Tag Archives: books

New Book on Modern Day Apostles

by Scott

Yes, I am the nut case who believes apostles still exist today. I’m even posting a series here at To Be Continued, of which I am about half-way through. I recently posted considering the apostles that actually existed in New Testament times (there were more than we think!).

In the near future, I am writing a paper for the churches I work with, and one major point I will consider is the nature of apostolic ministry today. And so I was specifically made aware of a new book that came out this past summer entitled Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission: Restoring the Role of Apostle in Today’s Church. Continue reading

Advertisements

Heaven Is For Real – Book Review

by Scott

Most people are aware of the recently published and extremely controversial book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins. But that book has drown out much engagement with other controversial books that have recently been released, including the one I speak of in this article. This book is not so much about a theology of heaven or hell, it’s rather an account of a nearly 4-year old boy’s trip to heaven. And, thus, you have the title, Heaven Is For Real.

So what’s the story?

It all centres around an extremely painful (both physical and emotional) event occurring one day in the life of little Colton Burpo (please lay aside any chuckling at the last name, as I will use it somewhat regularly). Following the bursting of his appendix in late February 2003, with neither his parents nor doctor realising such had happened for 5 full days, Colton finds himself intensely ill and on an operating table. It is during that time that Colton made his trip to heaven, a rather quick one from a human standpoint (3 minutes), but seemingly much longer from a heavenly perspective.

Of course, as I said, this is not nearly as contentious as Bell’s Love Wins. But it has still caused concern for some (i.e. here), with much of the controversy probably revolving around 2 main areas: 1) some of it’s possible theological ideas and 2) building theology on someone’s experience, especially that of a 4-year old. So I will address these two areas as I review  the book, though they will probably bleed together.

Here we have a book written by Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, though he is assisted by best-selling author, Lynn Vincent (most known as a co-author in Same Kind of Different As Me). One thing of import to note is that Todd Burpo is actually a pastor. He leads a small Methodist congregation in the small town of Imperial, Nebraska. But what is also of interest is that Colton’s story is being told by Todd, a father recounting the unique ways of how he came to learn of his son’s own supposed visit to heaven.

What you must understand is that this was just as much a struggle and challenge for Todd, and his wife, Sonja, as it will be for some Christians to read and believe this was an authentic visit to heaven. From the first time Colton tells of his visit (about 4 months following all of the surgeries) through to the present day, both parents have to ‘work through’ some things themselves.

So, if you read the book (or my review), don’t think you are the only one struggling with some of the things Colton says about heaven. His parents are walking through it much more than you and I, especially noting Colton’s father is a solid, evangelical believer (as far as I can tell from reading the book).

Some of the theological ‘problems’ in the book are not major ones as I understand theological problems. Probably the most difficult one, at least for evangelicals to swallow, is when Colton explains that all people in heaven have wings that help them fly and lights above their heads (think more of a shining brightness and not a gold circle as portrayed in cartoons). This is one of those places where Todd, the father, shares his struggle:

I couldn’t remember angels having lights over their heads specifically – or halos, as some would call them – but I also knew that Colton’s experience of angels in storybooks and Scripture did not include lights over angels’ heads. And he didn’t even know the world halo. I don’t know that he’d ever even seen one, since our bedtime Bible stories and the Sunday school lessons at church are closely aligned with Scripture. (p72-73)

I think it is interesting to consider this statement – ‘And he [Colton] didn’t even know the world halo.’

Todd makes similar statements a few times throughout the book, which seems to point to the fact that he does not want to manipulate what his son shares about the visit to or vision of heaven. Matter of fact, early on in the book’s account, Todd shares how one of his questions almost led Colton to answer in a certain way. Mr. Burpo did not want to walk down that road, but instead try to understand his 4-year old’s explanation of heaven. This could be a strong pointer that authenticity is quite likely.

Outside of the wings and lights above the heads, I don’t believe there were any other statements that challenge evangelical Christian beliefs (as if Colton even knows what theology or evangelicalism is).

One of the more personally challenging aspects of the book is Colton’s explanations of what he saw in heaven. They seem to come straight out of more ‘literal’ reading of Revelation – i.e. as if heaven really has streets of gold, as if we really will be hanging out in the clouds, etc.

For Todd, the father, these more literal descriptions seem to be a point of confirmation that Colton’s visit to heaven was real. But, for me, the main problem is that I see the book of Revelation, and other such Hebrew apocalyptic and prophetic visions, as just that – visions.

Revelation uses a lot of imagery to describe a greater reality of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the pictures and the images and the numbers are more ‘symbolic’ or ‘figurative’, if you will. I’m not trying to strip Revelation of it’s truth as God’s word in Scripture. It literally means what it literally means. John really meant what he meant in describing that heavenly vision. But we have to ask what the heavenly vision literally meant and pointed to as God gave the vision to John, the apostle.

But what brings me solace, at least from a more theological standpoint, is that I realise that God has always accommodated himself to those to whom he reveals himself. Some of us might know of John Calvin’s description of God’s revelation being like baby-talk. If God spoke God-talk to 4-year old’s, or 34-year old’s or 74-year old’s, we wouldn’t understand him. Therefore, God accommodates to our level, speaks our language, makes himself understandable with where we are at, all to help us get glimpses of who he is in all his glory.

And so, for Colton to describe what he saw in the way he did, as if from a more ‘literal’ or ‘traditional’ sense (better words fail me right here), I have no problem with such. Again, though his father is a pastor, remember that, at just under 4-years old, there is not too much of a chance that Colton had been indoctrinated with what I might identify as a ‘traditional’ mentality of heaven – Jesus riding on actual white horse, people wearing white robes with sashes, everyone (or just angels) with wings, lights above people’s heads, even a future cosmic war to come (as if to support premillenialism). And so I very much believe Christ came to a young boy, a pure and simple-hearted young boy, and revealed himself in a way that Colton would understand.

And, if heaven happens to literally look like what Colton explains, then I’m fine with it. But I still think this is more vision-imagery explaining a greater reality. But my theology has been known to be wrong in other places.

I think there are some other telling factors that contribute to this being an authentic visit-vision. One is that, while in heaven, Colton says he met Todd’s grandfather who was affectionately known as Pop. Now, this might not seem a biggie, but the thing is that Pop had died almost 25 years before Colton was born. Colton had never met his great-grandfather and didn’t know anything about him. So, for Colton to tell his dad about Pop, well, you can imagine the shock of such. See more details in the book, p85-91.

Another interesting factor, maybe even more mind-boggling, is when Colton came up to his parents and said, ‘Mommy, I have two sisters.’ But, at that time, all he had was one older sister, Cassie. They thought he was also talking about his female cousin. But Colton replied, ‘No. I have two sisters, You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?’

Well, lo and behold, Sonja Burpo had had a miscarriage. And they had never mentioned this to Colton (who would to a 4-year old), not to mention that a 4-year old would not even know what a miscarriage is. Needless to say, that was an extremely emotional and stirring night in the Burpo family. See see p93-97 for more.

There are a few other interesting accounts such as how Colton knew about his dad’s calling to be a pastor (p90-91).

But one of the more mind-boggling accounts is Colton’s confirmation of what Jesus physically looked like. Since the visit to heaven, when Todd and Sonja would see pictures of Jesus, they would ask Colton if that is what Jesus looked like. Every time Colton would answer in the negative. Yet, one day, Todd received an email from a pastor friend in Colorado. The email was forwarded about a young Lithuanian-American girl named Akiane Karmarik. She, too, had claimed visions of heaven, all subsequently leading to her atheist mother becoming a Christian.

But even more interesting is the fact that, following some of the visions, Akiane painted a portrait picture of Christ (now quite famous). You see, Colton had given negative responses to each picture of Christ that his parents had asked him about. But, after Todd called for Colton to come look at the picture in the email, asking if this picture was a correct representation of Christ, Colton just stood there in shock for a long moment without saying anything. Finally, after his dad nudged him in the arm, Colton responded, ‘Dad, that one’s right.’

No doubt, for some, this might seem more Twilight Zone than reality. And this leads to one of the major hang-ups with the book – building our beliefs and theology around someone’s experience, especially a 4-year old’s. Let me just go ahead and say that my desire is to not build my beliefs around Colton’s experience, just as I would not expect people to build their beliefs and theology based upon some of the personal revelations, prophecies and 2 or 3 more prophetic dreams God has given me in my life. It’s not worth doing such, though it also isn’t worth approaching every single account with cynicism.

But, with Colton’s situation, I believe Christ accommodated to a little 4-year old to reveal himself. God accommodates to me as a 31-year old pastor. God accommodated to a 100-year old man in Abraham, a life-threatening persecutor of God’s people in Paul, a strong-willed one in Peter who denied Christ at such a time as he did, and on and on. I am not trying to say Colton and Abraham or Colton and Paul are to be considered one and the same. Even Todd and Sonja, his parents, argue this. All I am saying is that understanding God has always been in the context of God making himself known to people where they are at, in their language, within their grasp, i.e., in baby-talk.

So I have no problem in believing that God brought little Colton to heaven, or gave a vision of heaven, during those pained and life-threatening days of multiple surgeries in early 2003. I am not going to stick this book somewhere between Galatians and Ephesians as what needs to be recognised as canonical revelation in the Bible. But I personally think it a beautiful account of God’s grace to not just a young little boy, but to a family. And I suppose the book can become an encouragement to others as well.

So, for me, it was great to read this account of little Colton’s visit to heaven.

I end with a saying from one wise man long ago:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Books to Read for 2011

by Scott

After posting my top reads of 2010, I now post 10 books I hope to read over the 2011 year. Some of these were ones I did not read in 2010, so I hope to pick them up this year.

1. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. This is volume 2 of Wright’s series Christian Origins and the Question of God. Of course, I would like to read the two other volumes – The New Testament and the People of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God. But I am not sure if they will make 2011, since they are each massive works. I’d like to get into them all, but I’m just not sure. I believe there will be a total of six volumes in this series when it is completed.

2. The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez. I originally read this two-volume work about eight years ago when I took two semesters of church history. But I am interested in reading and studying more on church history, so I want to go back and start with this work.

3. Simply Christian by N.T. Wright. Yes, you can tell, I enjoy reading N.T. Wright. By looking at the Table of Contents of this book, it seems a little like Wright’s own version of a Mere Christianity.

4. Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson. I have read the first book in Peterson’s five ‘conversation’ books, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I would like to read all five of these books, as I want to stay connected to more devotional books, as well as pastorally-focused books. Peterson is good at both.

5. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas. I originally read this in university in a philosophy class, but I want to go back and re-read it to refresh my memory in regards to the development of western thought, at least from a non-Christian’s perspective. I don’t think I paid too much attention to the book when I had to read it some ten years ago.

6. I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution by Denis Lamoureux. I recently purchased this book. Due to my reading of Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration & Incarnation, and interaction on the BioLogos website, I am more interested in studying the view of evolutionary-creation (which maintains the divine, intelligent design of creation, but that God chose the method of what we identify as evolution to bring about His creation).

7. Theology After Darwin edited by R.J. Berry and Michael Northcott. I just purchased it and #6 above explains why.

8. Re: Mission: Biblical Mission for a PostBiblical Church by Andrew Perriman. I appreciate Perriman’s thoughts and writings, so I would like to dive into this book on how the church should engage in mission in the 21st century.

9.God’s Word in Human Words by Kenton Sparks. I have read Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration & Incarnation, and am halfway through Peter Rollins’, How (Not) to Speak of God. All of these books generally focus on how evangelicals can understand Scripture in light of critical scholarship. So I would like to dip into Sparks’ works.

10. The Fourth Book of The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I read the third book, Brisingr, in 2009. I am now awaiting the fourth and final book to hopefully be released in 2011. I truly enjoy fantasy fiction!

11. Possibly a re-reading of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, starting with The Hobbit. As I said, I love fantasy fiction, and this series might be the best of all time.

12. I did not specifically mention any books on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. In 2010, I did read Jack Deere’s book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (here is my review). So I might pick up the second book, Surprised by the Voice of God.

Top Reads of 2010

by Scott

With Christmas over, the new year is rapidly approaching. So I thought I would list the top books I read over the course of this year. I was looking back over the list of books that I had hoped to read over 2010, which I posted in this article over at my personal blog, and I realise I did not get to some of them. But, needless to say, I was able to read others in their place.

1. Surprised By Hope by N.T. Wright. This is a fantastic read. While I never posted an official review, I did post many quotes from the book: post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5. In this treatise of his, Wright addresses particular topics such as the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers, the kingdom of God, heaven, hell, paradise, purgatory, the soul and the body, the second coming, and how this all should practically affect the mission of the church. It is a top read for any believer (or non-believer for that fact).

2. Inspiration & Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. This book is a scholarly, yet readable, book in which Enns looks to address many of the difficulties of understanding the Old Testament in light of much recent research surrounding the ancient near east and the Old Testament. While many evangelical scholars have been critical of the book, I believe Enns maintains a solid evangelical approach to the God-breathed and authoritative nature of Scripture while dealing with such difficulties. I have posted a two-part review here and here.

3. Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright. Here is Wright’s response to John Piper’s book, The Future of Justification. If you are not familiar with the discussions surrounding justification, especially the new Pauline perspective (of which Wright is a proponent), you can read my summary here. Piper is of the traditional reformed perspective, which is quite opposed to much of the new Pauline perspective. While I have not posted a complete review of this book as well, I have posted significant quotes here, here and here. It is my desire to review the highlighted parts of both Wright’s and Piper’s books and post some thoughts comparing and contrasting the two works.

4. Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. This book links in quite well with To Be Continued. A former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Deere had to leave the seminary because of his theological and experiential change from cessationism to continuationism. In this book, Deere addresses issues biblically and theologically, as well as he shares solid accounts of the work of the Spirit in his life and the lives of others. My review can be found here.

5. A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. As a leader within the emerging-emergent church movement, this is probably McLaren’s most known work. There are plenty of evangelicals that loathe McLaren, some seeing him even as a heretic. I don’t agree with all of his thoughts in this book, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a heretic. In all, McLaren has written this treatise, now probably read by multiple millions, to stir the church to open their hearts and minds to those outside their own specific church circle. This is not too easy for many a Christians. My review can be found here.

6. A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. If people had problems with A Generous Orthodoxy, then I cannot even imagine them being at all interested in this book. In the work, McLaren asks 10 hard questions that many evangelicals avoid asking. Again, while I did not agree with every thought in the book, and I disagree with even more in this book than in A Generous Orthodoxy, I still believe the 10 questions need to be asked by the church in the 21st century. My review is in two parts: part 1, part 2.

7. The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom by Andrew Perriman. I was glad to receive a personal copy from Perriman. Whereas the new Pauline perspective is a challenge to much of the western, reformed perspective on Romans, Perriman takes the challenge even further, looking to more firmly situate the book within its historical-narrative context. My review can be found here. I also frequent Perriman’s blog.

8. Love & War by John and Stasi Eldredge. I generally appreciate books by John Eldredge, i.e., The Way of the Wild Heart. While some marriage books can feel of the self-help genre, I don’t believe this book falls into that category. The book was not life-transforming for me, per se, as I have read some of these thoughts before in other books by the Eldredges. But, still, it was a good read because it was honest, it was real, it was personal, and it addressed things that might not show up in your average Christian book on marriage. Here is my review.

9. The Confession by John Grisham. This is one fiction book I recently read, being Grisham’s newest release. I have read all his books, as I do enjoy titles of the crime-suspense genre. You can read my thoughts on the book in this recent review.

10. Rooms by James Rubart. This is a fiction book that was recommended to me by a friend. Interestingly, the plot has a feel to it like The Shack, but people should not struggle as much theologically with this book. I have only finished it this week and so I will post a review in the days to come.

I know I have recently been on the book theme quite a lot, but I do hope to post the top books I hope to read in 2011 over at The Prodigal Thought. Happy New Year!

God’s Empowering Presence – Resource

by Scott

I believe very much that, for any true student of theology wanting to grow in their pnuematological understanding, especially for all continuationists, then an extremely solid resource to own is Gordon Fee’s work, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Fee, himself is a New Testament scholar and professor emeritus from Regents College in Vancouver, Canada. He is also an ordained minister in the Assembly of God church. You can read more of his credentials here.

Nevertheless, this book is a treatise unlike many others, standing in at just over 900 pages long. So I would say this is more a study resource, rather than a bed-time read.

What is truly unique about the book is that it analyses every single mention of the Holy Spirit and his work within the letters of Paul. Fee doesn’t start with Romans (as that is the first Pauline letter in our NT canon), but rather with 1 Thessalonians, which is considered one of Paul’s early letters. He then moves on to 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus and, finally, 2 Timothy.

The last 100 pages or so deal with important theological topics on the Holy Spirit including such themes as the Spirit as eschatological fulfilment, the Spirit as God’s personal presence, the soteriological Spirit, the Spirit and the people of God, and then answering what all of this Pauline pneumatology means (which includes touching on Old Testament and intertestamental pneumatology). And, of course, there is an extended bibliography.

You can see that some of this work implements his writings from other works, like his commentary on 1 Corinthians or his work, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.

The only pneumatological resource that could be considered better is if an author took up the challenge of providing commentary on every verse in the New Testament that speaks of the Holy Spirit and His activity. Maybe it’s out there, or maybe it will be released one day. But I suppose that would be at least a 2-volume work weighing in at a 1500+ page length.