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.
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Todd Burpo is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church (link no longer active) in Imperial, Nebraska.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).
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.
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.
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.”
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 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 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.
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.
Jack Schaap’s father-in-law, Jack Hyles, had a long-running illicit sexual relationship with his secretary. The evidence against Hyles was overwhelming, yet the church rejected the evidence and Jack Hyles continued to pastor the church until his death in 2001. (Please read The Biblical Evangelist’s report on Jack Hyles)
David Hyles, the son of Jack Hyles and youth pastor of First Baptist Church, had numerous sexual relationships with women in the church. The church quietly sent him away to pastor another church, not telling the new church about his sexual proclivities, and he continued to have numerous sexual relationships with women in the new church.
Many people praised the church for publicly exposing Jack Schaap’s “sin.” This is the same church that ignored Jack Hyles’ “sin,” covered up David Hyles’ “sin,” and whitewashed numerous other scandals in the church and college, so forgive me if I don’t think they are acting “better” than the Catholic Church (as one commenter said).
The people of First Baptist Church were taught by Hyles and Schaap that if they didn’t see something it didn’t happen. They were taught that unless an allegation could be confirmed by two or more witnesses (Matthew 18) they were not to believe it. This kind of thinking resulted in a culture where “sin” was ignored or swept under the proverbial rug (a rug that is so high now that you have to walk up a five- foot hill to get into the church).
In general, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement abhors scandal and its members do everything they can to cover it up. More important than the sin or the victims is the church’s testimony. The church’s testimony must be protected at all costs, even if a pedophile in their midst is ignored , as was the case with Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.
For First Baptist Church of Hammond to out Jack Schaap, they had to have been backed into a corner without the option of covering it up or quietly making the “problem” go away. Calling in attorney David Gibbs to “manage” the crisis speaks volumes about depth of the scandal.
The root of the Jack Schaap scandal is found in the ministry, teaching, and doctrine of his predecessor, Jack Hyles. The remainder of this post will focus on Jack Hyles. It is impossible to understand the Jack Schaap story without first looking at Jack Hyles’ forty-two year ministry at First Baptist Church of Hammond (a church that was an American Baptist Church until Hyles pulled it out of the Convention a few years after he arrived there in 1959).
In its heyday, First Baptist Church of Hammond was the largest church in the United States (and at times, claimed to be the largest church in the world). The Church was built around two things: the bus ministry and Jack Hyles.
In 1973, the church saw attendances exceeding 25,000 people. At the center of this huge church was its pastor, Jack Hyles. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Jack Hyles was, as many of us described, the pope of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church movement. He authored numerous books with titles such as Let’s Go Soul Winning, Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church, Enemies of Soul Winning, The Hyles Church Manual, How to Rear Infants, How to Rear Children, How to Rear Teenagers, Satan’s Bid for Your Child, Marriage is a Commitment, Woman the Completer, and Blue Denim and Lace.
There is a hard-and-fast rule in the IFB movement: the greater the church attendance, the more authority the pastor is granted and the more weight his words have. I heard countless big name IFB pastors say, “until you have as many eggs in your basket as I do you have no right to criticize me.” Pastors with small churches were looked down on and were expected to shut up and learn from those whose baskets were overflowing with eggs.
From 1976 to 1989, I heard Jack Hyles preach numerous times. I traveled to a number of Sword of the Lord Conferences, often taking with me people from the churches I pastored. Hyles was a dynamic preacher, a real motivator. He used very little of the Bible in his preaching. His sermons were always topical or textual and were littered with personal stories and illustrations.
Hyles was a narcissist. Most of his stories and illustrations were about his own personal life and exploits. His stories about him and his mother are legendary.
Over time, as I became more and more dissatisfied with the IFB movement, I paid closer attention to the substance of Hyles’ sermons. In particular, I focused on the stories that Hyles told. I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic liar.
Hyles would often talk about how important and busy he was. In several sermons he talked about how many people he counseled every week. I sat down and did the math and I concluded it was physically impossible for Hyles to have counseled as many people each week as he claimed.
Hyles was a ruthless man. I watched him, during Q and A time, at a conference at the Newark Baptist Temple, dress down and belittle pastors for asking the “wrong” question. He refused to allow anyone to challenge his authority as the king of the IFB hill.
To understand the scandals at First Baptist Church in Hammond, we must understand the gospel that has been preached at First Baptist for over 50 years. It is the same gospel that is/was preached by men like Bob Gray of Texas, Bob Gray of Jacksonville, Curtis Hutson, Dennis Corle, and thousands of other IFB pastors.
Jack Hyles preached a bastardized version of the Christian gospel. The Hyles gospel has been labeled as decisional regeneration or one, two, three, repeat after me. I used to label the gospel of the IFB church movement as:
The only thing that mattered was winning souls. IFB Evangelist Dennis Corle told me one time that I should spend more time soul winning and less time studying in preparation to preach on Sunday.
In the IFB church, the key to church growth is to keep more people coming in the front door than are going out the back door. IFB churches are notorious for turning over their church memberships, especially when a pastor leaves and a new one comes in.
The Hyles gospel focused on praying the sinners prayer. Pray this prayer and you are saved. Good works? They were desired and even expected, but if saved people never exhibited any change in their lives they were still considered saved.
If a pastor dared suggest that new life in Christ meant a change of conduct, they were accused of preaching “works salvation” (the Lordship Salvation controversy). According to the Hyles gospel, it was all about praying the prayer, and once a person prayed the prayer they could NEVER EVER be lost again. This is why some people insist that I am still saved, even if I don’t want to be. Once God has you he never lets go of you.
The Hyles gospel filled churches with people who had made a mental assent to a set of propositional facts. Every year churches like First Baptist Church in Hammond and Longview Baptist Temple report thousands of people being saved. Most of these new converts stop attending after a short while, but this is of no consequence. They prayed the “prayer.” On to the next sinner in need of saving.
The IFB church movement is centered on men. Most IFB churches are pastored by one man who has total control of the church. Most IFB churches are congregational in name only, with the pastor being the autocratic king of the church.
Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and countless other big-name IFB traveling preachers routinely promote the notion of pastoral authority. The pastor, under the authority of Jesus and powered by the Holy Spirit, is the final authority in the church. He is the hub around which everything turns.
An IFB church is not known for their name but for who its pastor is. IFB church members routinely say, when asked about what church they attend, I go to Pastor So-and So’s church.
Churches aren’t known for what they believe or even the works they do. They are known for who their pastor is. When asked where he goes to Church, a Christian will often say “I go to Pastor Smith’s Church.”
The focus of everything is on the pastor. He is the mover and shaker. He is what powers the machine. Without him it all fails.
Christian TV, radio and publishing is all about the personalities within the Church. Name recognition is the name of the game.
Does anyone really believe Rod Parsley is a good writer? Yet, his books sell. Why? Name recognition.
Everything is focused on and culminates with the sermon and the preacher.
I had people drive 40 minutes to the church I pastored in SE Ohio. They loved my preaching. They thought I was the greatest preacher since the last guy they thought was wonderful. Really? As much as I think that I am a pretty good public speaker, they had to drive past 40 churches to get to the church I pastored. Not one of those churches had a preacher that could preach competently? ( Well maybe not, after hearing more than a few preachers.)
What happens when the pastor leaves the church? What happens when the personalities change, when a new preacher takes over? Strife. Division. People leave the church . Why? Because church became about the preacher rather than about Jesus and serving others.
Why is it the pastor’s name is on everything? The sign out front. The bulletin . Every piece of literature the church produces. If it is really is all about Jesus then why does it matter if anyone knows the pastor’s name?
Ah, but it does matter. Many Evangelical Christians are good capitalists (serving a socialist Jesus). They are consumers first and Christians second. They know people are “attracted” (the attractional method) to the church by the pastor, the programs, the building, etc.
They know the pastor becomes the face of their church. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is, and quite frankly, it is the church itself that must bear the blame for this.
The church members revel in the cult of personality. They love having a name- brand preacher. They watch Christian TV and listen to Christian radio because Pastor/Rev/Dr/Evangelist/Bishop/Apostle so-and so is on. Take away the names and it becomes as interesting as eating a no-name hamburger at a no-name restaurant surrounded by no-name people…
Is it any wonder IFB pastors and churches have the scandals they do? Members are taught to obey their pastor without question. He is the man of God. If he is doing something wrong God will chastise him.
This kind of thinking allows IFB pastors to commit adultery, molest children, and steal from the church without anyone ever knowing about it. I could spend the next two days writing about IFB pastors who have abused their place of authority and committed heinous acts against the people they pastored.
IFB churches think they are above the world and other churches because of what they believe. They are Bible believers and their pastors preach hard against sin. Because of this, they have a hard time believing that their pastor or any other noted preacher could ever commit sins like Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, David Hyles, and Bob Gray did.
May I present the practical side? There exists more molestation cases proportionately reported in the 42,000 churches of the Southern Baptist Convention than in the 22,000 independent Baptist churches. Consider the largest denomination in our nation, the Catholic Church, and then think on their sexual transgressions for a while. This is not to take lightly one person who is violated by a leader in a church.
Look carefully at the argument Gray is making here. The Southern Baptists and the Catholics are worse than us! Praise Jesus! Such thinking should sicken all of us.
Here is what I know about the IFB movement. They will wail and moan for a while, but, in a few weeks or months, the scandal will pass, and they will go back to “winning souls” and “preaching hard against sin.” It is only a matter of time before a-n-o-t-h-e-r scandal rocks the IFB movement. Until the IFB movement repudiates its corruption of the Christian gospel and changes how their churches are governed, there is no hope of meaningful change.
Change is not likely to come because of their literalism and their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Armed with certainty, knowing they are right, they will continue to preach a corrupted gospel and allow narcissistic pastors to rule over them. Why? Because, it IS in the Bible…
When people think of Christian fundamentalism they most often think of the fundamentalism found in Evangelicalism and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. However, as the following story will show, fundamentalism is alive and well in the Roman Catholic church.
My four-year-old daughter Ella received a doll from a relative for Christmas that was wearing a fluffy pink skirt and a spaghetti strap tank-top covered by a sweater. To my daughter’s wild surprise, she also received the same outfit as her doll, in her own size. She put on her new outfit immediately to match her doll. I call them “the twinsy-bops,” since my daughter proceeded to try to wear the same outfit as her doll for the few days following Christmas.
Although I love the doll’s and my daughter’s outfits in their completion, I don’t allow my daughter or her dolls to wear spaghetti straps without something covering the tank-top. Some may think I go overboard or even call me a prude, but I am parenting with an advantage. I have inside knowledge of the working relationships between parents and their teenage daughters. Since I have been speaking to teenagers and their parents for the past 15 years, I have gained an extensive knowledge of the kind of drop-down-drag-out battles parents have with their teenage girls and their wardrobes.
One of those battles is over spaghetti strap tank-tops being worn without something else covering them. Now, I’ll admit, when my four-year-old attempts to wear the new spaghetti strap tank-top, she doesn’t look immodest. She still manages to look innocent and dignified. So, why won’t I allow my daughter to begin wearing these types of tank-tops at age four? Because the battle she and I will inevitably have over tank tops will be a lot easier to win if the standard never changes. The same rings true for two-piece bathing suits and other clothes that will not protect her dignity and mystery when she is at a more womanly stage in her life…
For those of us raised in the IFB and Evangelical church, Pritchard’s argument is quite familiar. Better to win the battle over clothing when a child is young and impressionable than when she is a teenager. Better to teach her “modesty” at age four than try to get her to dress “modestly” at age fifteen.
A couple days later, we went to enjoy taco Tuesday at a locally owned restaurant in town. We were sitting at our table waiting for our food when Ella grabbed my arm and pulled me close to her. She was pointing to the hostess with the very womanly figure wearing a spaghetti strap tank-top that kept sliding up to reveal her stomach and was accentuating and revealing her large chest. Ella whispered in my ear, “Mom, her mystery isn’t protected. She is wearing a spaghetti-strap and it’s not modest.”
Ella saw it for herself. It clicked for my four-year-old. She began to have a small amount of judgment in her voice as she continued to talk about this woman. I explained gently, “Ella, we can’t judge her or talk about her behind her back. She may not know her beautiful mystery and why she should protect it. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal it to her, so she knows just how special she is.” Ella was satisfied with my answer and agreed to pray for her.
I meet many parents who have allowed their daughters to wear spaghetti-straps, tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits, and other clothing when they were young when their figures hadn’t emerged, only to find out there comes a time when they become extremely uncomfortable with their beautiful, womanly, innocent, teenage daughters wearing them in public. Fathers are by far the ones who cringe the most when they speak to me. They know teen-age boys. Every father was a teenage boy once. They cringe at the way their daughters are dressing, but the fight is so big, they often back down and let their girls wear what they want.
As a parent of six children, I know the importance of teaching children to dress appropriately. However, there is a difference between appropriate and puritanical. Pritchard goes far beyond appropriate and teaches her daughter a way of thinking that will result in her thinking her now-womanly body is sinful and must be covered up lest poor, helpless men take sexual advantage of her.
Pritchard, with her silly objection to her daughter wearing a top with spaghetti straps (and tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits), is making sure her daughter will grow up to be a sexually repressed Catholic woman. Instead of teaching her daughter to dress appropriately, she is planting the seed of sexual repression.
Her ban of certain clothing will do little to help her daughter when she becomes a sexually aware woman. Silly talk about a woman’s “mystery” will not keep her daughter from desiring what is natural: sex. While we can certainly debate whether it is a good idea for teenagers to have sex, the fact of the matter is they do:
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the year 2007, 35% of US high school students were currently sexually active and 47.8% of US high school students reported having had sexual intercourse. This percentage has decreased slightly since 1991..
Self-report surveys suggest that half of all 15- to 19-year-olds have had oral sex. That percentage rises to 70% by the time they turn 19, and equal numbers of boys and girls participate. Research indicating that oral sex is less risky to teens’ emotional and physical well being than vaginal sex has been advanced; researchers at the University of California do not believe this conclusion is warranted. They found that oral sex, as well as vaginal sex, was associated with negative consequences. Of adolescents engaging in oral sex only, girls were twice as likely as boys to report feeling bad about themselves and nearly three times as likely to feel used. Despite their behaviors, 90% of adolescents “agree that most young people have sex before they are really ready.”
The average age of first sexual intercourse in the United States is 17.0 for males and 17.3 for females, and this has been rising in recent years. The percentage of teens who are waiting longer to have sex has been increasing. For those teens who have had sex, 70% of girls and 56% of boys said that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner, while 16% of girls and 28% of boys report losing their virginity to someone they had just met or who was just a friend.
Pritchard belongs to a sect that is known for sexual repression and the denial of natural human sexuality. The Church also condemns masturbation and birth control. One would think if the Church wanted unmarried Catholics to remain sexually pure that they would encourage masturbation as an acceptable release of sexual tension. One would also think that the church would encourage Catholic women to use birth control since it would help eliminate the need for abortion. But they don’t. I wonder how different the discussion and rules would be if women were allowed to have a say in the teachings of the Church?
“Guttmacher’s analysis of data from the federal government’s National Survey of Family Growth found that the vast majority of American women of reproductive age (15–44) — including 99% of all sexually experienced women and 98% of those who identify themselves as Catholic — have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point. Women may be classified as sexually experienced regardless of whether they are currently sexually active, using contraceptives, pregnant, trying to get pregnant or postpartum.
“By their early 20s, some 79% of never-married women — and 89% of never-married Catholic women — have had sex. (Presumably, all married women have done so.) In short, most American women (including Catholics) have had sex by their early 20s, and virtually all of them have used contraceptives other than natural family planning.
It is now known that the best way to combat unplanned teen pregnancy is to provide sex education and easy access to birth control. Just say no because God says so, is not a plan. Yet, Pritchard’s church wants to deny teens and unmarried women the means to keep from getting pregnant.
Knowing how the Catholic church views human sexuality helps to explain Pritchard’s puritanical obsession with her four-year old daughter’s clothing. She doesn’t want her daughter to grow up to be one of those “easy” Catholic girls whom boys are fond of talking about.
Instead of teaching her daughter to embrace her sexuality and prepare her for life as a sexual being, she is teaching her that a woman’s body should be covered up so her “mystery” is not revealed. This is no different from the teaching of the IFB church, with its prohibitions against wearing any form of clothing that reveals the female shape and body. The reason? The teens and men of the church are pathetic, helpless creatures who are little more than dogs seeking bitches in heat.
Instead of teaching accountability and responsibility, religious zealots such as Pritchard teach repression and impotence. Sexually awake young women wearing spaghetti straps is not the problem. Any teen boy or man who can’t sexually control himself if he sees a woman wearing a top with spaghetti straps is pathetic. Men, regardless of their age, need to be responsible for their sexual behavior and the manner in which they treat women. Women should not be forced to manage not only their own sexuality but the sexuality of men who can’t help themselves. They are not the gatekeepers, the protectors of the “mystery.” Men need to own their sexuality and act appropriately (as the Catholic church needs to own its cover-up and protection of the real predators that roam the sanctuary and rectory: Catholic priests).
In a 2004 article titled “The Forgotten Virtue: Modesty In Dress,” author Monsignor Charles M. Mangan lays out a basic guide founded upon principles of modesty set by Pope Pius XII in 1957. These values are still valid today and I’ve found them to be very helpful in determining what’s modest and what’s not.
With Mangan’s help, I will offer specific guidelines on dressing modestly.
To dress modestly is to avoid deliberately causing sexual excitement in oneself or one’s neighbor (Mangan).
The objective of modesty is to refrain from wearing clothing that causes lustful thoughts, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When dressing modestly, Christian girls should avoid clothes that reveal, enhance or highlight certain body parts.
Bust: Avoid tight or see-through shirts or tops without appropriate undergarments, and tops with low plunging necklines that reveal a cleavage. If you have a large bust, then you should also stay away from spaghetti straps and strapless designs.
Thighs: When it comes to skirts, select those that are no shorter than above the knee. Make sure you account for how high the skirt rises when you sit. When it comes to shorts, opt for those that don’t expose too much of the thigh.
Back: Refrain from wearing backless shirts or dresses that plunge in the back. These styles are designed to look sexy.
Stomach: Shirts and tops should always cover the stomach.
Butt: Avoid tight skirts, shorts, dresses and pants that reveal the shape and curve of the buttocks. I also would avoid pants with words printed on the butt, since they are designed to cause the eyes to gaze at that area of your body.
I added “butt” to Mangan’s list because it often causes lustful thoughts in men when highlighted by tight shorts, pants, dresses and skirts.
There usually are no exceptions to the above rules in the case of everyday clothing. When it comes to athletic wear, make sure that your ensemble doesn’t look sexy.
Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are ‘so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice’ (Mangan quoting Pope Pius XII).
In addition to these guidelines, I believe that, in some instances, modesty is subjective. One item of clothing may be immodest on one person, but modest on another. For example, spaghetti straps can look both modest and immodest, depending on the size of the person’s bust. However, modesty in this case can usually be attained by adding a cardigan or light jacket.
Dear reader, what do you think? Is Pritchard correct in not allowing her four-year old to wear a top with spaghetti straps? You already know what I think. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.