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Heaven Book with DVD by Randy Alcorn
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's review
Mar 09, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: church-and-community
Read in January, 2010

Have to say this book was largely a 476-page exercise in begging-the-question. Alcorn begins by assuming that the New Jerusalem of Revelation and the New Heavens/New Earth of Isaiah describe the final state of heaven and then deduces virtually everything about heaven from those axioms. If he’s wrong about those passages, then the book could only be about twenty pages long.

The problem is that Isaiah’s description of the New Earth still includes death: “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed” (Is. 65:20). Though Alcorn cites the latter chapters of Isaiah to prove the final state of heaven over fifty times, he avoids this verse, except for one parenthetical dismissal of it (323). But if there’s death in “heaven” then it’s not the final state; it’s something else.

In the same way, if Isaiah wasn’t speaking of the final state, then, we shouldn’t assume that John was speaking of heaven when he invoked Isaiah’s language at the end of Revelation. Alcorn repeatedly insists on literalism to make his case, but he doesn’t live up to it. John describes the New Jerusalem as a city and a bride. John sees “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 21:9). But Alcorn has to ignore that literalism to only embrace the literalism of a city. In addition, notice death and sin lurk outside the New Jerusalem: “they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie” (Rev. 21:26,27). If this were the final state of heaven, how could there be any fear that sin and abominations could enter it?

I certainly don’t object to Alcorn’s take on heaven because of any “Christoplatonism” – i.e., the view that denigrates the resurrection and makes heaven purely spiritual, with no eating, drinking, dwelling, working, playing, etc. I believe we will do all those things in heaven in true bodies, and, like Alcorn, I believe the final state of heaven will be on a restored earth. So what’s the beef?

The beef is that forcing all these texts which are really about the church on earth into the final state alone distorts the whole calling of the gospel, distorts the calling of the church. The church is supposed to be heaven on earth. We’re not supposed to wait for Christ to fix it all in the final state. He gave that job to us: that’s the Sermon on the Mount. We are the ones who pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus brought the “kingdom of heaven” to earth. That’s the whole point of His mission. The cross and resurrection initiated the new world promised in Isaiah. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and started New Heavens and New Earth then. Jesus said the church was that “city on a hill” to the world. And when Christ and the Spirit have created that kind of just church community pictured in Isaiah, then we will face the final judgment, when that church that has followed the OT and Jesus’ path in caring for the weak and marginal will enter into greater glory (Matthew 25:31ff), the final state.

But notice if you sequester all the church’s glorious duties off into the future state alone, then the church here and now becomes an irrelevant, intellectual club, like most conservative evangelical churches today. We firmly believe our job is only to get individual bodies into heaven, and we read most of the NT, especially Romans, as instructions about how to get into heaven, when in fact the NT message is much richer and more challenging than that (to get a fun shock try reading Romans as if it isn’t about heaven but more like Habakkuk and Isaiah). If we’re just an intellectual club then we’re reduced to cheap grace. And Alcorn gives us that cheap grace that prevails in conservative evangelical churches. How does Alcorn assure us that we’ll make it into heaven? His answer is purely intellectual: “Make the conscious decision to accept Christ’s sacrificial death on your behalf” (36) Isn’t it at all strange that Jesus doesn’t talk this way? And, as expected, Alcorn has to warn us against works: “Those who assume their religious activities alone will get them into Heaven will have a terrible surprise ahead” (36) – as if the promoters of cheap grace won’t be even more shocked.

Bonhoeffer was on to simple NT truth: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace....Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system....An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins....Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.”
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Comments (showing 1-3)

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message 3: by X (new) - added it

X Jesus the Christ is Lord

John Martindale Good review, I liked the book, but I do see your point.

message 1: by Boyd (new)

Boyd Not dure what "cheap grace" might be since the very term means "gift" which obviously comes at no cost whatsoever. I suppose he might mean the gift itslef is "cheap".... eternal life is cheap? Perhaps he mens low purchase price..... Christ's purging and death on the cross were a low purchase price? Ad to the extent he might mean the servantaction we are to pursue that is not a cost but a response.

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