Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
A friend, seeing me reading this book, asked if I liked Randy Alcorn’s writing – and yes, I do. I like the way he sets our earthly experiences against a backdrop of eternity, and I have found his teaching on money, especially, incredibly helpful. That said, I did not read Heaven quickly, as I would with something I can’t put down. It’s not that the book is anyway dull or uninteresting, but it is quite detailed, and actually lends itself to being dipped into, rather than read in big chunks, cover to cover.
The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 provides a theology of heaven; Part 2 answers practical questions about heaven; and the third (short) Part addresses how we should live now in the light of heaven.
The first section is thorough and helpful. Alcorn tackles the many distorted views we can have of heaven – that it will be boring, or ephemeral. Alcorn is very good on this, emphasising again and again the physicality of heaven, and just how delightful it will be. He quotes a little too liberally from The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia for my taste, but those stories do at least help to paint a picture of what we might expect in heaven.
Alcorn is also good in explaining the distinction between heaven as it now is, and heaven as it will be – after the resurrection when heaven and earth (and it will be this earth, though earth made gloriously new) are united in time and space. It is this heaven that ultimately we long for! In explaining these things Alcorn demolishes ‘Christoplatonism’ that fails to do justice to the bodily nature of our heavenly existence. This is such an important thing to grasp – anything physical that we enjoy now is only a foretaste of the physical pleasure we will enjoy forever in heaven.
I should imagine that most readers of this book will immediately turn to Part 2, however, which deals with the kind of questions everyone has asked at some point. Alcorn isn’t afraid to cover all kind of bases here. For example, have you ever wondered whether you will see a favourite pet in heaven? Alcorn thinks you might! Have you wondered whether there will be books, or art, or entertainment in heaven? Alcorn gives some intriguing answers. What about sport, or the adrenaline kick that danger can provide? This is something that has often bothered me as so much of what I regard as pleasurable involves the potential for injury! And Alcorn is helpful, speculating that it might be possible to hurt ourselves – but to then experience instant and perfect healing; and that we might (for example) still know the effects of gravity – which means climbing would still be dangerous – and fun!
Of course, in some of these answers Alcorn veers closer to speculation than to exegesis, but the whole book is scripture saturated, and is never merely speculative. While I might question some of Alcorn’s conclusions I appreciate his commitment to working out answers from the pages of the Bible.
The final part of the book is a reminder to us of how a belief in an eternal heaven should affect our lives here and now on earth. Alcorn returns to the theme of his books on money and possessions and asks,
What will last for eternity? Not your car, house, degrees, trophies, or business. What will last for eternity is every service to the needy, every dollar given to feed the hungry, every cup of water given to the thirsty, every investment in missions, every prayer for the needy, every effort invested in evangelism, and every moment spent caring for precious children – including rocking them to sleep and changing their diapers. The Bible says we’ll reap in eternity what we’ve planted in this life.
That is an encouraging thought, and this is an encouraging book.
Howver, for those who might feel daunted by the 500 pages of Heaven, there is a pocket sized summary of the book available, in the Tyndale Touchpoints series. It is this book I will be recommending at Gateway when I preach on heaven in a few weeks time. Shorter, pithier and cheaper than the big book, it is well worth laying your hands on.