — I assume residing in the same place as the soul. These born-again Christians have what is called a “know-so salvation.” The Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:12 ” for I know whom I have believed” Evangelicals are certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have souls and that their souls have been “saved” by Jesus. And they have a tape measure to prove it.

Do you remember hearing sermons about head versus heart knowledge/salvation? Please share what’s on your heart — sorry I couldn’t help myself — in the comment section. Perhaps someone can answer this for me: if an Evangelical has a heart transplant, does he or she have to get saved again? And if an atheist receives a transplanted heart from an Evangelical, does this make him or her a Christian?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.


  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Not being a student of history, I don’t know when or how the concept of ‘heart knowledge’ first came about.

    I know that I’m not going to trust defining my goals in life, or who or what is important to me, according to the whims of an organic pump. It’s a damned impressive pump, to be sure. When it stops working altogether, the rest of me will stop working as well. It is still fundamentally a pump.

    However, I think the difference that the author is getting at is belief vs. knowledge. We supposedly think with our minds, but believe with our hearts. Poor pump, people all the time trying to inveigle it into doing stuff that isn’t its job. The thing is, our human brains work for us at their leisure. But also, they acquire beliefs that–at the time of acquisition–at least seem to be fundamental to our wellbeing. Once understanding of something shifts to belief about it, hey, that’s good for our minds, no? They don’t need to work on that issue any more, they have a solution and can believe in it! Morning will come. Rustling grass is suspect. Everyone in the group had darned well better approach the watering hole carefully.

    Throw civilization (political science), education (universities), and just real general science into the mix, and suddenly the minds of us hairless apes are much more easily confused. Evolution never prepared us for our current existence. As a species, we truly are on the cutting edge here. And so, as individuals, it is easy to succumb to the siren of comfort. To an assurance that all our questions have already been answered, if only we can discern those answers from a convoluted text, or make so-called rational conclusions in the absence of enough data. This temptation occurs to PhDs and high school dropouts alike, despite the posturing of educated people.

    Realizing how much we simply don’t know, and how much out there is uncomfortable, is a very hard thing to get our minds around. I interact with my cats. who are lovely creatures, and realize they don’t have any of these concerns. I interact with some humans, and wonder if they’re cats in human form. But that is ungenerous and unkind, because the level of thinking we’re asked to do for supposedly simple things like voting, is at least an order of magnitude more than our pre-sapiens ancestors ever needed to deal with.

  2. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Karen–Your response gets to the heart of the matter, if you will. As the world becomes more complex and complicated, we need to know more. But some folks lack either the capacity or desire to learn. (It has nothing to do with one’s level of education: I’ve met plenty of people who seem to have stopped learning the day they got their PhDs.) So they go for the familiar, and the easy answers–or imbue things (like our “organic pumps”) with mystical powers.

    A few months ago, my brother had to replace the battery in his pacemaker. That says plenty about what the heart actually is.

  3. Avatar

    Ha. My denomination taught that body and soul and spirit were one thing. Which meant the dead rested in their graves (or wherever) until Jesus came back blah blah blah. It’s still way to conservative though.

  4. Avatar

    My brother became a charismatic evangelical fundamentalist zealot. He has really basic high school science background, and he wasn’t really a motivated student. However, he has always loved reading and exploring topics he finds interesting, though his sources tend to be skewed toward conservative Christian to the exclusion of sources that don’t promote certain fundamentalist Christian foregone conclusions. A couple of years ago, he was all excited because he read an article saying that some “scientist” had weighed someone before they died, then weighed them right after they died and found about a 4 oz difference in weight, with the conclusion that one’s “soul” must be responsible for that difference. I just stared at him, not knowing how to respond, and he never sent me a link to the “article”.

    “Soul” and/or “spirit” are just brain activity in my opinion. When the brain dies, that’s it. Our thoughts and consciousness are the result of chemical and electrical activity in a complex organ that has evolved over millions of years. It’s a cool organ, and we humans use it in different ways, expose it to different stimuli, and have some minor differences in how it works. We have evolved certain cognitive skills that can aid in our survival (but can be problematic in more fine-tuned modern situations as Karen mentioned above). It’s fascinating – but can be dangerous as hell when you have a bunch of fear and anger-fueled folks bent on gaining power and not using higher-order thinking skills…….

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Bruce Gerencser