Carey S Thomas Library
Library Home Databases Reference Library Information E-Books
 
 
Christianity Today
News provided by ChristianityToday.com
You Probably Love (or Hate) 'Heaven Is For Real' for All the Wrong Reasons

It's not a travel guide. And Colton Burpo isn't the first Christian to have an ecstatic experience.

As death approaches, he leaves his body behind. Angels usher him out of the only world he's ever known and up into a land filled with beautiful flowers and trees. He arrives at a city whose walls beam with light.

The first person he meets is Jesus, clothed all in white. The Lord's face projects a youthful radiance, and he greets the new arrival with warmth and tenderness. The visitor then encounters a parade of faces from earth. He doesn't know them, but they are all excited to finally meet him.

Eventually, this heavenly expedition ends, and he awakens back on earth. His experience is recorded in a wildly popular book read around the world.

No, this isn't the story of Colton Burpo, the four-year-old boy who supposedly traveled to heaven during an emergency appendectomy. It's the story of Saturus, a third-century Christian martyr. Saturus recorded this ecstatic experience shortly before he was brutalized by wild animals and then killed by gladiators in celebration of Emperor Geta's birthday in A.D. 209. His account is found in The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions, one of the oldest Christian texts.

Most 21st-century Christians have never heard of Saturus. But Colton's experience has become something of a phenomenon. Heaven Is for Real, his father's account of the uncanny event, has become a mainstay of contemporary evangelical apologetics. It's sold over eight million copies and has recently been turned into a hit movie.

Yet Colton's story is hardly unique. Eight million people in America claim to have had a "near-death experience" (NDE), a term coined in 1975 by physician Raymond Moody. NDE patients tell eerily similar tales: a dark tunnel, ...

Continue reading...

End Missionary Debt!

Its the new mantra at many colleges, universities, and nonprofits.

When she graduatedfrom Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Karen Johnson believed God had called her to Japan. Two years later, Johnson still lives in Minnesota, working multiple jobs as she strives to pay off $43,000 in student loans.

"I needed this degree to be able to do [missions work]," said Johnson, who majored in biblical and theological studies and youth ministry. "But my degree has held me back."

Because of binds like Johnson's, colleges, universities, and other programs have begun initiatives to make sure student debt is not a barrier to missions work. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, for example, will soon put millions of dollars toward forgiving student loans for missionaries.

Many schools are starting or enhancing loan repayment programs "because the landscape has changed dramatically," said Luke Womack, founder and executive director of the GO Fund. Launched in 2012, the nonprofit helps graduates of any school, requiring only that they minister to unreached people groups. "The rate of tuition continues to skyrocket each year," he noted.

In the three decades since 1983, average tuition and fees at private four-year institutions rose by 153 percent, according to the College Board. And according to the Project on Student Debt, seven in ten 2012 college graduates had student loans, with an average debt of $29,400.

"What [mission agencies] told us over and over is that the number-one barrier to getting people to live and work overseas was debt," said Johnnie Moore, senior vice president for communications at Liberty. "They called it the black hole."

Liberty's program launches in May 2014 and has no cap on funding or ...

Continue reading...

Guard Kills 3 Americans at Christian Hospital in Afghanistan

Pediatrician "felt called" to leave Chicago's Lawndale Christian Health Center for Kabul.

Three Americans—including a Christian doctor from Chicago—were killed Thursday morning outside a Kabul hospital after an Afghan security guard shot them.

The attack occurred at the CURE International Hospital, a Christian hospital specializing in pediatrics and women's health. The victims included a father and son who were visiting the hospital, as well as Jerry Umanos, a pediatrician who worked at the hospital. Two other people were injured in the shooting.

According to a CURE statement (full text below):

The shooter, who was not an employee of CURE, has been identified as a member of the security detail assigned to the hospital, shot himself after the attack. He was initially treated at the CURE Hospital and has now been transferred out of our facility into the custody of the government of Afghanistan.

Umanos worked for Chicago's Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC) for 16 years before moving to Afghanistan with his wife, reports the Chicago Tribune. According to his biography on LCHC's website, Umanos worked at the only two training programs for Afghan doctors in the country.

According to a fall 2012 LCHC newsletter:

But in 2005, [Umanos] and his wife, Jan, felt called to move to Afghanistan. Today, Dr. Umanos works in Kabul at a community health center and at a children's hospital, which are the only two training programs for Afghan doctors in the country.
...

This past summer, Dr. Umanos returned to practice at LCHC which he still considers to be his US home. He will travel back to Afghanistan later in October. Dr. Umanos says he is so grateful to LCHC, because it has provided an incredible training ground for his work overseas.

The newsletter also notes that "over ...

Continue reading...

Why I Call Random People on Twitter

Twitter is not only for Christian in-fighting—it can be used to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ.

When I am on a long drive, I will sometimes tweet out an offer.

Basically, I say, "Hey, if you are a small church pastor (or church planter, college leader, student, or whatever else in that tweet), and you need some advice, encouragement, and prayer, send me a Direct Message."

Then, though I normally don't read Direct Messages, I monitor them and call in the order received.

So, here is why.

1. First, I cannot take all advice calls I'd like to.

I cannot keep up with DMs (since they are filled with spam), and most phone calls have to be handled by my staff.

I mostly encourage pastors and give advice through conferences and books. It's the only way I can do my job and stay happily married and be a good dad.

However, I love taking the time to randomly serve pastors and church leaders. I trust that the Holy Spirit has set up the divine appointments. And, I assure you, He does.

2. Second, I am surprised at how encouraged people are at my call.

Since I put the tweet up and take it down quickly, I can usually manage the 15-20 numbers that show up in an hour or two.

I've prayed with a pastor in a hospital room as his wife was dying next to him. I've given advice to seminary students about how to take their next step into a ministry role. And, almost all the time, they are blessed, but I get way more blessed by their response.

I took a late night snapshot (note the time) of the last time I did this.

3. Third, it reminds me that ministry is often hard but Jesus is always enough.

Most of the people I call are in a tough spot. Maybe they need advice or prayer, since that is often how I couch the offer.

The fact is, it is easy to get detached from real-world pastoring (and ...

Continue reading...

You Probably Love (or Hate) 'Heaven Is For Real' for All the Wrong Reasons

It's not a travel guide. And Colton Burpo isn't the first Christian to have an ecstatic experience.

As death approaches, he leaves his body behind. Angels usher him out of the only world he's ever known and up into a land filled with beautiful flowers and trees. He arrives at a city whose walls beam with light.

The first person he meets is Jesus, clothed all in white. The Lord's face projects a youthful radiance, and he greets the new arrival with warmth and tenderness. The visitor then encounters a parade of faces from earth. He doesn't know them, but they are all excited to finally meet him.

Eventually, this heavenly expedition ends, and he awakens back on earth. His experience is recorded in a wildly popular book read around the world.

No, this isn't the story of Colton Burpo, the four-year-old boy who supposedly traveled to heaven during an emergency appendectomy. It's the story of Saturus, a third-century Christian martyr. Saturus recorded this ecstatic experience shortly before he was brutalized by wild animals and then killed by gladiators in celebration of Emperor Geta's birthday in A.D. 209. His account is found in The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions, one of the oldest Christian texts.

Most 21st-century Christians have never heard of Saturus. But Colton's experience has become something of a phenomenon. Heaven Is for Real, his father's account of the uncanny event, has become a mainstay of contemporary evangelical apologetics. It's sold over eight million copies and has recently been turned into a hit movie.

Yet Colton's story is hardly unique. Eight million people in America claim to have had a "near-death experience" (NDE), a term coined in 1975 by physician Raymond Moody. NDE patients tell eerily similar tales: a dark tunnel, ...

Continue reading...

Morning Roundup 4/24/14

Defending Short Term Missions Trips; Christian Britain; Bible Belt Stereotypes

In Defense of Short Term Missions TripsJ.D. Greear

Helpful article from my friend J.D. Having just returned from a short term mission trip to Brazil, I'm with him.

Be sure to read more on the issue here and get my TEDS colleague Robert Priest's book here.

What's behind Cameron's embrace of 'Christian Britain'?—Ian Evans

I don't think that nations can be Christians, but...

What the Bible Belt Stereotypes Don't Tell YouMichelle DeRusha

Here's a fascinating look at where I live (the South) compared to where I'm from (the urban Northeast).

Download this week's edition of The Exchange Podcast with Brad Lomenick.

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, joins Ed Stetzer from the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn., to discuss his story, the new direction of the organization, cultural engagement, his book ReFocus and the new documentary Irreplaceable.

Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God's design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles. In this clip, Jim talks about fighting poverty at its core. Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

Check out Jim's book, ReFocus.

Continue reading...

Israeli Military's Call-Up of Arab Christians Labeled 'Intimidation'

Attempt at increasing recruits ten-fold occurs against backdrop of stalled peace talks, Hamas-PLO reconciliation.

Israel has announced that it will send call-up papers for military service in the nation's army to all Arab Christians in the country.

The move, which escalates an ongoing debate, marks the first time that Israel has solicited volunteers for its military among its Arab Christian population. Until now, the military has conscripted mainly Israeli Jews and some members of the country's minority Druze population. Palestinians living in Israel are referred to as Israeli Arabs.

But a prominent Arab Christian engaged in reconciliation work believes many in his community see the development as "intimidation" by their government.

"The way people see it here is intimidation. You receive a letter from the army and they would like you to volunteer for the army—it's intimidation," said Salim Munayer, executive director of Jerusalem-based reconciliation ministry Musalaha.

Some people, especially in the Galilee area, see it as an attempt by the Israeli government "to divide Muslims and Christians," Munayer told CT.

"They believe the Israeli government wants to separate the Christian community from its Palestinian identity. That's how leaders in the north of the country see it," he said.

Although Israel says military service will remain voluntary for its estimated 130,000 Christian Arabs, as it is for more than 1.3 million Muslim Arabs, only Christians will receive the official call-up papers.

But Israel Army radio reported that commanders hope that the sending of call-up papers will help increase volunteers from around 100 Christian enlistees per year at present to 1,000.

An Arab lawmaker, Bassel Ghattas, of the communist Hadash party has urged Christians ...

Continue reading...

God's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber

After I surrendered to the FBI, I surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

It didn't take a moment of genius introspection to realize that doing life my way had led to nothing but disaster and destruction. It was the summer of 2009, and I had just completed an almost 11-year sentence in federal prison for my role in five bank robberies I had committed as a foolish young man. After my release, I moved into an apartment with the love of my life, Annie. Two weeks later I proposed. One week after that, we learned she was pregnant.

At age 35, I was about to become a husband and father. We had no money and no real plan for our future.

It may terrify some CT readers to know that I grew up in a Christian home in rural Nebraska with parents who had started a local church. When my high-school basketball career faded and college and the military fell through, I was left with a complete lack of purpose, susceptible to addiction and depression. When my equally adrift best friend suggested we rob a bank, it struck me as a legitimate idea.

We robbed five banks, with guns, and scared the tellers and patrons half to death. I knew it was wrong. Still, I couldn't stop the easy money and party lifestyle that large sums of unearned money brought me. It didn't stop until the FBI tackled me inside the lobby of a DoubleTree Hotel in Omaha. A year later, I stood with shaky legs and a trembling spirit before a federal judge, who sentenced me to more than 12 years in federal prison. I was 23.

Learning to Love the Law

Prison is not a place for personal growth. But there were small graces. To escape the men around me, I took a job in the prison law library. When I wasn't shelving books, I began learning the law. What I found was that I really enjoyed the process of solving legal puzzles for my ...

Continue reading...

The Uneasy Conscience of a Christian Boxing Trainer

Why it may (or may not) be okay to watch adults beat up on one another.

On April 12, 2014, Manny Pacquiao entered the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to fulfill what he believes is his God-given calling: to beat another man—in this case, opponent Tim Bradley—to bloody unconsciousness or exhaustion. Pacquiao met his match that night—he arrived at the post-fight press conference with 32 stitches in his left eyebrow—but a unanimous decision from the judges declared him the victor.

A Filipino world-class professional boxer, Pacquiao has been called a "Bible-quoting maniac" by Rick Warren, and attributes his stunning 55-5 record to Providence. When an ESPN reporter asked in 2012 whether faith makes him a better boxer, Pacquiao said, "If God is with you, who can be against you? All things are possible with God."

Pacquiao is hardly the first professional athlete to bring God into the game. But boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA)—known as "combat sports" wherein man-on-man violence is the end goal—raise unique ethical questions about whether certain games are incompatible with Christ's teachings. Meanwhile, some ministry leaders have used ultimate fighting to attract young men in a "chickified" culture. "Jesus Didn't Tap" is the name of a Christian MMA clothing line, as well as a mantra for a high-octane masculinity espoused by the likes of Mark Driscoll. Guts Church in Tulsa held an annual "fight night" amateur boxing match for six years until a 24-year-old participant died in 2011. "Human cockfighting," as one senator has called MMA, draws millions of dollars and spectators—as well as concern over violence for violence's sake.

CT invited "boxing philosopher" ...

Continue reading...

The Battle of the Bible Films

A decade after The Passion, can filmmakers bring an artistic twist to Scripture without alienating moviegoers?

It's not often that moviegoers can go to the multiplex and catch a film that begins with Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. But this spring, many theaters are showing two films that start at the very beginning—of everything.

In Son of God, which came out in late February and grossed more than $56 million during its first month, the apostle John recites a slightly modified version of the first chapter of his Gospel. It emphasizes both Jesus' preexistence and his presence at specific Old Testament scenes. Each scene is illustrated with a clip from last year's hit History Channel miniseries The Bible.

Down the hall, the title sequence for Noah—which earned $44 million when it opened in late March—mixes the story of the Fall and Cain's murder of Abel with apocryphal elements such as a group of fallen angels known as the Watchers, who are described in the noncanonical Book of Enoch.

Those aren't the only Bible films hitting the big screen in 2014. In December, Ridley Scott, who revived the ancient epic in secular form with Gladiator, will put the finishing touches on Exodus: Gods and Kings, a 3D movie starring Christian Bale as Moses.

Together, the three films—produced by very different filmmakers with very different sensibilities—would seem to herald the return of a long-neglected genre. But the films themselves don't necessarily resemble Bible movies of the past, and it's not yet clear whether they will inspire more in the near future.

Films based on the Bible were very popular during the silent era, when dramatic realism took a back seat to iconography. They regained popularity during the postwar boom, reaching their peak with the 1959 film Ben-Hur and ...

Continue reading...

Watch and Wait

Tarrying with Christ and the fearful dying.

For years and for complicated reasons, my friend of solitary temperament suffered privately with cancer and its harsh remediations. Pride, pain, denial, fatigue—all contributed to her debilitation—and fear, toward the end, once the medical professionals assaulted her denial and spoke only of comfort.

She said she wasn't afraid of death but of dying, not of meeting her Maker but of traversing the valley, crossing the bar. She had come to the end of her human resources and knew she had to throw herself toward the mercy of God, or maybe it was a more passive letting herself fall into the abyss of grace.

In an attempt to alleviate her fear, I left home somewhat impulsively at 7:30 in the morning to visit her, newly embedded in a residential hospice. She was heavily medicated, not speaking or eating, and hardly drinking, receiving no tubal hydration. I expected to return home within the hour, but when I found her alone, I stayed until early afternoon, when her family arrived.

I sang hymns and gospel songs that I had memorized as a child, sometimes improvising new lines. Though it was Lent, I sang the off-season Gloria and the all-season Sanctus: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord." In an alcove, I found coffee refills. I hadn't thought to eat breakfast, and by 10:30 a.m., I was hungry. In silences between songs, I carried on a conversation with myself.

Just go out and find a snack.

No. Remember Jesus' Gethsemane line: "Can you not watch with me for one hour?" Or with a dying friend for one morning?

I held off, claiming the consciously chosen hunger as a form of discipline, though I wasn't sure why my discomfort held any meaning beyond my body's chemistry.

I've fasted only ...

Continue reading...

Review: Heaven Is for Real

A toddlers report that he has visited heaven is met with skepticism from everyone but his father.

mpaa rating:PGGenre:DramaDirected By: Randall Wallace Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale Theatre Release:April 16, 2014 by For thematic material including some medical situations.

I believe heaven is for real. Allow me to get that out of the way up front. About the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, I am as confident as I can be regarding any doctrine that is ultimately an article of faith.

But about Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo's book chronicling his son Colton's emergency appendectomy and subsequent claim that he had visited heaven, I am a skeptic. It's awkward but necessary that I tell you that before I explain the ways in which I thought Randall Wallace's adaptation of Burpo's book improves upon its source material, and where, perhaps, the film may frustrate readers expecting less ambiguity and more vindication.

The film depicts many events from Burpo's book, though it obscures the timeline between Colton's operation and the first time he mentions to his father that he visited heaven. Gradually, under increasingly leading interrogations from his father, Colton reports having sat on Jesus's lap, seeing many animals, having angels sing to him, meeting Todd's grandfather, and, finally, meeting his own unborn sister, of whom he purportedly had no previous knowledge.

This compression is important because regardless of the content of Colton's memory, his level of recall seems contrary to the way most research demonstrates human memory actually operates. (For a good summary of social-science research on memory, see chapter three of Chabris's and Simon's The Invisible Gorilla).

Once Colton begins sharing his experience, the film deviates from the book more in tone than in substance. In his book, any doubts Todd has about the authenticity of Colton's experience are minimized. "By the time we rolled across the South Dakota ...

Continue reading...

Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon

If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.

1. Don't say Jesus died when he was 33 years old.

The common assertion seems reasonable that if Jesus "began his ministry" when he "was about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23) and engaged in a three-year ministry (John mentions three Passovers, and there might have been a fourth one), then he was 33 years old at the time of his death. However, virtually no scholar believes Jesus was actually 33 when he died. Jesus was born before Herod the Great issued the decree to execute "all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (Matt. 2:16, ESV) and before Herod died in the spring of 4 B.C. If Jesus was born in the fall of 5 or 6 B.C., and if we remember that we don't count the "0" between B.C. and A.D., then Jesus would have been 37 or 38 years old when he died in the spring of A.D. 33 (as we believe is most likely). Even if Jesus died in the year A.D. 30 (the only serious alternative date), he would have been 34 or 35, not 33 years old. No major doctrine is affected by this common misconception. But don't damage your credibility by confidently proclaiming "facts" from the pulpit that are not true.

2. Don't explain the apparent absence of a lamb at the Last Supper by only saying Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb.

While it is gloriously true that Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), this does not mean there was no physical paschal lamb at the Lord's Supper. In fact, there almost certainly was: "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb [pascha] had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and prepare the Passover ...

Continue reading...

Copyright 2014, Christianity Today