Notes (by page refererence) on Randy Alcorn's Heaven

Numerous times, especially in the first dozen chapters or so, this book refers to itself as the cure-all for Christian malaise. Such self-congratulation may be appropriate in the preface or introduction, but it gets tiresome throughout the rest of the book.

Alcorn has numerous good ideas, but all of them in the first five chapters are direct quotes from other authors. Later in the book, long after the casual reader has given up, he displays some of his own (noted below).

p.51, "It seems reasonable to infer..." Pure speculation.

p.54, (From C.S.Lewis) Alcorn argues that as physical man was created in the image of the spiritual God, so the physical earth might somehow be an image of the spirit Heaven. An interesting idea, but only in support of clear teaching elsewhere.

p.62, An inference from the story of the rich man and Lazaruz, Alcorn rightly recognizes, "We shouldn't build a doctrine on it."

p.79, "If we can't imagine our present Earth without rivers, mountains, trees, and flowers, then why would we try to imagine the New Earth without these features." Actually our imagination is irrelevant. Many people on earth today have never seen one or more of "rivers, mountains, trees, and flowers" (and some none of them), so they have no problem imagining an earth without them. But even if they could not, God can make a new earth that is more delightful to our senses than our present "rivers, mountains, trees, and flowers" if He so chooses. Our speculation and imaginations are quite irrelevant to what God can and will do, except as He has specifically told us.

p.91, the prophetess Ann spoke "to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." Alcorn is often careful to point out oppportunities for misinterpretation and mistake, and even here he carefully picks out the word redemption. However, he neglects the possibility that those people might have been mistaken in what they were looking forward to. Luke is only reporting their aspirations, not the theological implications of those aspirations. They were not mistaken. Alcorn could have said so and showed why, but he did not. No great loss.

p.92 (Tolkien), p.93 (Westminster Catechism), p.107 (Isaac Watts), is Alcorn drawing his theology from other writers? They may have been, as C.S.Lewis often reminds us, repeating a collective unconscious that is the Truth. Alcorn missed an opportunity to say so, rather than quoting them as authoritative.

p.121, "the man from Heaven, who is both human and divine, could not [succumb to temptation]." This is slightly docetic (heresy) in the light of Heb.4:15; Jesus was not "tempted" just exactly as we are if he could not sin. I am not tempted to murder, precisely because there is nobody for me to murder: I cannot do it, so it is not a temptation to me. Gluttony, on the other hand, is feasible to me and a real temptation. Jesus' overcoming of temptation here is encouraging precisely because he could have, but did not yield to it. Other people disagree with me here, but without Scriptural support.

p.123, "... he's referring to our flesh and blood as they are now, cursed and under sin." [Alcorn's emphasis] It is always disappointing to see a Bible teacher explain away the text instead of arguing from it.

p.130, "I see no evidence that suffering and death could be part of a world God called 'very good.'" Like ICR, Alcorn is arguing from his own sensibilities, not from Scripture. We really don't know, and it is unwise to try to impose our own moral values on God. It should be the other way around.

p.132, "Paul ... uses the analogy of childbirth." Analogy is helpful in supporting an argument primarily made on other grounds, as Alcorn does here, but we should be careful not to promote it to primacy. Alcorn does not articulate that care.

p.156, "God may gather the scattered DNA and atoms and molecules of our bodies..." I suspect this is a little simplistic. Suppose a cannibal eats the missionary, then later repents and becomes a Christian; as the Sadducee's silly question about the wife of seven brothers, who gets the molecules that were once part of the missionary and are now part of the (reformed) cannibal? Everybody on Earth now carries around a few atoms that were originally in Adam's body.

p.162, "If we fall in love with the place ..., we'll be emboldened to follow him with greater resolve." Non-sequitur. If we fall in love with the place, then we are in love with the place, and not the builder. God wants us to be in love with Himself, not any place here nor hereafter.

p.190, "Might Jesus appear to us and walk with us in a temporary but tangible form that is an expression of his real body? Or might the one body of Jesus be simultaneously present with his people in a million places?" Given that Jesus is "with [us] always" even now, but obviously not tangible, this seems to be unnecessary speculation.

p.207, Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight..." Clearly Jesus expects the phrase "not of this world" to refer to the need to defend his position in this world. Alcorn cannot argue as he does about the materiality of the next world, one way or another, from this phrase.

p.232, Alcorn's view of "rule" seems to be limited to political sovereignty, which has serious problems: if everybody is chief and there are no indians, then who do the lowest chiefs rule over? I prefer to see dominion in a broader context. There was a joke that ran like this:

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who get their jollies out of altering the positions of the molecules in the earth, and those who prefer to tell others to alter the molecules. The first group have lots of fun, and the latter make lots of money.
I see myself clearly in the first camp, but Alcorn seems to find "rulers" only in the second camp. Applying Alcorn's own hermeneutic to the situation, I say, "What a bore!" The fact is I do rule over bits and electrons, and it's great fun to make them do my bidding. Other people, God gave other preferences to, and that's OK.

I see fewer comments in the later pages. I suspect it is because I found the book tiresome and stopped reading so carefully.

Tom Pittman