Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 10:32 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this (very short) podcast, I discuss why I am a Christian, and not an atheist as I once was.

Monday, July 21, 2014 at 9:58 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

The following is the full video that I played clips from in my podcast examining Word of Faith teachers Len and Cathy Mink. It features Teal Swan speaking about how to "manifest money" and "create wealth." I'm sharing it to show the similarities between the Word of Faith camp and New Age theology regarding visualization and manifestation. As I said in my podcast, Miss Swan could very well become a Word of Faith preacher - all she would have to do is add the name "Jesus" in her presentation every now and then.

Justin Peters goes into greater detail in his Call for Discernment series, which I shared here. He shows that the Word of Faith camp and non-Christian ideas of manifestation and visualization have their same roots in the metaphysical movements from the 1800's.

Note: As I recall, there's a picture of the middle finger used as a graphic somewhere in the video. Just a warning if you're watching with kids nearby.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 9:52 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this episode, we present a dramatized reading of the Mike Bickle/Bob Jones sessions from the late 1980's, taken from the Aberrant Practices document. It features much of the insane stuff Bob Jones talked about or claimed at that time...but remember, this is a man who many considered a great prophet even up until his recent death, and who many still consider to be a great prophet of God. This is the man who Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer, claims greatly influenced him, was his "buddy," and who he looked up to as a spiritual role model.

As much as some of this will make you laugh, it should also disturb you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 6:23 PM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

Before I begin this post, let me make it clear there is nothing wrong with praying for cities. Whether it's your hometown, New York City, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Baghdad, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, etc., that's fine. Jerusalem is included in this list. It is perfectly fine to pray that God would protect a city, bring revival to a city, protect believers in a city, have mercy on a city, etc. Again, Jerusalem is included in this list.

The question is...are Christians told by scripture to pray specifically for Jerusalem?

I recently encountered a gentleman on Twitter (his identity is not vitally important) who said that "we are told in the Bible to pray for two cities 1) your own city 2) Jerusalem." The obvious inference was in regards to the current crisis in the Middle East regarding Hamas and Israel. What struck me about this was it seemed to suggest that Christians were commanded by scripture to pray for the city of Jerusalem.

The Biblical Problem

I asked the gentleman where New Testament believers were commanded to pray for Jerusalem; he responded that, as the early church "lived in the psalms," the early believers "would have felt the applicability of Psalm 122." This was a reference specifically to the wording of Psalm 122:6a, which reads: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (ESV).

Logically speaking, note that the individual is starting with an assumption (Psalm 122 would have been applicable to early believers) and is backing it up with a vague historical fact (the early Christians used the psalms). This is begging the question, however, on the notion that early Christians would have interpreted Psalm 122 to mean a literal Jerusalem for which to pray (which we will get to in a moment). Already we see a dilemma in this kind of doctrine. While there is no doubt that the early Christians would have used the psalms, or worshiped with the psalms, we must remember that they would have to use them within context, depending on each individual psalm. There is no evidence, for example, that any Christian in the early history of the church interpreted Psalm 137:9 to mean that Christians should kill infants.

With this in mind, let's examine the full psalm (it's only nine verses):
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is built as a city that is compact together; to which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord—an ordinance for Israel—to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there thrones were set for judgment, The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, “May peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. [Psalm 122:1-9; NASB]
Traditionally, this is believed to be a Davidic psalm, though some scholars have placed its dating not until after the exile; in either case, it can be safe to assume that this is about an Old Testament Jew going to the Temple. The first few verses are the language of a pilgrim, going to Jerusalem, as all Jews were commanded to do (cf. Exo 23:17; Deu 16:16).

The language suggests that the pilgrims have just arrived (v. 2) and beholding the city as a "city that is joined to her together" (as it says in the original Hebrew of v. 3). Traditionally, this is translated to suggest that the buildings were built closely together (hence the NASB's rendering of "compact together"). The NET translator notes suggest that this may refer to the duality of Jerusalem's function in the old state of Israel, as it was the center both of the religious and civil authorities (the reference to the seats of judgment and the thrones of David in v. 5 would give some support for this). On the other hand, the Targum (an early Aramaic paraphrase/commentary of the Bible) suggests that this was in reference to the heavenly Jerusalem; the Jews of Christ's time did indeed believe in the "Jerusalem below," or the literal Jerusalem, and a "Jerusalem above," referring to God's realm (hence the apostle Paul's reference to the Jerusalem above in Galatians 4:26).

This connection was broken (or perhaps, more properly, mended) by the connection between man and God brought about by the first advent of Christ, the rejection of Christ by the Jewish state, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Christ came and "tabernacled" among us (the literal translation of "dwelt among us" in John 1:14), and by His atoning sacrifice and resurrection he became a high priest and made the Levitical priesthood null and void, and gave the final atonement for the sins of His sheep, making null and void the Temple sacrifices as well.

In the last few verses, the psalmist begins to speak of how he will "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." The reason for this prayer is seen in the following verses: so that those who love Jerusalem may prosper (not meaning financially or physically, but simply that they would have tranquility or security); that peace may be within Jerusalem's walls, and prosperity within the palaces (meaning that the civil institutions would be stable); for the sake of the psalmist's "brothers" and "friends" (meaning fellow believers). For these three main reasons, the psalmist states that he will now say "may peace be within" Jerusalem. Finally, the psalmist says that "for the sake of the house of the LORD our God," he will see "good for you" (in the literal Hebrew), meaning that he will seek the good that is within Jerusalem through prayer.

Let us now highlight the purposes of this "Jerusalem," according to the psalmist:
  • It is where believers go to worship God and "give thanks to the name of the Lord" (v. 4)
  • Those who love this Jerusalem will find tranquility and peace (v. 6)
  • Praying for peace within this Jerusalem is done for the sake of fellow believers (v. 8)
  • This Jerusalem contains the good of the Lord, of which believers may seek (v. 9)
At the time of the psalmist, this context fit very well. Today, these traits could not fit within the context of modern Jerusalem, which is ruled by modern day secular Israel, inhabited largely by Jews who deny Christ and the Trinitarian God.

The fact is, this could only refer to the spiritual Jerusalem (Paul's "Jerusalem from above"), found within the modern day church and with faith in Christ. Modern day believers do not need to pray for Jerusalem to obtain the good of the Lord, for we have it in Christ, the "tabernacle" of the New Testament. We cannot consider the Jewish and Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem to be our "brothers," as they are not brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not need to go to Jerusalem to worship God and give Him thanks, for our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) and Christ is our eternal high priest (Heb 7:26-27).

There are therefore two possibilities regarding this passage:

Firstly, this is a passage written in the context of believers under the old covenant, and the importance of Jerusalem to the individual believer.

Secondly, this is a passage with eternal implications, but within the context of each individual testament. In the old, it was for a literal Jerusalem; in the new, it is for the spiritual Jerusalem.

The Historical Problem

Related to this is the issue is that, historically speaking, most of the early Church Fathers, and most theologians afterward, saw the extension of many passages regarding Jerusalem and Judea into the new covenant within a spiritual context - that is, Jerusalem, Judea, Israel, and many other names refer to the church or body of believers within the new covenant. Just as the sons of Israel were God's chosen people in the old covenant, so are Christians, the spiritual sons of Israel according to the promise (cf. Rom 9:8), God's chosen people in the new covenant.

The contention by the gentleman I was speaking to was that Justin Martyr and other Fathers believed Christ, upon his second coming, would reign in the literal city of Jerusalem. While it is true that many Historic Premillennial Church Fathers believed Jerusalem would carry some significance at the end times, this does not negate that, at the same time, they upheld passages about Jerusalem in a spiritual context. One quote from Justin Martyr (who lived in the second century):
“Now, sirs,” I said, “it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites. But lest I appear now to diverge to other subjects, understand what I say: the blood of that circumcision is obsolete, and we trust in the blood of salvation; there is now another covenant, and another law has gone forth from Zion. Jesus Christ circumcises all who will—as was declared above—with knives of stone; that they may be a righteous nation, a people keeping faith, holding to the truth, and maintaining peace. Come then with me, all who fear God, who wish to see the good of Jerusalem. Come, let us go to the light of the Lord; for He has liberated His people, the house of Jacob. Come, all nations; let us gather ourselves together at Jerusalem, no longer plagued by war for the sins of her people. ‘For I was manifest to them that sought Me not; I was found of them that asked not for Me;’ He exclaims by Isaiah: ‘I said, Behold Me, unto nations which were not called by My name. I have spread out My hands all the day unto a disobedient and gainsaying people, which walked in a way that was not good, but after their own sins. It is a people that provoketh Me to my face.’” [Dialogue with Trypho; 25; source]
The rest of the conversation is likewise beneficial, as Justin and Trypho speak, and Justin clearly distinguishes between the literal Judea Jerusalem of the old covenant, and the spiritual Judea and Jerusalem of the new covenant. Justin Martyr cannot be telling Christian believers to literally go to the literal Jerusalem - he must clearly be speaking of a spiritual Jerusalem.

Other Church Fathers could be called into account for this. For example, Tertullian speaks of "the true catholic Jerusalem" (The Five Books Against Marcion, 3:22; source) and calls individual Christian believers "a citizen of Jerusalem" (De Corona, Ch. 13; source). Likewise Hippolytus, commentating on the psalms, states that we are citizens of "the Jerusalem which is above" (On Psalm 62:6; source). Also Alexander of Alexandria calls Christ "the Son of the true Jerusalem" (On the Soul and Body and the Passion of the Lord; source). The gentleman mentioned before had argued that, before the Council of Nicaea, a "spiritualized Jerusalem" was not a common belef...as these quotes hint at, that isn't true.

The fact is, there is no direct command in scripture to pray for the city of Jerusalem. While there is nothing wrong with Christians praying for Jerusalem of their own conviction, and while we shouldn't argue God will automatically ignore prayers meant for Jerusalem, we should not go to the extreme that we are somehow commanded, by God's holy word, to pray for a single literal word. There is simply no evidence of this in scripture, and it is foreign to Christian history.

Friday, July 11, 2014 at 4:41 PM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

This post is inspired by Richard Liantonio's post The Myth of Matthew 18. Those who know me personally, or have kept track of this blog through Twitter, know I have had to tackle the meaning of Matthew 18:15-17 much more than I ever imagined I would. Mister Liantonio's post was a refreshing read, and inspired me to tackle the subject of Matthew 18:15-17, and what it does and doesn't mean.

First, let's look at the three verses in question (all citations from Matthew 18 will be in purple):
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." [Matthew 18:15-17; NASB]
Now, let's examine these three verses bit by bit.
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother." [v. 15]
Many not used to the NASB translation may notice that something appears missing from this verse; the traditional reading of the verse is "if your brother sins against you." These two words have been used by some people to try to argue that Matthew 18:15 is solely dealing with personal affronts, and hence people who hear a Christian has sinned against someone else should, in essence, "mind their own business." The reason for this difference between translations is that the words "against you" are actually a textual variant. The NET translation notes for this verse read:
The earliest and best witnesses lack “against you” after “if your brother sins.” It is quite possible that the shorter reading in these witnesses (א B, as well as 0281 f1 579 pc sa) occurred when scribes either intentionally changed the text (to make it more universal in application) or unintentionally changed the text (owing to the similar sound of the end of the verb ἁμαρτήσῃ [hamartēsē] and the prepositional phrase εἰς σέ [eis se]). However, if the mss were normally copied by sight rather than by sound, especially in the early centuries of Christianity, such an unintentional change is not as likely for these mss. And since scribes normally added material rather than deleted it for intentional changes, on balance, the shorter reading appears to be original. NA27 includes the words in brackets, indicating doubts as to their authenticity.
If "against you" is not to be considered part of the original manuscripts, then this signifies that this verse does not refer to a personal affront, and hence such a situation does not need to occur for us to confront a brother who sins. This also makes Matthew 18:15 perfectly in line with Galatians 6:1, where the apostle Paul writes "if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted."

If a brother is discovered or sin, or we somehow discover that a brother has sinned, we are told to "show him his fault in private." The Greek for "show him his fault" is literally in the Greek "go reprove him" (ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν). The word for "reprove" is the same used by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2; the general idea is that you should go and demonstrate the guilt of your brother. Obviously this should be done, as the apostle Paul said, "in a spirit of gentleness," hoping to bring the brother to repentance and not simply make them feel guilty for their transgressions (though, if they are truly repentant, guilt should be a definite part of it). The goal of this confrontation is that the brother "listens to you" - that is, he repents of his sins, confesses them, and seeks to show the fruits of this repentance.

Some have argued that there should be given "time to repent." However, this is nowhere in the passage, and tends to be argued simply to give the person an excuse to continue in sin.

We are told to do this "alone" (μόνου). Much has been attempted to be said and done about this single word, and so let's understand two things about it:

What this does mean is that we should do this reproving in private, to respect the dignity of our brother. We should not bring it out into the open, or before the entire church, simply at the drop of a hat, unless there is some immediate danger or concern for another person's life or well-being.

What this doesn't mean is that we are absolutely forbidden from seeking advice or help on this matter. The "alone" here (as Mister Liantonio rightfully points out) simply contrasts it with the reproof involving one or two more witnesses in verse 16 - it is about the confrontation itself, not the prayerful consideration leading up to the confrontation.

Let us say, for the sake of example, that someone sees one of their fellow church members at a restaurant with a woman not his wife. Maybe he doesn't feel comfortable confronting the individual, but he goes to a friend of the man and says, "Hey, could you talk to your friend? I've seen him in sin." In this case, the friend would be taking over the regulations of Matthew 18:15. He may also make it more anonymous, but ask some brothers, "Hey, I've seen someone at my church in sin - should I confront him?" It is perfectly possible to seek godly council and not enter into the realm of gossip.

Of course, gossip should be avoided. However, there is a difference between "I've seen so-and-so committing sin, what should I do?" and "Hey, have you heard about what so-and-so did?"
"But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed." [v. 16]
Verse 16 presumes that, after the private confrontation, the brother in Christ did not repent, and has stubbornly continued without repentance, or have even remained active in sin. At this point, the person doing the confronting takes one or two more people who are also aware of the brother's transgression.

The reference to the "mouth of two or three witnesses" is actually a citation from the Law (Deu 19:15). This is also, incidentally, the "two or three" Christ is referring to in v. 20, which is perhaps one of the most misused passages of scripture: Christ is not referring to church fellowship, but to church discipline.
"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." [v. 17]
Verse 17 assumes that the individual has not repented, even though he was confronted by two or three people on their sin. In this case, the person is brought forward to "the church." This suggests that the sin is to be handled in a local context, within the sinning individual's church, and by the church body.

The idea of being "as a Gentile and a tax collector" is that you should not associate with such a person on a high level (in the first century Jewish context, Gentiles were not allowed within the inner parts of the Temple, and tax collectors were considered among the very worst of sinners). Most would rightly assume that this means excommunication, or at the very least enacting some form of church discipline which removes from the individual the joy of fellowship.

The unfortunate situation nowadays is that many people are "lone wolf Christians," or do not attend a church for reasons outside their control, and hence have no primary authority to be disciplined by. Some things to consider:

First, if someone is a lone wolf Christian, then they are in violation of scripture's command to be a part of corporate worship (cf. Heb 10:25), and this suggests some deeper spiritual issues with the individual. I would put forward, if a person continues to willingly forsake fellowship even after it has been offered to them, and they are fully capable of engaging in fellowship, then this may be a sign that they are not truly converted, and in this case (but only in the most extreme scenario), the person may be already considered "as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Second, if the person has a legitimate reason they are not part of a fellowship of believers, then the solution will most likely be on a case-by-case basis, and at the discretion and conviction of those who are exhorting him to repent. Obviously, the ultimate goal would be that the person be brought to repent.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 9:38 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this episode, we review an episode of the Len and Cathy Mink TV show, reviewing how Christ died so we could have "stuff." In doing so, we examine the Word of Faith heresy, and how scriptures are twisted to affirm the doctrines.



This link takes you to Justin Peters' presentation on the Word of Faith heresy.

This link takes you to my examination of Malachi 3:10

Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

I recently dealt with a citation of Malachi 3:10, which was said you could not "out give" God, and in fact God commands that we "test Him" on this. It was being used by a local church to try to raise money, though I would not be surprised if it has been used by other churches to teach similarly.

The full context of the verse (with verse 10 highlighted in bold):
“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts. [Malachi 3:6-12]
The book of Malachi details a series of criticisms against the nation of Israel (cf. Mal 1:1). It commonly features God making an accusation against the people about their transgressing His Law, followed by a presupposed objection the people might have (cf. Mal 1:6; 2:14; etc.), followed then by God's response and more detailed rebuke, along with an offer of reconciliation and a return to the blessings promised by the Law.

In this instance, God opens up by saying He, the Lord, does no change - meaning, in this context, that He does not change his mind regarding the covenant He made with Israel (v. 6). It is common for mortal man to give up on an agreement when the other person does not follow up with it, but it is not so with God. It is because of God's faithfulness to the covenant that He has not yet consumed the "sons of Jacob" (a reference to the promises made in Genesis 28:13 and 35:12) with judgment. These people rightly deserved judgment, because "from the days" of their fathers they "have turned aside" (that is, ignored) God's Law, and have not kept it (v. 7). However, the Lord asks them to return to Him (ie., repent), and He will return to them (ie., restore His blessings).

God then presupposes the question, "How shall we return?" In other words, what are the people to repent of, and how are they to repent? God accuses the people of robbery, and presupposes either their dumb ignorance or fake innocence with the question, "How have we robbed you?" The people are accused of not honoring the "tithes and offerings" (v. 8), but what are these "tithes and offerings"? In fact, these are references to the crops that were owed not only to the Temple (Lev 27:30-33), but which were provided for the Levites and priests (Num 18:8, 11, 19, 21-24), who had no land to sustain themselves like the other Jewish tribes had. The nation's failure to fulfill this obligation of the Law has placed them under a serious curse (v. 9).

Now we come to verse 10, where God commands the people to "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." What does this mean? What is the "storehouse"? No doubt some pastors will attempt to spiritualize this to mean our bank accounts, but if we honor God by remaining true to the text of His holy word, we understand that this is speaking of the storehouse of the Temple (cf. Neh 13:5), as seen clearly by the following words "so that there may be food in My house." Remember, also, these are specific offerings God has commanded the people to give. These were the crops and produce of their land, and these were meant to go to the Temple (which no longer exists), and to support the Levitical priesthood (which has been replaced by Christ's priesthood). We cannot rip this verse out of it's context - we must adhere to what the word of God is saying.

Some might read God's command to "test" Him, and ponder if this is a contradiction with Deuteronomy 6:16, which clearly states not to test the Lord (and which was quoted by Christ against the devil). The key here is that these two verses actually have two different Hebrew words: Malachi 3:10 uses a form of bachan, which means to examine, try, or prove, and is often used in verses dealing with God testing mankind for their faith; Deuteronomy 6:16 uses a form of nasah, which means to test or tempt, and which, while often used in reference to God testing mankind, is also used in passages in which mankind puts God to the test, or in essence "tempts" Him to do something. Hence the KJV translation might be more accurate with the use of "prove" rather than "test."

Let me try to use an analogy to show how this verse is getting mishandled. Suppose I was good friends with someone at a car dealership, and he sold me a car for a good deal, with an understanding that I would meet the monthly payments to finish the rest of the cost. Some months down the road, I begin to fail to make the payments, and I get close to having my car repossessed...but, since we're friends, the car dealer gives me a friendly warning, saying, "You need to give me the money, and then you can keep the car." Now imagine if someone took the dealer's words and went around telling people, "Aha! Just throw money at the dealer, and he'll give you a car!" Is that an honest handling of the situation, and what the dealer said? Absolutely not.

On this note, those who attempt to use this verse to teach some kind of blessing for a monetary offering are actually in violation of Deuteronomy 6:16. When God says "put Me to the test" in Malachi 3:10, He is merely saying, "Act according to the statutes, and I will prove to you that I am faithful on my end of the covenant." On the other hand, those who teach that we should give as much as we can, as a way to see if God will do something in return, are, in essence, tempting God to act. They give as a way to say, "Come on, God, show me what You can do!" It is almost as if we are placing God under an obligation to give us financial blessing, when no such obligation exists.

Furthermore, if you continue on with the verse and those after it, you see that this blessing is agricultural in nature, not financial. It speaks of opening up "the windows of heaven," which is scriptural language for bringing rain (cf. Deu 28:12; Psa 78:23). He promises to rebuke "the devourer" (literally "the eater"), a reference to locusts and other insects which are destructive to crops; likewise, God will make certain the vineyards do not "cast" their grapes - literally "miscarry," and basically meaning a promise that the vineyards will bear fruit (v. 11). The reward will be so great that "all the nations" (meaning the Gentile nations) will call them blessed, for they are a "delightful man" (v. 12) - not meaning anything overtly spiritual, but simply meaning that, if Israel fulfills her end of the covenant, than the Gentile nations around them will see how happy and fulfilled they are.

No doubt, I'm sure, some preachers will here want to spiritualize all these things. The crops are our finances, the devourers are those who would take those finances from us (or maybe the devil, who takes time out of his day to try to make us poor), and the "nations" are those who can look at those in the church and see how prosperous Christians are. However, once again, this is robbing the passage of its original context, and spiritualizing it to say what we want it to say. We would not do this with any other historical document, and we would not want anyone doing this to our own words - why, then, should we treat the word of God with any less respect?

In conclusion, does Malachi 3:10 teach that, if we try to "out give" with our finances, we can test God and see what sort of blessings He will give us in return? On the contrary, it teaches nothing of the sort. Anyone who uses this passage to teach that it does is mishandling the word of God.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 10:18 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this episode, we provide a brief review of televangelist Ernest Angley, along with his questionable doctrines, and some statements I heard him and his staff make while I visited his church in person.



Much of this episode's content I owe to a study on Ernest Angley over at the discernment website Let Us Reason.

Here's the link to the blog post referencing Ernest Angley's teachings on the Latter Day Rain doctrine.

Monday, June 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

Last month, I wrote a post on Pope Francis inviting Muslim and Jewish leaders to pray to God together with Christians. Recently, I've come across a post on Patheos entitled Muslim Prayers in the Vatican…Shock Horror?!!? Written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, it attempts to lighten some of the shock that came out in response to the news (even from clear thinking Roman Catholics). After some explanation, the author explains what really unfolded at the Vatican meeting (the words of the article are in purple). Fr. Longenecker writes, in an attempt to explain why letting Muslims worship under the auspices of the pope isn't such a bad thing:
In other words, this is a time for some Muslims, Jews and Christians to meet together for a time of prayer each in their own traditions.

Critics will say this is a subtle distinction, but it is in the subtle distinctions that true discernment lies. Others will complain that we have yet another example of the Pope’s defenders having to scurry to explain away something he should not be doing.

Hogwash.

The explanations are only necessary because of the ignorance of the press who are sensationalizing what is a low key spiritual event.

Bottom line: The Pope is meeting with two world leaders to pray together for peace. This is part of his role as the premier spiritual leader in the world.

There’s another problem however, many people are uneasy at the idea that Muslims, Jews and Christians pray to the same God. While we may find Muslim extremism to be repellent and we may have a gut level dislike of Islam it is still necessary to consider the question of who they pray to.

So think it through: First of all, there is only one God. Then there are demons who masquerade as gods, goddesses and demi-gods.

You can therefore only worship either the one God–Creator of All Things or you worship demons.

Islam is not a pagan religion. It is a Christian heresy. It formed in Christian lands and is a legalistic oversimplification of Christianity. The closest comparison we have in our culture to Islam is the Mormon religion. Both are heretical offshoots of Christianity. They therefore worship the same God we do–albeit in a defective way.
I was utterly flabbergasted when I read this, and could not believe the error that was being presented in defense of permitting Muslims to pray under Vatican authority.

Firstly, we are told that Islam was "formed in Christian lands" - in actuality, Islam was founded in predominantly pagan Arabia. It was true that there were Jewish and Christian Arabs present in the region; some of these were even among Muhammad's in-laws. It was also true that some Arabs were picking up on monotheism. However, the governments, merchants, and majority religions of the Arabian peninsula were pagan. They worshiped idols. They engaged in polytheism. The fact is, Islam was founded outside of Christian lands, not inside.

Secondly, we are told that Islam is a "legalistic oversimplification of Christianity." This is actually an oversimplification of Islam. While it would require a longer post to explain, suffice to say Islam is a conglomeration of local religions and Arabic practices, mixed with legalism and peppered with Judeo-Christian names and concepts. Many Christian concepts such as covenants, atonement, sins, and the very role of Christ, are wildly different. In short, it is as much a "Christian heresy" as Baha'i is a Muslim heresy.

Thirdly, we are told that the "closest comparison we have in our culture to Islam is the Mormon religion." This makes me ponder if Fr. Longenecker is aware of Mormon theology itself: Mormonism is, at its heart, a polytheistic religion. If anything, it is closer to the pagan religions Muhammad condemned than it is orthodox Christianity. This is not even considering that it is erroneous (as we already outlined) to say both Mormons and Islam are "heretical offshoots of Christianity."

Fourthly, the author states that Muslims "worship the same God we do-albeit in a defective way." I would like to know what our definition of "defective" is. The Allah of Islam condemns the Trinity as a damnable heresy (S. 5:73-74), supposedly quotes Jesus himself as saying he never told anyone to worship him as God (S. 5:116-117), and completely denies the historic, Biblical account of the crucifixion (S. 4:157-158). To say Islam worships the same God in a "defective way" is akin to saying Adolf Hitler handled relations with minority communities in a "defective way." God is not the author of contradiction, and would not teach contradictory doctrines - ergo, either Muhammad truly heard from the true God, and God is the author of contradiction, or Muhammad heard from false spirits, and taught the worship of a false deity.

Islam is a false religion. Muslims worship a false god. Worship of false gods is worship of demons. Muslims worship demons. QED.

While Pope Francis himself may not partake in any Muslim prayers, his permission for Muslims to come and pray and to pray alongside with Christian prayers not only puts him at odds with Decree 25 of the Ecumenical Council of Vienne (see my post here), but is simply permitting the worship of a false deity to occur under his direction. As I said in the previous blog post on this subject, peace is a noble endeavor, and tolerance between two groups is likewise a noble endeavor...however, what Pope Francis is doing is not only unbiblical in its presupposition, but in its execution as well. This attempt to soften it only makes it worse, because it continues to present the false teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Nostra Aetate; 3) as well as the Roman Catholic Catechism (841) that Muslims worship the same god as Christians. As politically incorrect it might be to say such a thing, it simply isn't true, and to try to argue otherwise is to compartmentalize historical and doctrinal facts.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

There probably won't be a podcast this week, or the week after, because of business in my personal life, as well as a trip I'm taking in the middle of June. In the meantime, here is an interview I did on the Long for Truth podcast, about two months ago. In it, I speak about some of the teachings of the International House of Prayer, how the late Bob Jones influenced Mike Bickle and his teachings, and the cultic nature of IHOP-KC.

Monday, June 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

One verse often cited to attempt to prove the doctrine of the Latter Day Rain (that is, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our modern day, leading to the soon-to-be second coming of Christ) is found in the epistle of James:
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. [James 5:7; KJV]
The usual explanation by those who appeal to this verse is that the "early" rain was in the days of the apostles, and the "latter" rain is in our modern times, preparing us for the "coming of the Lord." One example of this:
4. They Received the Holy Ghost and Spoke in Tongues During the Early Rain
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the EARLY and LATTER rain (James 5:7). At Pentecost the early rain fell: But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16). And…I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28). In the early rain during the early church period, EVERY GIFT AND FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT WAS MANIFESTED IN THE CHURCH until the nine gifts and the nine fruits of the Spirit hung as eighteen perfect apples upon the perfect tree. The Early Church is our pattern today. THE EARLY CHURCH HAD THE HOLY GHOST BAPTISM WITH THE EVIDENCE OF SPEAKING WITH OTHER TONGUES. [Ernest Angley; 30 Bible Teachings Why You Must Have the Holy Ghost to Make the Rapture; source; emphases in original]
Is this a correct understanding of James 5:7? Let's read the full context of it (verse 7 is in bold):
5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. 7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. [James 5:1-11; NASB]
James spends verses 1-6 discussing the corruption of the rich who abuse their power and resources to oppress their workers and fellow man. Of course, wealth itself isn't bad, and James isn't condoning a kind of communist-like "sharing of the wealth," but he is speaking out against those who would use their wealth to make themselves superior to another man. The "therefore" in verse 7 demonstrates that James is making a concluding, continuous thought from the previous verses - in other words, it isn't coming out of isolation. In light of the corruption of the wealthy and powerful, James tells his "brethren" (most likely the poorer, oppressed Christians) to be patient until "the coming of the Lord," when these wrongs shall be made right.

James then makes a metaphor in regards to patience. He compares the patience of Christians to a farmer who "waits for the precious produce of the soil," until it "gets the early and the late rains." These "early" and "late" rains, however, are referring to literal rains: the "early" rains during the planting season, which were in October and November; and the "late rains" just before the harvesting season. Both rains took some time to happen, and would sometimes last quite a while, but the farmers waited and would bear with them, knowing that they would in the end receive their produce. James goes on from verses 8-11 to encourage the believers to be patient like a farmer would be.

A few things to note from this...

First, the focus of James is not on an "early" or "latter" rain, but on patience and endurance. That is, we endure our present sufferings because we know a day will come when all suffering will end. James mentions rain to briefly bring up a metaphor, but the larger point was in regards to a farmer's patience for rain, and hence we too must be patient for the coming of God.

Second, we should remember that those who uphold the Latter Day Rain doctrine believe that both the rain and the so-called "harvest of souls" are both happening now. However, in the context of James 5:7, this "late rain" spoken of happened before the harvest. If the Latter Day Rain doctrine really functioned as James 5:7 described it, then you would have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, perhaps several months of inactivity, and then the great revivals would be breaking out.

Third, there is absolutely nothing here speaking about the end times. As was pointed out before, James is using a brief metaphor regarding the patience of farmers to speak of the patience of Christians. He was not telling the Christians to look for a "later rain" of the Holy Spirit, but to be patient like farmers who await the changing of the seasons. It would have been especially silly for James to tell Christians to show patience in regards to the "early" rain if he and his contemporaries lived during the time period of the "early" rain.

In the end, what we learn is that this verse from James does not teach the Latter Day Rain doctrine.

To be fair, it should be noted that there are some who uphold a kind of "latter day rain" belief in the end times, but who likewise recognize that James 5:7 is not speaking about this doctrine (such as David Guzik, to cite an example). They, too, recognize that James is merely speaking of a metaphor for farming, not attempting to create eschatological doctrine.

Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

The following is the three part series on the Word of Faith heresy: where it comes from, what its traits are, etc.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 9:19 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this episode, we offer a response to four YouTube videos by Adam Charles Hovey, a Roman Catholic defending his church's doctrine. Topics range from confession, to the Eucharist, to faith alone, to the topic of assurance of salvation.



This link takes you to Mister Hovey's YouTube video page.

This link goes to the podcast episode on John 6 and whether or not it teaches the Eucharist.

This link takes you to a blog post where James 2 is discussed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 9:49 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this episode, we review two audio clips where Bill Maher speaks with two very different Christians.



This link takes you to the post where I discuss Matthew 25, and the sheep and the goats.

Monday, May 26, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

I did not intend to follow Pope Francis' visit to Israel and Palestine, but something I read in an article regarding statements he had made caught my eye. I began to look for more detailed, original sources, and found them at the official Vatican website. The first quotation here comes from Pope Francis' meeting with the leaders of the Palestine, from May 25, 2014:
Mr President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. Our recent meeting in the Vatican and my presence today in Palestine attest to the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine. I trust that these relations can further develop for the good of all. In this regard, I express my appreciation for the efforts being made to draft an agreement between the parties regarding various aspects of the life of the Catholic community in this country, with particular attention to religious freedom. Respect for this fundamental human right is, in fact, one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony. It tells the world that it is possible and necessary to build harmony and understanding between different cultures and religions. It also testifies to the fact that, since the important things we share are so many, it is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence, accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters. [source; emphasis mine]
That same day, Pope Francis addressed Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, inviting them to pray together at the Vatican:
In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.

All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective peoples – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.

Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace. [source; all emphases mine]
Let me make it clear I'm not against cooperation between various groups of people, be it religious, ethnic, racial, or national. I'm not against peace. I'm not against getting along. Do not misunderstand where my contention lies.

However, let's speak about the serious spiritual implications of this. Pope Francis has asked Peres and Abbas, neither of whom worship Christ, to come to the Vatican and join him in prayer to God. What God, however, do Peres and Abbas worship? Peres worships a unitarian god, and not Christ, who is the Son of God within the Trinity; Peres is a Jewish individual who denies Christ as his Lord and Messiah. Meanwhile, Abbas is a Muslim who worships Allah, a supposed deity that taught his followers a number of things that either contradict or outright condemn Christianity. Pope Francis desires to pray together with them to God...and yet neither of them worship God!

Let me make it clear here that I am not against people praying according to their faiths. That is, if a Jew desires to pray to peace, let him pray for peace; if a Muslim desires to pray for peace, let him pray for peace. I do not believe they should be forbidden from practicing their religion. However, when it comes to cooperation, it ends at religion because it then becomes a question of who God is. Pope Francis seems to believe that all three of them can pray to God together; no they cannot, for they do not all worship the same God. Pope Francis seems to believe that they are all children of God, and brothers and sisters in faith; scripture, however, teaches that the children of God are those regenerated by God the Father to worship Christ (John 1:12-13).

Scripture teaches that any worship not offered to the true God is offered to demons (Deu 32:17; 1 Cor 10:20). Pope Francis has, in essence, asked two men to come to the Vatican and offer worship to demons. Some might protest that it is for a good cause (ie., peace), and yet scripture makes it clear such worship means nothing (1 Cor 10:19; Gal 4:8-9). A Jew or a Muslim can pray all day, but - unless they pray for repentance of their sins and confess Christ as their Lord, Savior, and King - it will ultimately mean absolutely nothing to God.

This form of syncretism (rather, the worship of various gods alongside the true God, or treating them all as one and the same) was the very thing that earned the people of ancient Israel continual condemnation throughout the days of the prophets. It was what earned so much condemnation by God against the people. It was likewise a problem which Christians have continually fought against since the days of the early believers...and yet Pope Francis (even if with good intentions) has invited this kind of syncretism to happen at the Vatican.

Last week, I wrote a post on how the Roman Catholicism's teachings regarding Islam have changed over the centuries (one proof of Luther's accusation that popes and councils have "frequently erred and contradicted themselves"). The bishops of the Council of Vienne (the Fifteenth Ecumenical Council to Roman Catholics, and therefore binding), who, in Decree 25, called Muhammad an "infidel" and ordered Christian princes "to remove this offence [of Islam] altogether from their territories," would be shocked to hear Pope Francis calling Muslims (let alone unbelieving Jews) "children of God" and "brothers and sisters," then inviting them to St. Peter's in order to pray together with him, the supposed Vicar of Christ. However, this is (as I showed in the aforementioned post) the fruit of the past century, when Rome began to soften its language towards Islam and Muslims, so that it not only decreased any unnecessary intolerance, but likewise began to eat away at religious discernment regarding true and false worship of God.

Again, peace is a noble endeavor; tolerance between two groups is likewise a noble endeavor. However, what Pope Francis is doing is not only unbiblical in its presupposition, but in its execution as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 9:40 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

In this episode, we go through John 6 and discern whether or not it teaches the Eucharist, let alone the real presence of Christ in the communion elements.

Monday, May 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

A few years ago, I wrote a post examining the Roman Catholic catechism's teaching on Muslims in relationship to God's plan of salvation and whether or not Muslims worship the true God. In my studies, I've come across some quotes and teachings from Rome that have led me to revisit this topic - namely, a clear sign that Rome's teaching regarding Muslims and Islam has dramatically changed over time.

First, a quote from the Second Vatican Council:
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God… [Second Vatican Council; Nostra Aetate; 3; source
Next, from the Catechism itself (cited in my previous post):
The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day. [Roman Catholic Catechism; 841] 
And finally, from a pope:
Then we see another circle around us. This too is vast in extent, yet not so far away from us. It comprises first of all those men who worship the one supreme God, whom we also worship...we have those worshipers who adhere to other monotheistic systems of religion, especially the Moslem religion. We do well to admire these people for all that is good and true in their worship of God. [Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam; 107; source]
The Roman Church, however, did not always have such kind words to say regarding the religion of Islam. A Roman Catholic ecumenical council, held during the middle ages, wrote these words regarding the Holy Land:
Alas! the very land in which the Lord deigned to work our salvation and which, in order to redeem humanity by payment of his death, he has consecrated by his own blood, has been boldly attacked and occupied over a long period by the impious enemies of the Christian name, the blasphemous and faithless Saracens. [Second Council of Lyons; First Constitution; source]
Whereas the Roman Catholic church, its leaders, and its faithful today claim that Muslims worship the same true God, the Roman Catholic church of the middle ages called Muslims "impious enemies of the Christian name," saying they were "blasphemous and faithless Saracens" (the medieval name for Arabic Muslims). They would not have agreed with the Roman Catholic Catechism that "together with us [Muslims] adore the one, merciful God."

The Roman Church likewise taught a number of things throughout history regarding interaction with Muslims...much of it not very friendly. For example, Christians were commanded not to work for them, or live with them - in fact, you could be excommunicated for doing so:
Jews and Saracens are not to be allowed to have Christian servants in their houses, either under pretence of nourishing their children or for service or any other reason. Let those be excommunicated who presume to live with them. [Third Lateran Council; Canon 26; source
Likewise, Christian leaders were commanded to forbid the worship of Muslims:
It is an insult to the holy name and a disgrace to the Christian faith that in certain parts of the world subject to Christian princes where Saracens live, sometimes apart, sometimes intermingled with Christians, the Saracen priests commonly called Zabazala, in their temples or mosques, in which the Saracens meet to adore the infidel Mahomet, loudly invoke and extol his name each day at certain hours from a high place, in the hearing of both Christians and Saracens and there make public declarations in his honour. There is a place, moreover, where once was buried a certain Saracen whom other Saracens venerate as a saint. A great number of Saracens flock there quite openly from far and near. This brings disrepute on our faith and gives great scandal to the faithful. These practices cannot be tolerated any further without displeasing the divine majesty. We therefore, with the sacred council's approval, strictly forbid such practices henceforth in Christian lands. We enjoin on catholic princes, one and all, who hold sovereignty over the said Saracens and in whose territory these practices occur, and we lay on them a pressing obligation under the divine judgment that, as true Catholics and zealous for the Christian faith, they give consideration to the disgrace heaped on both them and other Christians. They are to remove this offence altogether from their territories and take care that their subjects remove it, so that they may thereby attain the reward of eternal happiness. They are to forbid expressly the public invocation of the sacrilegious name of Mahomet. They shall also forbid anyone in their dominions to attempt in future the said pilgrimage or in any way give countenance to it. Those who presume to act otherwise are to be so chastised by the princes for their irreverence, that others may be deterred from such boldness. [Council of Vienne; Decree 25; source]
In addition to clear commands to "Catholic princes" to forbid the worship of Islam (indeed, to expel it from their lands in an "obligation under the divine judgment"), we likewise see strong language against Islam. Muhammad is called an "infidel," and the worship presented by Muslims is called an "offence," with toleration of their worship and pilgrimages being displeasing to "divine majesty." Christian leaders permitting Muslims to worship freely and without hindrance is said to not only be an "insult to the holy name," but "a disgrace to the Christian faith." No doubt the clergy who penned the words at Vienne would be shocked to hear the words of Pope Paul VI that Muslims and Catholics together "worship the one supreme God," as well as his words that Catholics "do well to admire these people for all that is good and true in their worship of God."

No doubt some will desire to pull a tu quoque and argue that non-Roman Catholics (even some of the first Protestants) have likewise said hostile words regarding Muslims and other non-Christians. The point, however, is that Roman Catholics deny the statement from Martin Luther that popes and councils contradict one another...yet here, they plainly do. Keep in mind these are not general councils, but rather they are considered ecumenical to Rome (and hence binding), and we have quoted a legitimate pope (not an "anti-pope"). Yet reviewing the teachings in one and then the other, it almost seems as if these are two separate churches.

Some will also probably argue that these are merely referring to specific events in history, and hence should be seen in that context. While it is true some of these canons and decrees were written during the Crusades (or were during a time when another crusade was trying to be started up), they clearly use general language in regards to Muslims, their worship, and Christian interaction with them. Some (such as the quote from the Third Lateran Council) likewise includes the Jews alongside the Muslims. Again, there is a clear contradiction not only in how Christians are told to interact with Muslims, but (more importantly) how the religion of Islam is seen by the Roman Church. On the one hand, Muslims are called faithless and blasphemous; on the other hand, Muslims are said to worship the same God as Christians do. On the one hand, Catholics are commanded not to work for Muslims, live with Muslims, or let Muslims worship; on the other hand, Catholics are told "to work sincerely [with Muslims] for mutual understanding...social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom" (Nostra Aetate).

While I don't deny Christians should treat Muslims with grace, we have to use this to examine the claim by Roman Catholics that their church has been preserved by the Holy Spirit from error, and has always been consistent in their teaching. What we see here, however, is a clear development and change in Rome's understanding of how to respond to Muslims and the false religion that is Islam, as well as whether or not to even consider them a completely false religion. I've spoken to Roman Catholic laymen online who become appalled if you even suggest Muslims worship a false God, and do so by providing the quotes given at the start of this post. One can only imagine what they would think if the quotes from the Church of Rome in centuries past would be presented to them. They would either have to rationalize how the two groups work together (which would require some serious mental compartmentalization), or they would have to borrow the Muslim teaching of abrogation to forsake the more embarrassing decrees and canons (which would contradict the notion that popes and ecumenical councils can teach error).

The unfortunate truth is that the Roman Catholic church is like any other church: it is subject to change and modify its beliefs and expressions according to the winds of time, unless some kind of anchor is put in place. Roman Catholics attempt to put their faith in the magisterium, but the magisterium is made up of men, like you and I, and men can prove fickle. This is how you can get a Roman bishop hundreds of years ago calling Muslims "impious enemies of the Christian name," while a Roman bishop hundreds of years later says of Muslims "together with us they adore the one, merciful God." It is not an anchor which can prevent one from teaching error, just as any Roman Catholic is erring who thinks Muslims, in any way, shape, or fashion, are worshiping the true God.

The question therefore is, if your church, which you claim has not changed or cannot change, does indeed change and transform its beliefs, is it being led by the Holy Spirit, or is it being led by men and the rationality of men? No church is perfect, of course - only Christ is perfect. However, if you find yourself attempting to compartmentalize, you must realize that you are being dishonest. If your church forces you into dishonesty, is it truly led by God? These are things for Christian faithful to meditate on.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 9:37 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

Apologies for the delay in podcast episodes. In this one, we talk about the story of Rahab, and the grace of God given her.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 10:00 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

Here's is an oldie from back in the day: James White discussing Calvinism with the (now deceased) Dave Hunt. For those who listen to The Dividing Line, this is infamous for the "I'm very ignorant of the Reformers" line that Dave Hunt said (six months later, he claimed he knew more about Calvinism than most Calvinists).

Here is the link to the discussion.

Listening to it again after all these years, I felt absolutely sorry for Dave Hunt. He was either completely unprepared or (at the time of this recording) not mentally capable to engage in debate and discussion. His inability to stay with the text and give a direct answer to anything becomes painful after a while. Amazingly enough, some people still think his arguments against Calvinism are valid, which makes the preservation of this audio important, I suppose.

Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 9:51 AM Posted by Tony-Allen Cucolo Comments

Introduction

Back in about 2010 or so, a book came out called Heaven is for Real, written by Todd Burpo and discussing the experiences of his son, Colton Burpo, who supposedly went to heaven and experienced many things there. It has now been released as a major motion picture, and both book and film have reportedly done very well on the market (the book itself was a #1 New York Times Bestseller).

I knew the book existed, but I chose not to read it, as I had generally lost interest in supposed trips to heaven or hell after hearing Bill Wiese's and Mary K. Baxter's accounts. Most of them read like what I call "bad Dante Alighieri fanfiction," and I was always of the opinion that I had the Bible, which was written by the One who lived in heaven, therefore why would I need anyone else's account? Nonetheless, many people I knew or encountered had read the book, and swore up and down that they loved it. When the movie came out, I realized just how far this had gone (consider that, at the time of this writing, there isn't a movie for The Shack out in theaters...thank God). I decided to purchase it and read it for myself, and present a review for my readers. I know that other people have already written critiques, and some of what I say will probably be beating around the bush, but I hope this post will prove edifying for someone.

Surprisingly, the book was very easy to read. I actually finished reading it in one day. The chapters are short, it's only 154 pages, and, as I said, it reads quite easily. It also doesn't read like "bad Dante Alighieri fanfiction," but rather is presented in a kind of piecemeal fashion, with Colton's parents asking what happened, and him providing information bit by bit.

Nearly half of the book (perhaps just over two-fifths) is a description of the calamities that befell the Burpo family, leading up to the visions Colton had. Shortly after Todd Burpo, a pastor in the Wesleyan Church, has suffered from a broken leg, kidney stones, and breast cancer, he and his wife Sonja discover that their son, Colton, has appendicitis. Because this had been misdiagnosed by the doctors they originally went to, much of the dangerous fluid from his appendix had already seeped into most of his body. Taking him to a hospital further away from home, the parents begin to pray and hope that Colton will get better. Miraculously, he does.

Four months after the ordeal, Colton begins to make offhand comments about a visit to heaven, where he got to see Jesus. It gets more serious when he talks of meeting with his deceased great-grandfather, nicknamed "Pop," as well as meeting the child whom Sonja had miscarried with (something he reportedly had not been told about). Todd, curious about this, pries into Colton's mind, getting more and more information from him. Colton's claims and descriptions become the focus of the rest of the book.

Colton's Claims versus the Bible

It should be noted here that Todd Burpo has made a response to many of the critics who have already spoken out against his son's story:
"The Jesus in the Bible is the same Jesus who did this for Colton. If Christians don't like that they must be Pharisees... Christians and sinners still appreciate miracles. Pharisees never have and never will... In the Bible, Pharisees used to call themselves Jews. Today they call themselves Christians... The people who say Colton's trip to Heaven can't happen, I say, 'Read your Bible.'" [source]
Well then...it's only fair that we follow Burpo's advice and "read our Bible." Therefore, let's review some of the major claims made by Colton regarding what he saw in heaven, and see whether they confirm what is taught in scripture:

1) Jesus has a rainbow horse

One of the first big things Colton talks about is that Jesus has a rainbow horse. He explains to his dad that Jesus has a "rainbow horse" he got to pet (pg. 63). Later on, Colton even tells his grandmother about "Jesus' rainbow horse" (pg. 90).

Nowhere in scripture, however, is Jesus ever described as having a rainbow horse. The only part which comes close is the description of Christ riding a white horse (Rev 19:11), unless one counts Zechariah's vision of the pre-incarnate Christ riding a red horse (Zec 1:8). We would have to therefore simply accept Colton's words as extra-scriptural revelation regarding Christ owning a specific rainbow horse.

2) Colton's description of Jesus' face and clothes

Colton describes Jesus as having "brown hair and...hair on his face" (meaning a beard), with eyes that are "so pretty" (pg. 65). He goes on to explain that Christ wore a white outfit with a purple slash going across his chest, from his shoulder to under his arm (ibid). Colton even explains that "Jesus was the only one in heaven who had purple on" (ibid). On top of this, Jesus had a golden crown on his head with "this diamond thing in the middle of it and it was kind of pink" (pg. 65-66).

Of course, what has been pointed out throughout history is that there are no concise descriptions of Christ in his earthly ministry within scripture. The only exception is perhaps Isaiah 53:2b, which reads regarding the coming messiah: "he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." This would contradict one description from the book that Jesus is "very masculine, really strong and big" and "his eyes are just beautiful" (pg. 143).

Within the New Testament itself, the only descriptions of Christ are found in his post-ascension state, such as what is found in Revelation 1:12-16. Here, Christ is described as having white hair, a golden sash around his chest (literally around his chest like a high priest - not worn like a sash, as Colton describes), eyes of flame, feet like furnished bronze, and having a voice like the roar of many waters. This is nothing like the down to earth vision that Colton had of Christ. To be fair, most take John's vision here to be entirely representational - however, no depiction of Christ after the resurrection and ascension has Jesus in this tamed expression so common in "trips to heaven" accounts. After the ascension, Christ always appears in the midst of his full glory.

Similarly, nowhere is a crown described as being seen on the resurrected, glorified Christ, save perhaps for one moment in Revelation, where it is simply described as a golden crown (Rev 14:14). Nowhere is a crown described with a pink diamond. Again, we would have to accept Colton's words here as extra-scriptural revelation.

3) Colton's description of Christ's wounds

In addition to Christ's facial features and clothes, Colton likewise described the wounds he saw on Christ's body. He initially calls them "markers" (pg. 65), saying they are red in color, and then gives the following description after his father asks where he saw these wounds:
Without hesitation, he stood to his feet. He held out his right hand, palm up and pointed to the center of it with his left. Then he held out his left palm and pointed with his right hand. Finally, Colton bent over and pointed to the tops of both his feet. [pg. 67]
To this, his father thinks in his head, "He saw this. He had to have" (ibid).

Had I been told this, however, I would have readily believed that he was absolutely wrong, because of the fact that Christ wasn't crucified in the palms, but in the wrists. The Greek word used in the New Testament that is often translated as "palms" or "hands" actually refers to not just the hand (as we know the word to mean today), but the wrist as well. Also, history proves that Romans crucified people at the wrists because it kept the arms up better that way - had they crucified the palms, the weight of the human body would have torn easily and the hands would not have stayed on the cross.

This should be evidence alone that, whatever Colton experienced, it was not a true vision of Christ.

4) Children in heaven do homework

When Todd asks Colton what he did in heaven, his son readily replies, "Homework... Jesus was my teacher... Jesus gave me work to do, and that was my favorite part of heaven" (pg. 71-72).

Nowhere is this "homework" explained. Likewise, nowhere does scripture speak of any "homework" being given in heaven, either at this moment or after the resurrection. This sounds more like a child's religious fantasy than an account that can be confirmed by scripture. If we are to accept it as true, then we must accept it as extra-scriptural revelation of what happens in heaven.

5) Colton's description of people in heaven

Colton claims that "everybody's got wings" in heaven, and with them they can fly (pg. 72). The size of the wings differs - Colton says he had little wings (ibid) while his deceased great-grandfather had big wings (pg. 87). He likewise claims that "all the people have a light above their head," (pg. 73). He likewise explains that all wear white garments, and wear sashes, of various colors, although angels wear yellow (pg. 75).

No such description, however, is found in scripture regarding those who have passed on. Wings are only described in regards to angels, and often involved more than two wings (see, for example, the six wings on the Seraphim in Isa 6:2). Nowhere are wings or bright light attributed to those humans who have passed on. When Samuel rises at the behest of the witch of Endor, he is described as being in a robe and nothing else - no wings or halos (1 Sam 28:14). When the apostle John describes believers standing before the throne of God (Rev 7:9-12), they are only described as having white robes, and no other distinguishing features - again, no wings or halos, let alone multicolored sashes.

Todd attempts to prove his son's account by citing the account of the man Daniel encounters (Dan 10:4-6). However, this was an angel, not a believer in heaven, and the "gold" that he wore was clearly said to be (by Burpo's own translation) "around his waist," not worn like a sash as Colton describes. Todd runs into a similar problem when he cites an angel in Revelation (Rev 10:1), which describes an angel but does not confirm Colton's statement that believers in heaven look like angels. Likewise, Todd appeals to the angel at Christ's tomb (Matt 28:3), who is described as having an "appearance like lightning," but which matches nothing described by what Colton had told him - and, once again, it does not describe believers in heaven.

The one passage Todd turns to that does talk about a believer, and not an angel, is Acts 6:15. Quoting from the NLT, he says: "[Stephen's] face became as bright as an angel's" (pg. 73). Appealing to this passage, however, presents several problems. For one, Stephen wasn't dead and in heaven - he was still alive, and on earth. For another, Todd Burpo is clearly choosing a translation (and honestly, not a very good one) that conforms with what he wants to prove: the original Greek literally renders "all in the council saw the face of his as the face of an angel." It says nothing about Stephen's face shining in the same way an angel does, and while some commentators have thought of it as such (hence the NLT's rendering), others have pointed out that it is a way of speaking about inward discernment (as similar phraseology is found in Gen 33:10, as well as in rabbinical literature). We must also remember that, contextually speaking, Stephen is about to begin speaking at length to the Sanhedrin about the past of the Jewish people, and the history of salvation, and the coming judgment upon them. Stephen is not shining in the face (for no one reacts to him as if he were), but rather he is appearing before them as a true and holy messenger of God (the word "angel" in the Greek also referring to "messenger").

Even stranger is that the book emphasizes that Colton wasn't dead when he experienced all these visions...why, then, was he made to look like people who had died? Todd cites the apostles Paul and John as examples of people who went to heaven while still alive, but neither of those men immediately grew wings, nor described themselves as being transformed into what a dead person becomes once they cross over.

In the end, Colton's description of people in heaven fits more into a Hallmark Christmas card - it does not fit into a biblical understanding of what angels or the deceased look like.

6) What time means in heaven

Colton tells his father that he was in heaven altogether for about three minutes (pg. 76). Todd is confused by this, as Colton seemed to have done a lot in those three minutes, but shrugs it off with: "Maybe there is no time in heaven. At least not as we understand it" (pg. 78).

Predictably, he turns to 2 Peter 3:8, where the apostle writes that, to the Lord, "a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." However, this passage is not saying that one 24-hour day to the Lord is literally like a thousand years to us. When you look at the full context, Peter is speaking about judgment, and the supposed slowness of God's judgment. Peter is saying that we shouldn't be shocked if it takes God one year or a hundred years to deliver judgment upon a group of people, as a hundred years to God is really nothing, unlike what it means to us.

In order for us to accept that there is a weird understanding of time in heaven, we would have to accept Colton Burpo's claims as extra-scriptural revelation.

7) Gabriel sits at God's left hand

On Christmas of 2003, Colton began to tell his dad about seeing the throne room of God. Ge describes it as "really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is" (pg. 100). He likewise describes "Jesus' chair is right next to his Dad's" (ibid). Todd then asks who sat on the other side of God's throne, to which Colton replies, "Oh, that's easy, Dad. That's where the angel Gabriel is. He's really nice" (pg. 101).

Todd Burpo attempts to prove his son's account by citing Luke 1:13-15a, 18-19, specifically Gabriel's statement "I stand in the presence of God." Of course, scripture says that lots of angels stand in the presence of God (cf. Rev 7:11; 8:2), and Gabriel nowhere says "I sit at the left hand of God" (notice that, in the passage Burpo himself cites, Gabriel doesn't even use the word sit). In order to believe that Gabriel sits at the left hand of God's throne, you must simply accept Colton's account as extra-scriptural revelation.

8) What does the Holy Spirit look like?

While continuing the discussion from the previous point, Todd asks Colton where he sat in heaven. Colton says that he sitting by God the Holy Spirit (pg. 102). Todd asks Colton what the Holy Spirit looked like, to which Colton replies, "Hmm, that's kind of a hard one...he's kind of blue" (pg. 103).

At this point, I seriously had to put the book down and let my mind settle on what I had just read. The Holy Spirit is "kind of blue"? What passage in all of scripture confirms that? What passage of scripture even hints at that? I seriously almost stopped reading the book at this point - the musings of a young child had suddenly turned so goofy that I was amazed Todd and Sonja were still taking anything he said seriously.
Actual photograph of the Holy Spirit
Again, in order to believe that the Holy Spirit is blue, one would have to accept Colton's claim as extra-scriptural revelation. Then again, who in their right minds would do that? Unfortunately, it seems millions of people already have.

9) Nobody is old in heaven

When shown a picture of what his great-grandfather looked like younger, Colton says that this is what he looked like in heaven, and states matter-of-factly, "Dad, nobody's old in heaven. And nobody wears glasses" (pg. 121). At the end of the same chapter, Todd tells the reader: "The bad news is that in heaven, we'll still look like ourselves. The good news is, it'll be the younger version" (pg. 123).

This is rather interesting, given that, when Colton saw his miscarried sister, he described her as being as old as his current sister (who was very young at the time), only "a little bit smaller" (pg. 95). He likewise describes children being in heaven, seen in a childlike age. Why, however, are they seen as children and not full grown adults? Why are people not old, and yet they still are, in some circumstances, incredibly young? Do people grow up in heaven like they do on earth? Do they stop getting older at a magical age? Why are they not allowed to be old? This presents a contradiction with Colton's story.

In either case, nowhere in scripture does it explain how old we will be, or what we will look like. The apostle Paul does speak on our bodies after the resurrection, but merely says they will be glorified (1 Cor 15:42-49) - he doesn't say we will be a certain age, or that no one will appear elderly. One would therefore have to accept Colton's specific information as extra-scriptural revelation.

10) Angels have swords to keep the devil out

After watching the film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Sonja comments to Colton that he won't have to worry about swords in heaven. Colton quickly replies, "There are too swords in heaven!" (pg. 132) When asked why they need swords in heaven, Colton says, "Mom, Satan's not in hell yet...The angels carry swords so they can keep Satan out of heaven!" (pg. 133).

Nowhere in scripture are angels recorded as needing swords to keep Satan out of heaven, let alone is it even described that angels stand guard to keep Satan out of heaven. Job 1:6 even describes Satan walking about heaven and coming before the presence of God, with no sign that he had to avoid sword-wielding angels to do it. Todd cites Christ's statement that he saw Satan fall from heaven (Luke 10:18), though this merely speaks of Satan being cast out of heaven, not about angels walking around heaven with swords to keep him out. One would have to, yet again, simply accept Colton's words as extra-scriptural revelation.

11) When do we get our glorified bodies?

One thing I noticed reading this book was that there seemed to be very little talk of the resurrection. Initially I thought there was only one real mention of a resurrection in the entire book, and that is when Colton says of his great grandfather: "He's in heaven. He's got a new body. Jesus told me if you don't go to heaven, you don't get a new body" (pg. 136). However, I later realized that this couldn't be about the resurrection, as Colton was talking of a new body while you're in heaven, and that his great grandfather already had this new body.

While Paul does speak of us inheriting an "imperishable body" that will "bear the image of the heavenly," it is only given to us at the resurrection (see 1 Cor 15:42-49). Nowhere is it said that we receive this upon death, or when we get to heaven. Therefore, unless Pop has been resurrected already and then ascended into heaven, Colton's claims about what "Jesus" told him are completely contradictory to the biblical teaching.

12) There will be a Battle of Armageddon at the end times

Humorously enough, Colton apparently was given insight into the future as well as the past or present. He described witnessing the supposed Battle of Armageddon at the end times:
"Dad, did you know there's going to be a war?... There's going to be a war, and it's going to destroy this world. Jesus and the angels and the good people are going to fight against Satan and the monsters and the bad people. I saw it... In heaven, the women and the children got to stand back and watch. So I stood back and watched... But the men, they had to fight..." [pg. 136]
When asked what the monsters were, Colton explains "like dragons and stuff" (pg. 137). As for those fighting the monsters, Colton says they "either get a sword or a bow and arrow, but I don't remember which" (pg. 138).

Todd cites two passages to confirm what Colton was saying: Revelation 9:6-10 and 20:1-3, 7-10. However, in the first passage (regarding the strange locust creatures), no one is recording fighting them, only that they are plaguing humanity. In the second passage, no monsters are mentioned, only that Satan will seduce the nations, turn them against the saints of God, and then God will come down and destroy them with fire. There is no mention of believers fighting monsters or dragons or the like.

Colton's description fits well with pop Dispensationalism or popular notions of the end times that you find in bookstores, but, again, it doesn't describe anything talked about in the Bible. We would have to accept it as extra-scriptural revelation about the end times.

13) Animals are in heaven

In addition to the rainbow-colored horse, Colton claims that while in heaven he saw "dogs, birds, even a lion - and the lion was friendly, not fierce" (pg. 152).

Nowhere does scripture say animals are in heaven. Some will probably point to passages like Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25 (the famous "lion and the lamb" passages), however, these are generally believed to be about the new creation after the resurrection, when peace will settle on the earth. In order for us to believe there are animals in heaven, we would have to take Colton's word for it, in which case we'd have to accept it as extra-scriptural revelation.

14) The Virgin Mary still functions as Christ's mother

In a peculiar section at the end of the book, Todd gives an answer to a popular question asked by Roman Catholics:
A lot of our Catholic friends have asked whether Colton saw Mary, the mother of Jesus. The answer to that is also yes. He saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times, standing beside Jesus. "She still loves him like a mom," Colton said. [pg.152-153]
At this point, I began to wonder if some of the stuff Colton was claiming was just stuff he made up on the fly. It almost feels as if Colton is, at this point, merely accommodating the desires and needs of various people who ask him questions.

In any case, there is no evidence in scripture that the Virgin Mary functions in this role in heaven. We would have to accept Colton's description as extra-scriptural revelation.

The Gospel of Colton Burpo

As one can tell already, much of the focus of the book is on heaven. Nothing is said of a resurrection, the new creation when Christ returns, and the like. The message is almost entirely a cheerful one. Of course, there is mention of Satan, and at one point Colton Burpo says that someone recently deceased "had to know Jesus or he can't get into heaven" (pg. 57). However, there's no talk of eternal punishment. There's no talk of sins. There's no talk of judgment. There's not talk of mercy in spite of the judgment deserved. Even with the discussion of the end times battle, there's no mention of what will happen afterward to the bad guys after that.

How important is the resurrection? The apostle Paul connected it to the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:12-13), going on to say "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14). Christ's resurrection was "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20), meaning that Christ was the first to be raised in order that the future resurrection would be made possible (cf. 1 Cor 15:21-26). In fact, the apostle Paul portrayed Christ's resurrection as an important part of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4). This resurrection, however, is blatantly missing from any part of Colton Burpo's presentation of the afterlife - indeed, it almost seems meaningless.

One of the greatest dangers from this is what the Gospel is presented as. When Todd asks his kids why Jesus died on the cross, Colton says that Jesus told him "Jesus died on the cross so we could go see his Dad" (pg. 111). Granted, I can try to be gracious and say (as Todd Burpo says throughout the book) that Colton is a little child, and hence is speaking from the plain language of a little child...although Colton's claiming Jesus himself said this. The greater problem is that Colton's father - who is a pastor - treats his religious opinion as the norm, and even seems to accept his wording as what Jesus himself desires people to know:
In my mind's eye, I saw Jesus, with Colton on his lap, brushing past all the seminary degrees, knocking down the theological treatises stacked high as skyscrapers, and boiling down fancy words like propitiation and soteriology to something a child could understand. [ibid]
Todd calls his son's words "the simplest and sweetest declaration of the gospel I had ever heard" (ibid), going on to ask Colton, "Hey, do you wanna preach on Sunday?" (pg. 112). This watered down, simplified version of the Gospel, therefore, is presented as something Jesus wants every Christian to believe in. One can almost hear the kind of snide attack against most organized theology, as if Colton Burpo's Jesus is telling people, "Just throw out church history, your confessions, your creeds, your study of the original language, and just enjoy this message."

One complaint that has been lodged against most visits-to-heaven accounts, or near-death experiences, is that they often forgo concerns about our sin and our righteousness before God, and focus instead on the therapeutic concerns of most individuals. We can readily see that here, where the Gospel is distilled into the feel good message of "Jesus loves you." While Christ certainly loves his flock, this presents problems with how the people who believe in this will understand scripture. For example, Colton Burpo emphasizes how much God loves children, and presents the idea that all children who die go to heaven...how, then, would Colton (let alone his father Todd) explain the places in scripture where children (even infants) are clearly killed by God in judgment, either in the flood, the tenth plague in Egypt, the invasion of Canaan, etc. For those who have studied and looked at God's holiness and justice, this isn't an issue...for people who adhere to a simplified gospel like that presented by Colton Burpo, however, this will present them with problems. It is these kinds of people who atheists that have actually studied what the scripture says will snatch up or make to look like a fool when the tough questions get asked. How will they reconcile Colton Burpo's promise that God "loves" literally all children every where, and then in the Old Testament judgment is clearly being passed in the form of what atheists call (erroneously) genocide and murder? They won't be able to, because their understanding of God's love is not a biblical one, but one found in the private revelations of a four-year old boy.

The fact is, Christ's love for us is love in a certain context. Christ loves us because we are given to him by the Father, and so he atoned for our sins, and bore the punishment that we deserved for those sins. That's something even a child can understand without using the big terms, and unfortunate this is not the gospel we are being told from the Burpo family.

Todd Burpo's Discernment

Todd Burpo, we must remember, is an ordained pastor. Therefore, it is part of his job to test all things, and make certain that they conform with the teachings of scripture. When his son began to tell him things about heaven and his visitations with Jesus, how did he react?

Personally, I was rather shocked with just how easily he and Sonja seemed to accept his son's testimony. In the prologue, when Todd explains the first time Colton hinted at his other-worldly experience, Colton says to his mother, "I remember [the hospital]. That's where the angels sang to me" (pg. xvii). Todd describes this as being something that sent him and his wife into a deep shock, when I think most parents would have just figured, "My kid had a nice little dream while he was under." They later state they can't be certain if it was a dream, since "he seems so sure" (pg. xx). At this, I have to wonder just how many children the Burpos have run into over time. When I was a little boy, I at one point claimed to my parents that, one Christmas night, I saw Rudolph's nose. I was certain of it. I said it in a tone that fully believed I had seen Rudolph. If my parents had been the Burpos, they might have gasped, eyed each other, and then whispered in shocked tones later on, "Did he see Rudolph? He just seems so sure!" (Heck, I'm even reminded of the Cottingley Fairies, where two young girls were absolutely sure they had taken photos of fairies, and to their dying day insisted that at least some of the photos were real). Similarly, Todd recounts how, while he and Sonja were going over the bills and what to pay, Colton comes up and says, "Jesus used Dr. O'Holleran to help fix me...You need to pay him" (pg. 54). Again, the parents are absolutely shocked their son would think this way...despite the fact I could name Christian parents who can tell similar stories about cute things their children have said, and in similar circumstances.

Even sillier is when Colton is telling his father of all the details in heaven, and his father acts as if the vividness of Colton's account is strange, saying "little boys don't exactly come up and offer you long, detailed histories" (pg. 62). I could point to a few little boys in my church alone who, if you gave them the chance, would spin you a yarn that would humble George R. R. Martin. While Colton did present information that he could never have possibly known, it just seemed like the Burpos were acting shocked and awed in situations that most parents would have brushed off. In some points, it was almost comical how quickly they reacted with awe at their young son doing what many young boys have done.

Even more comical is how Todd and Sonja seem to submit themselves to the theological lessons from their four-year old son. Talking about how he wanted to ask Colton questions about his so-called experience in heaven, Todd writes: "if he had really seen Jesus and the angels, I wanted to become the student, not the teacher!" (pg. 62) Often when Colton starts to go into an explanation of what he saw or heard, Todd will often tell the reader that he considered this a "new information alert" or "new information time" (which hints that he was aware something about his son's experiences were new or different). The Bible clearly outlines the mother and father as the spiritual leaders of the home, but in the Burpo household things seemed to become reversed.

What is unfortunate, however, is how Todd Burpo (who again, is a pastor) seems to handle scripture in this regard. As the previous notes show, he will almost always take something his son says, find a vague reference to it in scripture, or a loose connection to it in scripture, and immediately assumes that Colton's claim must be true. So, for example, Jesus saying that he saw Satan fall from heaven is somehow proof for Colton's claim that angels walk around with swords to keep the devil out. Likewise, the fact that the Bible uses the word "rainbow" or various forms of colors is proof that Colton, who saw various colors (including a rainbow horse), really did go to heaven. To illustrate how fallacious this interpretation of scripture is, imagine this following scenario:
Kid: "I had an out of body experience where I went to Texas."
Me: "Oh yeah? What was going on?"
Kid: "Well, I met the Queen of England in front of the Eiffel Tower and Godzilla was in the Kremlin next door, and it was raining hard..."
Me: "GASP! It rains in Texas! That must mean he really was in Texas!"
This is literally how dialogue and so-called "scriptural examination" happens in the book. Never mind, of course, that only part of the kid's account was based on truth, or that the rest of the information contradicted the possibility, or added to that reality - nope, because two minor points matched up with each other, the account must have been true. This contradicts the claim made on the back of the book that Colton gave "obscure details about heaven that matched the Bible exactly." Todd comes across as ready to compartmentalize the discrepancies and specifics of his son's account for whatever vague connection can be made to scripture, as seen in one instance where his son gave a description contradictory to what the Bible says, and yet he takes it as a description that "matched Scripture in every detail" (pg. 66). Sometimes (such as with the Holy Spirit being blue), there isn't even an attempt to prove Colton's words are compliant with scripture - his words are just taken at face value.

The problem may come from the fact that Todd seemed completely and utterly willing to immediately believe that Colton had entered heaven. He writes after his very first round of questions with Colton: "It dawned on me that maybe we'd been given a gift and that our job now was to unwrap it, slowly, carefully, and see what was inside" (pg. 64). Even Sonja, his wife, seems excited by this, and ready to accept whatever Colton has to say. Whereas most parents might present some reasonable hesitancy, none of this is seen in Todd and Sonja.

There is also no sign that Todd thought to himself that, if his son really did have an experience, there was a possibility it was from spiritual deception. The apostle Paul warned us that "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14), and Christ himself gave warnings of signs and wonders passed off as legitimate works of God (Matt 7:22-23; 24:24). One need only look to the history behind Mormonism, Islam, and countless other false religions and heresies to see that spiritual deception is very, very real. If Colton Burpo really did have a spiritual experience, then - given the contradictions with scripture, or strange visions that are nowhere confirmed in scripture - we would have to accept that it was a false experience.

By What Authority?

As the previous notes have suggested, a lot of Colton's claims cannot be substantiated from scripture. As a result, much of it (if not nearly all) is extra-scriptural revelation. Oftentimes, scripture even gets interpreted through the lens of what Colton says, so that we are presented with a new understanding of how to interpret certain passages. This leads us to an important question: who's authority are we going by? Are we going by scripture...or by Colton Burpo?

What shocked me as I read more and more of the book is just how much emphasis was not really being placed upon Christ and the Bible, but rather on Colton and his experiences. Over and over again, phrases like "because of Colton's story" or "due to what Colton said" or "thanks to Colton" were used in reference to someone feeling better, or feeling at peace with eternity. Todd's mother tells him: "Ever since this happened, I think more about what it might really be like in heaven...before, I'd heard, but now I know that someday I'm going to see" (pg. 150). If you look at the Praise for Heaven is for Real section at the very beginning of the book, you'll notice a comment by Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, which says, "God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of a child, revealing some of the mysteries of heaven." Even Todd says that he and Sonja, through Colton, "had a glimpse through the veil that separates earth from eternity" (pg. 148).

This all confirms what we have been suggesting all along: that Colton Burpo has presented us with direct revelation from God Himself. He therefore has the same status and authority as the prophets of old, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, as well as the apostles of Christ's time. The logical conclusion of this is that anyone who even thinks of challenging Todd and Colton Burpo are challenging God Himself, and will be judged for it. Even if Todd Burpo has never said this (although his attitude towards critics is rather telling), it is, again, the logical conclusion from the statements made. There is no middle ground for "thus sayeth the Lord," or even "thus showeth me the Lord." Christians might as well purchase Heaven is for Real and add it to their Bibles, because that is how seriously many people take Colton's account.

Perhaps one final thing that alarmed me, near the end, was how people began to equate these supernatural experiences with belief in God. While speaking about a Lithuanian-American girl who had similar experiences to Colton, Todd describes that "her mom began to accept that Akiane's visions were real and that therefore, God must be real" (pg. 143). He also makes the alleged story that a nurse said to him, after Colton's recovery, "there has to be a God, because this is a miracle" (pg. 148). He likewise tells the story of a babysitter who heard some of Colton's testimony about his miscarried sibling, and says "Colton's story about his sister strengthened her Christian faith" (pg. 130). Todd even places talking about his faith in God on equal with talking about his son's experiences:
As a pastor, I was always comfortable talking about my faith, but now, in addition, I talk about what happened to my son. It's the truth and I talk about it, no apologies. [pg. 153]
This again places Colton Burpo and Heaven is for Real on the same level as the Bible. What was it the apostle John wrote about his own gospel? "These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). The apostle Paul likewise wrote: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). Yet we might as well change the wording to: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Colton Burpo."

Of course, all of this completely contradicts the doctrine of sola scriptura, and the concept of the absolute sufficiency of scripture. The apostle Paul wrote: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). The phrase "man of God" is harkening back to the concept of an Old Testament messenger from God. The point the apostle Paul is making is that everything in inspired writ is what we need for our spiritual needs - we don't need a little kid coming back from heaven and telling us about Christ's rainbow horsey. To understand God, understand His plan of salvation, and understand what parts of the afterlife we need to focus on, we have the Bible - anything else is simply fluff.

Conclusion

Todd Burpo told his critics to "read their Bible." Well, I have read my Bible, Mister Burpo, and I have held your son's testimony to the light of scripture...and I'm sad to say, your son's account has come out wanting. Your son was most likely facing the effects of delirium from the anesthetic (a side effect that can be so strong the victim actually believes something happened), most likely with some demonic deception thrown in. You need to forsake your presupposition and truly read your Bible to see if your son had a legitimate experience. Then, you must repent of leading people astray with these so-called experiences of heaven. I'm sure you love your son, and I'm sure you want to help people, but you must realize the spiritual damage you do - especially when you respond to any form of discernment by calling your critics Pharisees.

When I began reading this book, I put a little note on one of the first pages: "Question - Will this book deal with Luke 16:27-31?" After finishing it up, I had to go back and write my answer: "Nope." To explain, this passage takes place in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: both men have died, and Lazarus is up in heaven, while the rich man is down in hell, suffering torment. At this point, a dialogue occurs between the rich man and Abraham:
"And [the rich man] said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” [Luke 16:27-31]
This passage completely contradicts nearly every near-death experience, or so-called visits to heaven and hell, that are out there on the market. The rich man wanted to do what Bill Wiese, Mary K. Baxter, and Colton Burpo all claimed to do: come back with supernatural experiences about the afterlife and tell people about it for their benefit. What does Abraham say? Basically, Abraham says, "Look, they have their Bibles, don't they? If the Bible isn't sufficient enough, what good is your experience in the afterlife going to do?" Yet with all these accounts and experiences, we are supposed to believe that, after almost 2000 years, Christ apparently changed his mind.

Some might contend here, "But people have been helped by this book!" In what way? By coming closer to God? Which God? The apostle Paul warned of the possibility of people being swayed by "another Jesus," "a different Spirit," and "a different gospel" (cf. 2 Cor 11:4). As we have seen, Colton Burpo could not have been learning from the real, true God, as the real, true God would not contradict His word in such a way. If anyone has been "helped," it has only been in a superficial, emotional way, and not one according to biblical truth. We should not forsake the teachings of scripture for an argument from pragmatism fallacy.

Ultimately, the seduction of this book is that it supposedly offers answers to questions many people have regarding the afterlife. The problem is, much of it is already answered in scripture. It pained me in the book when people make literal pilgrimages to Colton to ask if their believing family member is in heaven, when they can simply read Romans 8, Ephesians 1, Colossians 3, etc., and see for themselves that, if their loved ones have died in faith, they are secure in the arms of God. The problem is that for many in our society the Bible is not enough. They cannot agree with the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. They want more. They want something else. They want an extra kick to their fix. They want something spiritual that appeals to them and their personal emotions. The devil knows this, of course...and that is why the devil is only too happy to present himself as an angel of light to present some kind of "revelation" to give the people something sweet and tender that leads them away from a sufficiency in God's word.

Brothers and sisters, we must not permit Satan to seduce us in such a fashion. We must be like the Psalmist when he said to God "I will delight in your statutes" (Psa 119:16). To permit ourselves to be influenced by contrary visits to heaven are part of what the apostle Paul warned about he mentioned those who "will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Tim 4:4). Let us look to the word of God for knowledge of our salvation, and let us look forward, most of all, to the coming resurrection, in which we shall be brought forward before Christ, blameless and holy, counted righteous not for anything we have done, but for what Christ did.

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