Monday, September 22, 2008

The Tales of Two Pipers

Once upon a time there were two men named Piper. There was no relation between them. One's name was John and the other's name was Don. Both wrote some things about heaven. One of them even claimed to have been there.

The one who claimed to have been there (Don) wrote this: "I didn't see Jesus, but I did see people I had known." The other Piper (John) wrote this: "If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, an no human conflict or any natural desires, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

I think I'll take John Piper's heaven over Don Piper's heaven.

Here's the thing with Don Piper's book. Reading through it, I found several cases of contradiction with his recollection of his heavenly visit and several more times where what he claims to have seen in heaven was not what the Bible teaches. So what? Many people write books about the afterlife that do not correspond with the Bible. Why single out Don Piper? Because his book is intended to convey a Christian view of eternity. But what if these things really happened to Don Piper? Should he not be free to write about them? Well, the Quran contains the supposed experiences of Muhammad, but are we not somewhat skeptical of his claims? Why should Don Piper be exempt from scrutiny when he claims to have had grandiose experiences? I think there are several better questions to ask:

1) Did Don Piper have this experience? I'm not going to accuse him of lies and falsehoods, but it wouldn't be the first time someone concocted supernatural experiences for the purpose of book sales. I'M NOT SAYING HE DID -- I'm just saying that we shouldn't believe everything that hits the shelves.

2) If he did have these experiences, are there any physiological or psychosomatic explanations for the experience, apart from concluding "I went to heaven"? I think there probably are. Therefore, we should not jettison the biblical imagery of heaven for Don Piper's just on the basis of his supposed "eyewitness account."

3) We should ask "What saith the Scriptures?" If there is any divergence between the heaven Don Piper claims to have seen and the biblical imagery of heaven, we should not take his word for it. After all, did Jesus not say, "They have Moses and the prophets; if they don't believe them, they won't believe even if someone rises from the dead."

In closing, let me say, don't assume that just because your local Christian bookstore is selling something, it will be good for you spiritually. In fact, much of what is for sale in Christian bookstores would actually be injurious to your soul. Always read anything outside of the Bible with a critical eye. If an eyewitness is testifying of his own experiences and contradicts himself on multiple occasions, he would be dismissed from the court. We should not lower our standards when it comes to feeding our soul. And finally, we should not be driven by sensationalism and appeals to the spectacular. We should be driven both TO and BY the Word of God. As simple as that sounds, the Bible alone is authoritative and sufficient for our faith and life.

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