Apologists, Christian Bookstores, and “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven”

qrhmhm1bh7hqxye4wtiyThis week was a bad week for fans of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.

Alex Malarkey, son of author Kevin Malarkey, issued a brief but brutal retraction of the events that took place in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, a book which has sold very well along with other books in the “heavenly tourism” genre. The publisher, Tyndale House, has agreed to take the book out of print, and Lifeway has begun returning the copies of the book back to the publisher (1). While this is a good step in the right direction, it’s the first step of many that needs to be taken in order to reverse an entire frame of mind, one that has had detrimental effects on apologists and their efforts within the Church. John MacArthur, in his book The Glory of Heaven, says this of the genre:

“For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.

We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.” (2)

It’s not a secret that, for the most part, apologists tend to not frequent the big Christian bookstores. When you walk into one and find the newest emotionally charged, mentally fluffy, and spiritually hollow trend being pushed in your face from every degree and angle, it is hugely discouraging. While apologists try to disciple and train Christians to love God with their minds and equip them to give a reason for the hope they have in Christ, Christian bookstores (perhaps unintentionally so) make it harder when they promote and sell books that undercut the value of our work. Why get to know the Word of God better when you can just digest a daily paragraph from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling? Why learn about the resurrection of Christ and cultivate faith in His work when you can read Heaven is for Real (or watch the recent film produced by prosperity teacher T.D. Jakes)? Why study theology, the history of the church, or the defense of the faith when you can get books from pastors and teachers who claim that those things are not necessary, perhaps even harmful, to your relationship with God? Christian bookstores may not intentionally want to see these detrimental effects come about, but they cannot have it both ways. They can’t sell the product without reaping the side effects, whether good or bad.

That’s not to say that I haven’t purchased good books from Christian bookstores. Many books on my bookshelf have come from Lifeway and Mardel and other bookstores. But, getting those books from those stores were not easy. In many cases I had to dig for them in an obscure corner of the store, or had to dig in the bargain bin for them. While shoving copies of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith or Douglas Groothuis’s Christian Apologetics on the first table of the store might not make sense business-wise, there is something to be said about relegating the meaty, rich, and truly life changing books to the parts of the store that only the deliberate seekers frequent.

Christian bookstores are in a unique position to either strengthen the church or weaken the church based on the content that it promotes. The books we consume affect the ways we live before our God and neighbor, and when Christian bookstores promote books of the heavenly tourism genre, prosperity gospel theology, or of the Jesus Calling variety, they do so to the harm of the average believer and hinder the work of those who are trying to disciple the minds of Christians. Sure, you can buy apologetics books from Christian bookstores, but Christian bookstores are not doing much to help promote the discipleship of believers when it peddles material of the lowest common denominator. These bookstores have a significant influence, and in light of Alex Malarkey’s recantation, that influence has led to the damage of believers, not their growth or blessing. Rather than challenge believers to dig deep into the Scriptures, they promote Jesus Calling and other books that compete with the Word. Rather than stretch Christians to study the resurrection of Christ and have faith in His work, they promote Heaven is for Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, and other books of a suspect and lucrative genre. Rather than help point Christians in the direction of books and authors that will help them connect with this history of the body of Christ, they point them in opposing directions. It doesn’t have to be this way, but at the present moment, it is the status quo.

In short, good on Tyndale House and Lifeway for pulling The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. It’s a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. Certain books need to be removed, and certain genres need to be pushed. Christian retailers have the chance to drastically change the game when it comes to discipleship, and hopefully this will start the domino effect to that change. One book down, an entire frame of mind to go.

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A List of My Recorded Interviews, Debates and Talks To-Date

debating islam.jpgOver the past couple of years, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to participate in a number of radio and podcast interviews and debates, as well as present a number of lectures on subjects of interest to Christians. Those that have been recorded lie scattered around the internet, and so I thought it would be a good idea to compile the links to these resources into one post.  [Read more…]

“Naturalism or Christian Theism: Where Does the Evidence Point?” TreeSearch Founder Blake Giunta Debates Justin Schieber

I want to draw readers’ attention to a great debate that recently took place at the University of Texas at Dallas, between Blake Giunta, the founder of a recently-developed online apologetics resource called “TreeSearch“, and Justin Schieber, the host of the Reasonable Doubts radio show and podcast. Blake posted a postmortem review of the debate at his website. That, along with a video of the debate itself, can be found here. I highly recommend watching this debate for yourself and reading the summary over at the TreeSearch website. Blake is an up-and-coming apologist and has shown himself to be widely read, thoughtful and reflective, and winsome in his approach. I am sure we will be hearing a lot more of him in the future.

Are Atheists Smarter Than Christians?

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Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, there has certainly been a lot of controversy over an undergraduate psychology assignment given at The Ohio State University. A student anonymously submitted the following question to the people at Campus Reform which was actually on his homework assignment.

Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125. Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?

a) Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian

b) Aine earns less money than Theo

c) Theo is more liberal than Aine

d) Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian

The correct answer was A, and it certainly has many Christians calling foul. This stereotype is pervasive in our society, so while I am not terribly surprised to find a question like this in academia, I think that it deserves a little bit deeper consideration. [Read more…]

New Testament: Reliable or Myth? South Caroliners Mark Your Calendars for August 13th!

me_interviewIs the New Testament reliable or is it just a bunch of man-made myths? That is the question I am going to be tackling in South Carolina in just a couple weeks’ time! There will be time for you, the audience, to ask questions after my presentation.

The event will take place on Wednesday August 13th at 7pm in EDT at the BCM Ministry Building at Winthrop University: 620 Oakland Avenue, Rock Hill, South Carolina.

The event is being organized by Ratio Christi at Winthrop University in partnership with Park Baptist Church.

You can find the Facebook events page here. Don’t miss out — mark your calendars now!