An Outstanding Book About Heaven
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries located in Gresham, Oregon.
He served as a pastor for 14 years before forming EPM in 1990. He has also served as an adjunct professor at Multnomah Bible College and Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.
Mr. Alcorn is the author of over 20 theological books and several novels. He is married and is the father of two married daughters. He enjoys spending time with his family, biking, playing tennis, doing research, and reading.
Randy Alcorn's book that is simply entitled, Heaven, is must reading for all Christians. It dispels many long-held myths while underlining some overlooked and misunderstood biblical truths.
The author starts making his point on the dedication page where he dedicates the book to a long list of departed saints "and countless others who departed 'prematurely' (yet in God's good time) to a world far greater than this one but far less than the one to come, which all of us who know King Jesus will behold together, slack-jawed, on the New Earth's first morning." Now, that's what I call a mouthful of a dedication!
His Basic Thesis
In this amazing dedicatory sentence, Mr. Alcorn makes one of the major points of his book — namely, that the current Heaven where God resides will not be the Heaven where the Redeemed will live eternally. The current Heaven is located in "the third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2), an undisclosed spot somewhere in our universe or an adjacent universe. But the eternal Heaven, where the Redeemed will live forever with God will be located on a new earth — this earth renovated, refreshed and perfected by fire.
Needless to say, this fundamental biblical truth comes as a shock to most Christians. That's because most of us have grown up under preaching that has been "Christoplatonized," as Mr. Alcorn would put it (page 52). What he means by this term is that Christian theologians from the time of St. Augustine in the 5th Century have interpreted end time prophecies concerning Heaven as if they were written by Greek philosophers instead of Hebrew prophets.
The Impact of Greek Philosophy
Plato believed that material things, including the human body and the earth are inherently evil, while immaterial things such as the soul are good. This viewpoint is thoroughly unbiblical. The Bible teaches that the creation was originally perfect, that it was corrupted by the sin of Man, but that it will one day be redeemed to its original perfection. God loves His creation, and He intends to refresh it by "making all things new" (Revelation 21:5).
Being heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, Augustine spiritualized the biblical concept of a new earth to mean a nonliteral, spiritual Heaven. Subsequently, the Church came to embrace this "spiritual view" that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is a disembodied spiritual state.
Mr. Alcorn summarizes the impact of Christoplatonism by saying it "has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth... If we believe, even subconsciously, that bodies and the earth and material things are unspiritual, even evil, then we will inevitably reject or spiritualize any biblical revelation about our bodily resurrection or the physical characteristics of the New Earth" (page 52).
How to Grasp Heaven
Mr. Alcorn emphasizes over and over again that the eternal Heaven is going to be a tangible, material world located on this earth after it is renovated. He points out that when the Eternal State begins, the Bible says God will "make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). It does not say that He will make new things.
Therefore, if you want to get a feel of what Heaven will be like, the author urges you to look around and observe your environment. He argues that you must understand "that in order to get a picture of Heaven... you don't need to look up at the clouds; you simply need to look around you and imagine what all this [world] would be like without sin and death and suffering and corruption" (page 17).
The Necessity of the Earth's Redemption
In fact, the author argues that God must redeem the current earth to keep it from being remembered "as a graveyard of sin and failure" (page 137). The restoration of this earth, producing the New Earth of eternity, will "justify the old earth's disaster," making good out of it, "putting it in perspective" (page 137). In short, "it will preserve and perpetuate earth's original design and heritage" (page 137). These conclusions prompt Mr. Alcorn to declare: "God is the ultimate salvage artist. He loves to restore things to their original condition" (page 89).
Quotes from Randy Alcorn's Book
"The predominant belief that the ultimate Heaven God prepares for us will be unearthly could not be more unbiblical. Earth was made for people to live on, and people were made to live on Earth" (page 91).
"The idea of Earth and Heaven becoming one is explicitly biblical. Christ will make Earth into Heaven and Heaven into Earth. Just as the wall that separates God and Mankind is torn down in Jesus, so too the wall that separates Heaven and Earth will be forever demolished" (page 101).
"We must distinguish the biblical promise of seeing God from the beliefs of Buddhism, Hinduism, or New Age mysticism, in which individuality is obliterated or assimilated into Nirvana. Though God will be absorbing, we will not be absorbed by Him. Though we may feel lost in God's immensity, we will not lose our identity when we see Him. Instead, we will find it" (p. 192).
"If Heaven is truly our home, we should expect it to have the qualities we associate with home. Home as a term for Heaven isn't simply a metaphor. It describes an actual, physical place... a place we'll share with loved ones; a place of fond familiarity and comfort and refuge; a place of marvelous smells and tastes, fine food, and great conversation; a place of contemplation and interaction and expressing the gifts and passions that God has given us. It will be a place of unprecedented freedom and adventure" (pages 440-441).
An Effective Format
One of the most appealing things about this book is its question and answer format. The author deals in detail with over 200 question about Heaven that cover every aspect of the topic. Here are some representative samples:
- What is the nature of the intermediate Heaven? (The current Heaven)
- What is life like in the intermediate Heaven?
- Why is earth's redemption essential to God's plan?
- What will it mean to see God?
- What will the New Jerusalem be like?
- Will there be space and time in Heaven?
- Will we be ourselves?
- Will we eat and drink?
- Will we engage in sexual relations?
- Will we be capable of sinning?
- Will we be reunited with our pets?
- Will there be arts, entertainment, and sports?
These down-to-earth questions about the life to come on the New Earth are so fascinating that you will find it hard to put the book down once you start reading it.
In this first half of my book review of Randy Alcorn's book Heaven, I pointed out how well the author dispelled some misconceptions about Heaven. In the coming second half, I'll point out some doctrinal areas of contention I have with this book.