Last night I attended a dramatic production – Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames – at a local church. I’d seen an earlier version of it several years ago, but my son wanted to go, so I took him.
In the pre-drama sermon, the producer said that they were not trying to “scare people into heaven.” Despite the disclaimer, it sure seemed like that was exactly what they were doing.
The drama consists of several vignettes, showing two types of people. People are shown going about their lives, some doing “normal” activities – driving, flying, eating lunch – others doing drugs, drinking, partying, etc. In each case they are talking about going to heaven. Some have given their lives to Christ and urge their companions to do likewise. “You never know how much time you’ll have,” they are admonished. In most cases, excuses fly: “I have plenty of time,” “I’m a good person,” “I have another way of handling things,” and “I have too much life to live right now to mess with god stuff.” But in each case, they don’t have enough time. They die suddenly and find themselves in heaven, a bright shiny place surrounded by angels. When they realize where they are, the Christians among them get happy, the non-Christians panic. The BIG THING is having your name written in the Book of Life. If the angel finds your name there, happy music ensues, Jesus appears at the top of the stairs, and you go up to him. But if your name ISN’T found there, the devil and his helps come out to loud clashing sounds and haul you off to hell. This happens over and over again.
If the message is: “Jesus makes an eternal difference in your life; You can have an eternal relationship with Jesus through faith; Heaven and Hell are real and through the grace of God we have a choice in where we go; and We don’t know how long we have;” then I think it is true enough. But the presentation – or we might say, the rhetorical style of the presentation was deceptive and will guide people wrongly.
Here’s what I saw:
- It’s all about me. I need eternal life. I need to go to heaven. I need to have MY name in the book of life. BUT: It’s not all about me. It’s about God. We are saved for HIS sake, not our own.
- Christianity is all about going to heaven. BUT: Christianity is about a love relationship with God. This relationship is multi-dimensional and includes much more (though not less!) than spending eternity with Jesus.
- If you don’t know for certain – “beyond a shadow of a doubt” – that you’re going to heaven, then you’re probably in trouble. BUT: We humans have the capacity to doubt almost anything. If modern philosophers can doubt so much they find solipsism a rational position, then surely it’s not too much to have a doubt of one’s going to heaven. Being paralyzed by doubt it one thing, but attending to doubts and trying to eliminate them all will do nothing in the long run but nourish them and make them grow.
- There was the intimation that it is our decision for Christ that makes the big difference. BUT: It’s Jesus that makes the difference. Our “decision” is part, yes. But our confidence is never in ourselves, our own confession of Jesus, our saying a prayer or our going forward in response to an altar call. Assurance comes from looking at Jesus, not from loking at ourselves and our religious/spiritual acts.
- During the invitation sermon, the preacher made the comment (I paraphrase since I didn’t write the quote down immediately): “There is a YOU sized hole in God and a God sized hole in you.” BUT: Whereas the latter has been directly expressed at least since Pascal, the former is downright wrong – at least as mainstream Christianity sees things. I think the statement may have merely been careless rhetorical excess, but claiming that God NEEDS us again seems to be a way of saying “It’s all about me.”
An historical sidenote: I notice that the outfit that produces the drama grew out of the ministry of Rex Humbard. Their site makes much of their pioneering use of drama for evangelism.