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Evangelical Literalism: A Day is a Day Except When it Isn’t

bible literalism

All young-earth creationists are literalists, that is except when they aren’t. Let me illustrate this for you.

Six times in Genesis 1 the Bible says, the morning and even were the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth day.  Young-earth creationists are emphatic that these days were literal 24 hour days.

In Genesis 2:1, the Bible states that on the seventh day God ended his creative work. According to other verses in the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. So God only rested one, literal 24 day?  I don’t know of any young-earth creationist who believes this.

God gave Adam the following command in Genesis 2:15-17:

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Did Adam eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Did Eve? Of course they did.  Did they die on the very day they ate the proverbial apple? Nope. According to Genesis 5:5:

and all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

Do you see the point I am making? Young earth creationists are literalists until it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible, then all of a sudden Adam dying on the day he sinned is meant to be taken metaphorically or the word day really means a period of time.

I will repeat what I have said countless times: no one, not even Ken Ham, takes every verse in the Bible literally. Whenever it suits them or whenever it will bolster their argument, Evangelicals are quite willing to abandon literalism.

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Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?

whining evangelical

Many people think that Evangelicalism and fundamentalism are two different species of conservative Christianity. However, I plan to show in this post that Evangelicals are inherently fundamentalist and that the only issue is to what degree they are fundamentalist.

Some of the confusion comes from the fact that there are Evangelicals, such as the Independent Fundamentalist (IFB) church movement, who proudly wear the Fundamentalist label. Thus, an Evangelical – say someone who is a pastor in the Evangelical Free Church of America – rightly says, I am NOT like those crazy fundamentalist Baptists.  They see the extremism of the IFB church movement, condemn it, and by doing so think that they are not fundamentalist.

The word fundamentalist was originally used to describe a group of sects, churches, and pastors who took a stand against perceived theological liberalism in the denominations of which they were a part. From 1910 to 1915, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA), published 90 essays that were published in a 12 volume set of books titled, The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. (you can see a complete listing of the essays on Wikipedia)  These essays provided the theological foundation for the modern fundamentalist movement.

The words “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” can also be used in a generic sense. While almost always used when describing the beliefs of religious sects, fundamentalist beliefs can also be found in politics, science, economics, and even atheism. The focus of this post is Christian fundamentalism, particularly Protestant fundamentalism.

There are two components to the fundamentalism found in Evangelicalism:

  • Theological fundamentalism
  • Social fundamentalism

All Evangelicals are theological fundamentalists. What do Evangelicals believe?

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of the triune God.
  • Salvation is through the merit and work of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus is the eternal, virgin-born, sinless, miracle-working Son of God who came to earth 2,000 years ago to die on the cross for the sins of humankind.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days after being crucified. He later ascended back to heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father.
  • Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and salvation is gained only through putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ.
  • All non-Christian religions are false and many Christian sects have heretical beliefs.
  • There is a literal heaven, a hell, and a devil.
  • Saved people go to heaven when they die and non-saved people go to hell when they die.
  • Some day Jesus Christ will return to earth to judge the living and the dead. The heavens and earth will be destroyed and God will make a new heaven and a new earth.

Evangelicals may quibble with one another over the finer points of this or that doctrine, but EVERY Evangelical believes what I have listed above. And it is these beliefs that make them theological fundamentalists.

While it is true that liberal and progressive theology are making inroads within Evangelicalism, this does not mean that Evangelicalism is becoming less fundamentalist. Liberal/progressive Evangelicals are outliers, and, in time, due to the inflexibility of Evangelical theology, they will either leave Evangelicalism and join a liberal/Progressive Christian sect or they will become a bastard child subset within Evangelicalism.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is an Evangelical denomination, and thanks to the resurgence of Calvinism and right-wing politics within the denomination, the SBC is becoming more fundamentalist. While the SBC does have a liberal/progressive wing, the majority of Southern Baptist churches are Evangelical. Rarely do denominations become more conservative once they start down the path of liberalism, but the SBC, over the course of the last few decades, has reversed the liberal slide and is decidedly more conservative today than it was 20 years ago. Many of the founders of the IFB church movement were Southern Baptists who left the SBC in the 1950s-1970s. Little did they know that the SBC would one day return to its Evangelical roots.

Many people would argue that Al Mohler is very different from the late Fred Phelps, yet theologically they have much in common. And this is my point. At the heart of Evangelicalism is theological fundamentalism. People wrongly assume that church A is different from church B because of differences between their soteriology,  pneumatology, ecclesiology, preaching style, eschatology, music, etc However, when we look closer, we find that both churches, for the most part, have the same doctrinal beliefs. This is why ALL Evangelicals are theological fundamentalists.

Social fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. An Evangelical looks at the rules, standards, and negativity of an IFB church that proudly claims the fundamentalist moniker and  says, SEE I am NOT a Fundamentalist. I don’t believe in legalism. I believe in grace and I leave it to God to change how a person lives.

This sounds good, doesn’t it? However, when you start to poke around a bit, you will find that almost every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist, the only difference between Evangelicals being the degree of fundamentalism.  This can be quickly demonstrated by asking  those who think they are  non-fundamentalist Evangelical a few questions. Questions like:

  • Can a practicing homosexual be a Christian?
  • Can a homosexual man be a deacon or pastor in your church?
  • Can a same-sex couple work in the nursery together?
  • Do think it is OK for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sexual activity?
  • Can a cohabiting heterosexual couple be a member of your church?
  • Do you think it is morally right for a woman to wear a skimpy outfit to church?
  • Is it ever right to have an abortion?
  • Do you think smoking marijuana is OK?
  • Do you think it OK for your pastor to smoke cigars and drink alcohol at the local bar?
  • Is it OK for someone, in the privacy of their home, to become inebriated?

By asking these questions, and a number of  similar ones, you will quickly  discover that the non-fundamentalist Evangelical is a social fundamentalist after all. While the latter may jeer and laugh at the crazy, extreme rules and standards of the IFB church, they too have their own set of non-negotiable social standards. They, like their IFB brethren, are  social fundamentalists.

I am sure some Evangelicals will argue that their social fundamentalism, like their theological fundamentalism, comes straight from the Bible. Of course, ALL Evangelicals thinks their beliefs come straight from the Bible. The IFB pastor has a proof-text for everything he preaches against, as does the I am NOT a fundamentalist Evangelical pastor. Both believe the Bible is truth, an inspired, inerrant, supernatural text. The only difference between them is their interpretation of the Bible.

Here in the US, we have the perfect fundamentalist storm of religious fundamentalism, economic fundamentalism, science fundamentalism, and political fundamentalism. The US is rapidly becoming an embarrassment as fundamentalists demand their brand of Christianity be given special treatment, creationism be taught in the public schools, the Federal government be harnessed for the good of Christianity, and their interpretation of the Bible enacted as law.  These Evangelicals are not harmless, and if not challenged at every turn, they will become the Evangelical version of the Taliban. I recognize that some Evangelicals are against political and social activism, but they are few in number. History is clear, when any religious group gains the power of the state, freedom is diminished and people die.

While I can applaud any move leftward within Evangelicalism, the only sure way to end the destructive influence of Evangelical Christianity is to starve it politically, socially, and economically. I am not so naïve as to believe that Evangelicalism will ever go completely away, but it can be weakened to such a degree that it no longer has any influence.

There are many Evangelical church members who are kind, decent, loving people. Many of them are generational Evangelicals, attending the same church their parents and grandparents did. I hope, by publicizing the narrow, often hateful, theological and social pronouncements of Evangelical leaders and talking heads, and the continued inability of these leaders to keep their fly zipped up and their hands off the money, that the Evangelicals in the pew will get their noses out of the hymnbook or turn their eyes from the overhead and pay attention to what is really going on within Evangelicalism. I hope they will stand up, exit stage right, and take their checkbooks with them.  When this happens, we will begin to hear Evangelicalism struggling for breath.

On a completely different front, liberal/ progressive Christian scholars, writers, and bloggers, along with former Evangelical Christians like myself,  need to step up their frontal assault on the misplaced authority Evangelicals give to the Bible. We need more writers like Bart Ehrman, who are willing to write on a popular level about the errancy and fallibility of the Bible. I firmly think that when Evangelicals can be disabused of their literalism and belief that the Bible is an inerrant, infallible text, they will be more likely to realize that Evangelicalism is a house of cards.

Remember, if it walks, acts, and talks like a fundamentalist, it is a fundamentalist. Evangelicals can protest all they want that I am unfairly tarring them with the fundamentalist brush, but as I have shown in this post, their theological and social beliefs clearly show they are fundamentalist. If they don’t like the label, I suggest they change their beliefs and distance themselves from Evangelicalism. They need not become atheist/agnostic if they leave Evangelicalism.  Even though I was not able to do so, many former Evangelicals find great value and peace in liberal/progressive Christianity. Others find the same in non-Christian religions or universalism. If it is God you want, there are plenty of places to find him/her/it.

Notes

I know a number of fundamentalist bloggers and writers who attack big F Fundamentalism, totally missing that they are attacking members of their own family.  These fundamentalists think if they distance themselves from the extremism of the big F Fundamentalism that they are no longer fundamentalist. However, their beliefs clearly show that they are still quite fundamentalist. This is particularly true of those who are Evangelical Calvinists.

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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 Russell 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 suffering four sacks. 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, I am amused by these kind of masturbatory displays of Christianity. 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 such as 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 who 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  be doing 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.

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Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls

altar call first baptist church hammond

Altar Call, First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana

Every head bowed, every eye closed.

Is God is speaking to you right now?

What is it God wants you to do?

Do you need to be saved? Step out from where you are and come kneel at the altar. Cry out to God. He will save you. Don’t delay.  Behold, NOW is the accepted time and NOW is the day of salvation.

Do you need to get right with God? Don’t delay. Don’t wait to another day. Step out from where you are and come kneel at an old-fashioned altar and do business with God.

Whatever it is God wants you to do, do it today.

As we sing the first verse of Just As I Am, you come. Don’t wait. You don’t have the promise of tomorrow.

Come…

Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I gave countless public invitations like the one above. The emphasis might have differed from week to week, but the focus was always on NOW, doing what God wants you to do NOW.

Sometimes I would tell a poignant illustration that I hoped would drive home the importance of making a decision. My philosophy was clear:

  • There is a God
  • The Bible is truth
  • God hates sin
  • Salvation is through the merit and work of Jesus Christ
  • There is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain
  • No one has the promise of tomorrow
  • Death is certain
  • Decisions affecting our eternal destiny should never be put off

The invitation was the point in the service where I (God) brought everything together. It was the climax, the point where God showed his mighty power by saving sinners and calling backsliders back to the faith.

Thousands of people responded to altar calls given by me. I was pretty good at it. I knew what to say and how to say it. I could read the emotions of those under the sound of my voice, and with a few well-placed words, get them to walk the aisle. What I called conviction back then is what I now call guilt. The Bible is a world-class book for making people feel guilty. When people feel guilty (under conviction) they are ripe for manipulation.

In one church I pastored for 11 years, we had over 600 public professions of faith. We baptized hundreds of people. Rare was the Sunday when no one came forward during the invitation. (For many years I gave invitations every time we had a service.)

On those rare weeks when no one stepped out for Jesus, I was often quite depressed. I thought, why didn’t anyone come forward? Maybe my sermon was poorly constructed or perhaps God was punishing me because of some unconfessed sin in my life? (In other words God might send someone to hell to get my attention.)

The number of people responding to the invitation, like the number of people attending the church, is a measure that pastors use to judge themselves successes or failures. Church members judge the success or failure of their pastor by whether God is using his preaching to save people and reclaim backsliders. They also judge him based on the numeric growth of the church. In many ways the church is no different from the corporate world, where corporations are judged a success or a failure based on economic output (stock price, revenue increase, increased productivity, bottom line profit).

Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. I was good for business. I knew I had good preaching skills. I knew I had “people” skills and that I was effective in reaching people with the gospel. I expected results. I expected God to work. I expected people to walk the aisle and do business with God. My modality in the church was similar to the manner in which I conducted myself in the business world. Over the years, I managed restaurants for Arthur Teachers, Long John Silvers, and Charley’s Steakery (along with a number of other management level jobs). As a general manager, I was driven to succeed. Success was measured by net profit (a secular version of souls saved and church attendance growth).

Toward the latter third of my time in the ministry, I came to see that the altar call was a tool used by pastors to manipulate emotions and give the illusion that God’s power was on them and that God was using them. I have no doubt that many pastors believe their own hype, I know I did. I came to see myself as a man used greatly by God. The proof was in the numbers.

When I stopped giving altar calls many people responded negatively and a few people even left the church. In their minds, an old-fashioned, bible-believing church has altar calls. People should have an opportunity to respond to the sermon. People should have an opportunity to respond to the Holy Ghost’s leading. One former friend , a pastor, told me that he would never attend a church that didn’t give an altar call. Never mind that there is not one instance of an altar call in the Bible. Never mind that the history of the altar call can be traced back to Pelagian Charles Finney. In his mind, a good church was a church that gave altar calls. A church without altar calls was a liberal church that didn’t love souls.

billy graham 1951

Billy Graham, 1951, when he was still Associated with the Sword of the Lord

In the 1960s, evangelists such as Billy Graham popularized the altar call and brought it to the TV screen. Many of us remember seeing a Billy Graham Crusade on network TV. Who can forget the altar call, hundreds of people pouring out of the aisles making their way down to the front. What most people did not know is that MANY of the people responding to the invitation were actually Christian altar workers. They helped “prime the pump” with their movement forward, encouraging others to do the same. If you take the first step God will help you take the rest….

When we are part of a group, there is pressure to conform to the group standard. This dynamic is quite evident in church. Individuality is discouraged. Dissent is frowned upon. I see the same problem in the secular world. Most human beings don’t want to stand out from the crowd so they tend to embrace whatever the group standard is.

Personally, I try to fight such conformity. I will gladly sing the National Anthem and recite most of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I’ll be damned if I will bow my head and take off my hat in an act of worship as some knucklehead prays for God to bless the race car drivers or a singer sings God bless America during the 7th inning stretch at a baseball game. That said, I have no doubt I succumb to the group standard more than I care to admit.

Group conformity is not necessarily bad, but we must be careful we do not surrender our ability to reason and think for ourselves. The pressure to conform to a group standard in church often sucks the life, vitality, and joy from a person’s life. When the pastor gives an invitation and scores of people respond, the pressure to do likewise is very strong. Being right with God=walking the aisle. Standing in the pew and not walking the aisle=Not right with God.

curtis hutson

Curtis Hutson

Many years ago I attended a Sword of the Lord Conference in the Canton, Ohio area. Curtis Hutson was one of the main speakers. He preached on the family, on fatherhood. At the close of his sermon he gave an altar call that basically said “if you want to be a better father, you need to come to the altar and profess your willingness to do so” Hundreds and hundreds of men responded. I didn’t. I thought Hutson was being quite manipulative, so I refused to walk the aisle. Of course, I stood out like a sore thumb. People thought, I am sure, Either that guy thinks he is a better Christian than the rest of us or he refuses to get right with God. Who doesn’t want to be a better father? Never mind that one prayer at an altar does not a good father make.

Pastors well-schooled in their craft and blessed with the ability to effectively communicate, can, if they are not careful, manipulate people. The altar call is just one of many tools that can be used for manipulation. What pastors call God is actually the pastor and his well-honed communication skills manipulating those listening to the sermon.

A public church service can be a dangerous place. Parents, with nary a thought, allow their children to be influenced by men expert in mental and emotional manipulation. Even adults, especially those who have “sin” problems in their lives, are susceptible to manipulation. Adults enter the church building burdened with the cares of life, and the pastor, with his well-chosen words, convinces them to respond to an altar call. Jesus is the answer! Hooked on drugs or booze? Jesus will set you free. Family a mess, headed for divorce court? Jesus will make things right. Come, don’t delay. And people, with lives burdened down by problems and adversity, rush to the altar thinking Jesus will fix everything for them. He doesn’t, and they are worse off than they were before. Why are they worse off? Because they will likely think or be told by the pastor that the lack of change is their fault. They didn’t pray hard enough, or perhaps they had some secret sin they are holding on to. God never gets the blame for failing to do what the pastor said he would do. It is ALWAYS the sinners fault, not God’s.

Let me ask you a question. Every head bowed, every eye closed.

Are you saved? Do you remember a definite time and place in your life where you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If not, raise your hand. No one is looking. This is just between you and God. Raise your hand, I want to pray for you.

I see that hand. And that one. Thank you Ma’am. Thank you Sir.

Lord you see the hands that were raised. Save them Lord. In Jesus name, amen.

In a moment we are going to sing Just as I Am.

If you raised your hand, I want you to step out from your pew and come to the front. Someone will meet you and will share with you what the Bible says about being saved.

Don’t delay.

That’s right, keep coming.

Are there others?

Even if you didn’t raise your hand, is there something you need to confess to God?

Come.

Do it now.

Don’t wait.

Dinner will wait.

Your soul is worth more than all the money in the world.

We are going to sing the last verse one more time. That’s it. Don’t neglect so great a salvation.

God doesn’t promise to always strive with you. One day his Spirit may no longer call and it will be too late for you…

Come…

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Colton Burpo of Heaven is for Real Fame Says His Story is True!

burpo family christmas

And THANK YOU for helping us make a mountain of cash!

The Charismatic and Evangelical Christian world is in an uproar over Alex Malarkey’s denunciation and retraction of his story detailed in the best-selling The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Another book, detailing a young boy’s trip to heaven and back, came out about the same time as The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Heaven is for Real, details the story of Colton Burpo. You can read my review of the book here.

In a press release on the Crossroads Wesleyan Church website, Colton assures people that his story is true:

Dear Friends

I know there has been a lot of talk about the truth of other Heaven stories in the past few days. I just wanted to take a second and let everyone know that I stand by my story found in my book Heaven is for Real.  I still remember my experience in Heaven.  I want to keep telling people about my experience because it has given hope to so many people.

People may have their doubts about my story, but the thing is, I wasn’t coaxed into doing this.  I wanted to tell people about my experience.  In fact, I started sharing my story with my friends and people in our town way before there was a book called Heaven is for Real.

I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus.

He really, really loves you.

Colton Burpo

Colton wants everyone to know that he stands by his story and that he wasn’t coaxed into telling his story. Of course, there is no empirical evidence to prove that Colton’s story is true. We are just going to have to take his word for it.

Let me give you several reasons why Colton or his preacher father will never disavow the story.

Well, really only ONE reason. The money.

all about the money

Money from book sales (over 10 million copies sold)

Money from the book sequel, Heaven Changes Everything

Money from conferences

Money from speaking engagements

Money from the movie that was made from the book. (the movie grossed 101 million dollars)

Money from DVD, digital download,  and Blu-ray sales

Money from Heaven is for Real curriculum

Money from the sale of Jesus Junk® (tee shirts, coffee mugs, tumblers, bracelet, greeting cards, music) (link no longer active)

Money from the Red Carpet Special. (link no longer active) For $43.00 and a suspension of rational thought, you’ll receive:

  • The Official Movie Edition of Heaven is for Real (Signed by the Burpo Family)
  • Heaven is for Real for Kids (Signed by the Burpo Family)
  • Heaven Changes Everything (Signed by the Burpo Family)
  • Prince of Peace note card and bookmark
  • Heaven is for Real Bracelet

BTW, I am planning to write a book titled An Atheist Goes to Heaven. It will detail the true story — true because I say it is — of an atheist who dies, goes to heaven, sees Jesus, comes back to earth, and still doesn’t believe. Ought to be a bestseller, don’t you think? I could follow it up with another book, I met Christopher Hitchens in Heaven and He HATES it There!

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But Our Church is DIFFERENT!

ice cream flavors

I pastored my last church in 2003. Between July of 2002 and November of 2008, my wife and I, along with our children, personally visited the churches that are listed below.  These are the church names we could remember. There are others we have either forgotten or vaguely remember, so we didn’t put them on the list. Churches in bold we attended more than once. All told, from 2002-2008 we visited about 125 churches. If I added every church I have ever attended or preached in my lifetime the count would be over 200.

When Christians tell me THEIR church is different I often tell them that I have been to THEIR church. Not literally of course, but one church or another that I have visited over the past 30+ years is just like theirs. Churches are not as unique as they would like to think they are. Polly and I concluded that the name over the door may be different, but after a while, they all look and sound the same. The  congregation size, building, music, and liturgy might be different, but this is nothing more than the man behind the counter at the ice cream shop asking you, regular cone, waffle cone, or bowl.

If the church has a website, I linked to it. A handful of these churches are no longer open.

Churches We Visited 2002-2008Location
Our Father’s HouseWest Unity, Ohio
First Brethren ChurchBryan, Ohio
First Baptist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Grace Community ChurchBryan, Ohio
Lick Creek Church of the BrethrenBryan,Ohio
First Church of ChristBryan, Ohio
Eastland Baptist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Bryan Alliance ChurchBryan, Ohio
Union Chapel Church of GodBryan, Ohio
Celebrate Life Christian FellowshipBryan, Ohio
Faith United Methodist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Trinity Episcopal ChurchBryan, Ohio
Archbold Evangelical Church Archbold, Ohio
Sherwood Baptist ChurchSherwood, Ohio
Ney Church of GodNey, Ohio
Ney United Methodist ChurchNey, Ohio
Sonrise Community ChurchNey, Ohio
Farmer United Methodist ChurchFarmer, Ohio
Lost Creek Emmanuel Missionary ChurchFarmer, Ohio
Hicksville Church of the NazareneHicksville, Ohio
Community Christian CenterHicksville, Ohio
Grace Bible ChurchButler, Indiana
St John’s Lutheran ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Harvest Life FellowshipDefiance, Ohio
Community Christian CenterDefiance, Ohio
Second Baptist ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Baptist ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Grace Episcopal ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Assembly of GodDefiance, Ohio
Defiance Christian ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Presbyterian ChurchDefiance, Ohio
St John’s United Church of ChristDefiance, Ohio
Peace Lutheran ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Pine Grove Mennonite ChurchStryker, Ohio
St James Lutheran ChurchBurlington, Ohio
Zion Lutheran ChurchEdgerton, Ohio
Northwest Christian ChurchEdon, Ohio
Restoration FellowshipWilliams Center, Ohio
Pioneer Bible FellowshipPioneer, Ohio
Frontier Baptist ChurchFrontier, Michigan
Salem Mennonite ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Waldron Wesleyan ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Lickley Corners Baptist ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Prattville Community ChurchPrattville, Michigan
Betzer Community ChurchPittsford, Michigan
Fayette Church of the NazareneFayette, Ohio
Fayette Bible ChurchFayette, Ohio
Fayette Christian ChurchFayette, Ohio
Morenci Bible FellowshipMorenci, Michigan
First Baptist ChurchMorenci, Michigan
Demings Lake Reformed Baptist ChurchDemings Lake, Michigan
Medina Federated ChurchMedina, Michigan
Thornhill Baptist ChurchHudson, Michigan
First Baptist ChurchHudson, Michigan
Rollins Friends ChurchAddison, Michigan
Canandaigua Community ChurchCanandaigua. Michigan
Alvordton United BrethrenAlvordton, Ohio
Pettisville Missionary ChurchPettisville, Ohio
Vineyard ChurchToledo, Ohio
Providence Reformed Baptist ChurchToledo, Ohio
Lighthouse Memorial ChurchMillersport, Ohio
Newark Baptist TempleHeath, Ohio
Church of GodHeath, Ohio
30th Street Baptist ChurchHeath, Ohio
St Francis De Sales Catholic ChurchNewark, Ohio
Bible Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Cedar Hill Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Eastland Heights Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Northside Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Newark Brethren ChurchNewark, Ohio
St John’s Lutheran ChurchNewark, Ohio
Vineyard of Licking CountyNewark, Ohio
Vineyard Grace FellowshipNewark, Ohio
Grace FellowshipNewark, Ohio
Faith Bible ChurchJersey, Ohio
Vineyard Christian ChurchPataskala, Ohio
Cornerstone Baptist ChurchNew Lexington, Ohio
St Nicolas Greek Orthodox ChurchFort Wayne, Indiana
Nondenominational ChurchAngola, Indiana
Nondenominational ChurchFremont, Indiana
Victory Baptist ChurchClare, Michigan
First Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Desert Grace Community ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary Lutheran ChurchYuma, Arizona
Bible Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary ChapelYuma, Arizona
OasisYuma, Arizona
Faith Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Valley Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Foothills Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Morningside Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Faith Horizons Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Stone Ridge Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Old Order Mennonite ChurchYuma, Arizona
Grace Bible FellowshipYuma, Arizona
Calvary Temple of Christ
Yuma, Arizona
Maranatha Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Independent Lutheran ChurchYuma, Arizona
Community Christian ChurchYuma, Arizona
Church meeting in funeral chapelYuma, Arizona
Pentecostal ChurchWinterhaven, California
North Holtville Friends ChurchHoltville, California
Sierra Vista Baptist ChurchSierra Vista, Arizona
Hedgesville Baptist ChurchHedgesville, West Virginia
New Life Baptist ChurchWeston, West Virginia

 

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Book Review: Heaven is for Real

heaven is for real

In light of the recent repudiation of The Boy Who Came Back From 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 (link no longer active) in Imperial, Nebraska. A significant amount of time is spent detailing the day-to-day life of Todd Burpo, pastor. Burpo paints an all-too-typical picture of the ministry. Long hours, overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated. As a former pastor myself, I found Burpo’s story seemed quite familiar.

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 among 3 hospitals before the proper diagnosis was made. He almost died. Almost…

According to the Burpos, Heaven is for Real is a testimony to the power of prayer. Multiple illustrations throughout the book 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 Burpos’ case. First, the Burpos 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 the Burpo’s had to pay. What we do know is that God provided the Burpos with almost $23,000.00 in gifts and donations to be used for medical expenses.

After Colton was fully recovered, the Burpos 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 Burpos 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 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 consists of 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 time, 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 the Amazon.com book list.

From a 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.

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Book Review: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven

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.

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 StoryThe 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 on 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 a while, 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. As with 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, I found that 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 the idea of 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 [sic] 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.

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A Tour Through Our Yard January 15, 2015

I took a brief walk through our yard today. Brief, because there is about six inches of snow on the ground and I have no boots. Here are a few of the pictures I took while circling the house.

wood ornament

Brr. It’s cold and snowy out here. My bones feel like wood.

snow in boughs of pine tree

Snow in the boughs of the 50 foot pine tree that sits in our front yard.

japanese flowering cherry tree

Snow on Japanese Flowering Cherry Tree

Snow on our Japanese Flowering Cherry tree. It did not flower this year due to a late freeze and it dropped its leaves in the middle of the summer. We fear it is d-e-a-d. In about ten or so weeks we will know for sure. If it is dead, I plan to turn it into a woodpecker haven.

winter 3am ney ohio 2015

Winter 3 AM, Ney, Ohio 2015

Not related to the yard tour. I shot this photo a couple of nights ago at 3 AM. The sodium light gives the street a yellow tint. I shot this picture out of an open bedroom window. Thank you to Polly for holding the curtain back while standing there in her PJ’s freezing her ass off.

Our Winter Visitors

Polly and I are avid birdwatchers. What follows are several pictures of the birds that found their way to our feeders today.

female cardinal and sparrow

Male Cardinal, Sparrow in Pussy Willow

male cardinal 2

Male Cardinal on Bird Feeder

male cardinal

Male Cardinal Perched in Pussy Willow

male junco

Male Junco

male hairy woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker

male red bellied woodpecker

Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker

male red bellied woodpecker 2

Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker

male red bellied woodpecker 3

Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker

nuthatch

Nuthatch

Is it Time For Baseball? The Red’s Gnome Thinks So

cincinnati reds gnome

Cincinnati Reds Gnome

Is it time for baseball? I’m freezing out here!

In three weeks, the Super Bowl will be played, and two weeks later catchers and pitchers will report to spring training. As an avid baseball fan, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new season. Hope springs eternal, for the baseball fan. Maybe THIS year, the Cincinnati Reds will make it to the World Series. After a disappointing season last year, I hope that everyone is healthy and that Jay Bruce and Joey Votto return to form. I also hope that Marlon Byrd, a recent acquisition, will add some power and run production to the Red’s offense.

Here’s to hoping the Reds are sitting atop the Central Division come October 1st.

Winter and the Feral Cat

Six weeks ago, I wrote a post about a feral cat we were trying help. What follows is a pictorial update of how the cat is doing half way through winter. As you will see, he is quite sassy and fat. Several times a day, he wanders over to the cat house to get something to eat. Sometimes, he will stay for a few minutes, other times he stays for a few hours, especially if it is snowing.

His mother is doing well and she also frequents the cat house to find something to eat. The kitten is quite independent now, but, from time to time, I will see them chasing each other through the snow-covered yard. We also have a number of other feral cats that stop by at least once a day to feed at the Gerencser Buffet®.

feral kitten

Feral Kitten

black feral cat

Black Feral Cat

Our newest visitor. Eerie eyes that say, take my picture and you will have seven years of bad luck.

feral kitten 2

Feral Kitten

feral kitten 3

Feral Kitten

That’s Bethany’s feet in the background. She is the ONLY one that the cat will come close to.

feral kitten 4

Feral Kitten

feral kitten 1

Feral Kitten

feral kitten 6

Feral Kitten Watching a Cardinal

Oh, Mr Cardinal, please come just a little closer so I can eat you for lunch.

feral kitten 7

Hey, that Fat Redheaded Guy is Taking my Picture

feral kitten 8

Feral Kitten, What’s that Noise?

feral kitten 9

Feral Kitten

feral kitten 10

Feral Kitten