A few years back (8, I think), I went through an Evangelism Explosion training. The training consisted of teaching you a packaged Evangelistic sales pitch that could be presented verbatim on demand. The presentation always began with the question:
“If you were to die today and find yourself at the gates of heaven, what would you say? What reason would you give for why you should be allowed to enter?”
Or something like that. The rest of the presentation was pretty standard evangelical stuff: sin, separation from God, substitutionary atonement, reconciliation through Christ, salvation from hell by praying a prayer. Once we learned the presentation, we would head out into the community, spread the presentation, and tally the results–count the number of people who prayed the prayer. I happened to be in Africa at the time, and this presentation proved to be extremely effective. Almost everyone who was willing to talk with me, would end up praying with me, often in tears.
Hundreds of us hit the streets. When we reconvened later that evening, we calculated the total number of people who had been ‘saved’. The numbers were staggering. Literally hundreds of tallies went up on the overhead projector. Shouts of hallelujah and praise God rang out in the chapel as we celebrated the guaranteed future entrance of these souls into heaven.
While I had some doubts about the methodology and some regret that there was really very little follow-up, I was mostly very pleased with the program. Everyone seemed emboldened in the act of evangelism, and the results were plain to see.
But I wonder how biblical a promise we were selling? As I reflect on this project now, it seems like we were selling a form of Platonism dressed up in Christian-ese language. We were telling people that when they died, they would go to this ‘heaven’ place up in the sky where they would experience a perfect world. They would leave this world behind and find a new and better disembodied spiritual world with God.
As I’ve studied the New Testament over the last few years, one thing has come repeatedly to my attention: evangelicals consistently misunderstand heaven and life after death as described in the Bible. Over the next couple of posts, I’m going to share some thoughts on heaven, and why I think it’s important to have a more ‘biblical’ perspective on it. I believe it has an important effect on the way we live our lives today.