November 25, 2020

An Official Apology

sorry2.jpgUPDATE: Check out the 50 Top Selling Authors in Evangelical Publishing and you’ll see what’s wrong with us. (And sorry Reformed boys, but that is DON, not John.)

Time for an official apology. (WARNING: If you are ironically challenged, beware of this post.)

Roman Catholic friends, if you’ve ever been confronted by various Protestants over the tendency of your church to have a sacred tradition that exists in addition to Holy Scripture and those Protestants pretended to be above that sort of thing, I’d like to officially apologize. The same for any carping on our part about tending to believe legends and stories about the saints, Mary and so on. We all know that Protestants have their own traditions and canon of stories that exist outside of scripture and are only tangentially related to scripture, but, of course, that’s different.

Pentecostal/Charismatic friends, if you’ve ever been challenged by your fellow evangelicals for paying attention to dreams, voices and visions as if they were inspired revelation from God, then I’d like to officially apologize. We all know that us Bible-thumping-types have our own acceptable experiences and revelations that exist alongside scripture, but, of course, that’s different.

This official apology is brought to you by Lifeway Christian Resources, Bookseller of the Southern Baptist Convention and its high view of scripture, and glad promoter of the book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, a description of one man’s 90 minutes at the gates of heaven and all he learned there about life after death. (A good bit of information here at Piper’s FAQ.)

For those of you wanting a travel account of hell (and many of our readers probably would), Bill Wiese has that covered in 23 Minutes In Hell.

(Note: If you’re missing the irony here, sorry. In plain English: What gives us the right to criticize Catholics and Charismatics when LIFEWAY will legitimize this kind of extra-Biblical account?)


  1. Nice

  2. Back around 1979 or so, there was this book in Christian bookstores very similar to 90 Minutes in Heaven, a first-person account of an NDE that included a tour of heaven. I think the title was Caught Up to Glory or something similar.

    Like the blurb in 23 Minutes in Hell, it included a prophecy from God to the author that “You will live to see My Second Coming”. That was around 30 years ago, and the author also mentioned he was somewhere around 60 at the time. You can guess why I’m skeptical about private revelations and visions…

    (And for some real strange alleged “visions of Heaven”, do a search on “Percy Collet” sometime…)

  3. Friends of iMonk

    Remember that in his post of August 18, 2007 Michael asked us to pray for him in light of his exceedingly demanding schedule this semester. Let’s not just feel sorry for him or admire him for his work ethic–let’s intercede for him and for Denise and their kids.

  4. Mark,

    I’m not going to turn this discussion into a debate about the sacraments. Give me a break.

  5. Very good and insightful point. I think we (SBs) have created a problem for ourselves here…but what’s Southern Baptist life without challenge and controversy!


  6. As a person who is Catholic and who has been involved, in my earlier years with the charismatic movement, including speaking in tongues, I accept your apology.

    (I have often been the victim of divine ironic humor, so I enjoy it whenever I see it.)

  7. To examine these visions of heaven or hell and determine the validity of the experiences is a great idea. But I am little worried to broad-brush all visions as hallucinations or medical phenomena.

    My question would be, what’s the purpose of this? If I saw hell would I be utterly totally zealous to warn people away from that place?

    And what’s the purpose of seeing heaven? I would VERY much like to see glimpses of the actual place during this lifetime. But would that help anyone’s faith? I need Divine intervention not visions of my gravy job and posh house waiting for me in the hereafter.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical. Sorry.

    I believe very much in visions and I am distressed that real experiences are being scoffed at, all because of the conjured nonsense of others.

  8. um. then it’s not really an apology?

  9. I’m actually not an official spokesperson. I just play one on the internet. 🙂

  10. Dr. David Phillips says

    Anytime the “circus” experiences something extra-Biblical, then it is definitely alright and within their “absolute” authority concerning the faith. Your point is well taken. No wonder Jesus’ prayer to the Father for “unity” in the body(John 17:23) has not been fulfilled yet.

  11. Wow…I haven’t even heard of two-thirds of these authors (Tony Dungy wrote a book?). Do I still count as an evangelical?

  12. Grant,

    I hope we are still evangelical. I have not heard of most of those either the sad part is that most of those I do know I wish I didn’t know. A very ominous list if the ratio remains the same.

  13. Well, as one of your “Pentecostal/Charismatic friends” I’m sorta disappointed it can’t be deemed official 😉

    Just a serious thought here tho’. Aren’t those titles simply reflections of the widespread human longing to understand something of what is heaven and hell? I think it could be an indicator that people’s spiritual longings and questions are not being satisfactorily met. So they read a book, and hope it conveys a keyhole into the spiritual for them.

    So should the concern be about the topics of the books or about the unmet spiritual need expressed in the popularity of the titles?

  14. david gregory says

    I am guilty of being one of the 50 authors on the ECPA list. I noticed in the comments section of the Riddleblog that no one sprang to my defense, so either no one there has heard of me, or everyone there thinks I am firmly in the “wacky” camp. Probably the former.

    In the spirit of not casting stones too quickly, may I offer a brief rationale for my writings? I am a Dallas Seminary graduate and almost entirely a nonfiction reader. My last semester of seminary, however, I had the desire to write a story that would present the gospel to unbelievers in an intriguing yet serious manner, something I could personally give to friends and family who don’t know Christ. What emerged was a novella called Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, the theme of which I would describe as “the rationalily of faith in Jesus in light of what we know about the universe, humanity, the Bible, and the historical person of Jesus.” I self-published the book, printing a small quantity. I had no idea it would be picked up by a major publisher, made into a movie, and reach half a million or more. I cannot tell you how moved I was, however, when I heard a story about three Muslim men coming to Christ after seeing the movie — my heart in writing the book in the first place.

    My second book, A Day with a Perfect Stranger, might be summarized as the rationality of believing in Christ in light of the longing of the human heart for divine love, which only God in Christ can satisfy. My third book, The Next Level (to be released in Febraury 2008) is a spiritual allegory placed in a corporate setting. Its theme: life only has ultimate meaning when we regard our life entirely as part of God’s agenda, rather than seeing God as part of our own agenda to make life what we want it to be.

    Not everyone will agree with all of my theology (of course), nor will placing these themes in stories (instead of nonfiction) appeal to everyone. But they are serious themes, intended to convey the genuine gospel, aimed at the person down the street who may never pick up Piper (John, that is), to say nothing of Spurgeon.

    I too struggle with the imperfections of the church at large as reflected in Christian publishing. But some Christian writers — no, easily most, based on my associations — seek to be true light in a world of darkness. If the church passes them over in favor of what is not the gospel at all, we are all the poorer for it.

  15. Love it, Michael. I have been at one time or another one of the list of people you apologized to: Catholic, charismatic, Southern Baptist (while in Israel), now ELCA. I appreciate your humor. By the way, are you familiar with Garrison Keillor and his show “A Prairie Home Companion,” which is a radio show on public radio. The reason I ask is his humor is similar. The Catholic church in mythical Lake Wobegon is Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.


  16. Nicholas Anton says

    I enjoy allowing my imagination to run wild in a good sense, as well as having fantastic dreams. Though my wife and children enjoy my relating my latest dreams to them (I do have fantastic dreams), non of us take them seriously.
    In the early sixties the Psychology Prof. at the Bible College I attended quoted one of his former students as having said, “It is all right to build air castles, as long as one does not live in them”.
    Most people practice/experience some form of active or inactive imaginative “castle building”, whether by allowing their cognitive minds to run wild on most any subject, or in fantastic dreams when asleep, but these “air castles”, though at times informative and even brilliant, are at other times bizarre and irrational and therefore can neither be relied upon as Truth nor as the basis of Truth. A normal person is generally able to distinguish between a reality in verbal, grammatical conceptual form, an external identifiable object, and a fantasy.
    Christianity is/should be a religion of the mind, will and objective knowledge, and only translates/should translate into physical and emotional responses as the result of the former. In other words, I don’t believe because of what I feel and experience emotionally, but rather what I know cognitively. That is the basis of both modernism (I am not promoting secular modernism) and of the Gospel. However, once I promote my “dreams and fantasies/visions” as Truth, I am no longer building on cognitive, mind based truth as revealed by Jesus Christ, but on fantasy/experience/emotion.
    “Near death experiences” should never be taken as “gospel truth”.

  17. Anton,

    I am puzzled and a bit bothered by your statement that Christianity is/should be a religion of the mind. Christianity is so much more than that. It is first, and foremost a relationship with Jesus the Christ, Son of God. And all relationships that I know of,are much more than mental exercises. There are times and places for irrational exhurbance expressions of Love for God/Jesus and His Church. (generally privately though.)

    Yes, reason is important in Christianity, but so is faith, love and hope. (and the greatest of these is love.)

    I agree that private revelations, including apparitions should be tested very throughly. (The Catholic Church has a mechanism for testing them, and most of the popular ones have failed the testing.) Even those, which are approved, Lourdes and Fatima are the better known ones, are optional for Catholics to believe in.

  18. FYI:


    1. “Jesus of Nazareth.” Pope Benedict XVI (Doubleday)
    2. “A Jesuit Off-Broadway.” James Martin (Loyola)
    3. “Celebration of Discipline” 25th Anniversary Edition. Richard Foster (HarperOne)
    4. “The Apostles.” Pope Benedict XVI (Our Sunday Visitor)
    5. “Simply Christian.” N.T. Wright (HarperOne)
    6. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Doubleday, Our Sunday Visitor and USCCB)
    7. “The Dream Manager.” Matthew Kelly (Beacon/Hyperion)
    8. “Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality.” Raymond Arroyo (Doubleday)
    9. “Reasons to Believe.” Scott Hahn (Doubleday)
    10. “The Love That Satisfies.” Christopher West (Ascension)

    1. “Mere Christianity.” C.S. Lewis (HarperOne)
    2. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Doubleday, Our Sunday Visitor and USCCB)
    3. U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults. (USCCB)
    4. “The Screwtape Letters.” C.S. Lewis (HarperOne)
    5. “Handbook for Today’s Catholic.” A Redemptorist Pastoral Publication (Liguori)
    6. “The Great Divorce.” C.S. Lewis (HarperOne)
    7. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana (USCCB)
    8. “RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict.” (Liturgical Press)
    9. “The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics.” C.S. Lewis (HarperOne)
    10. “This Is Our Faith.” Michael Pennock (Ave Maria Press)

  19. and top 10 Catholic books at Amazon:

    1) Come Be My Light; Mother Teresa/Kolodiejchuk
    2) Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
    3) The Apostles; Pope Benedict XVI
    4) In My Own Words; Mother Teresa
    5) US Catholic Catechism for Adults
    6) Letter & Spirit, Vol 3; Scott Hahn
    7) Reasons to Believe; Scott Hahn
    8) Return of the Prodigal Son; Henri Nouwen
    9) Catechism of the Catholic Church
    10) Catholicism for Dummies; Trigilio & Brighenti

  20. I’ve allowed these last two posts, but I will not allow any posts attempting to turn this into a Catholic/Protestant debate.

    I will say I’m quite sure Catholics are buying some of those evangelical books. Osteen, etc.

  21. Bob Sacamento says

    One comment about the closing remark at Riddleblog:

    Novels, fluff, counseling, and “how to” stuff clearly dominates.

    The state of American evangelical readership would have (and indeed did) really bother me when I was younger. And it still does, to some extent. But I’m not surprised anymore when the readership lists are dominated by “counseling and ‘how to’ stuff” because, frankly, there are alot of people out there with alot of problems that (now I duck and cover) meaty theology isn’t going to help. Not that Christian theology lacks the answers, but, for example, telling someone to study chapters 12, 25, and 37 from Calvin’s Institutes is not really the way to help them if they are dealing with … I don’t know … a drug-addicted teenager. Theology is food; counseling and how-to is medicine. Yes, we neglect the food too much, but there are alot of people out there who need the medicine.

    What really does still bother me is that I suspect that the evangelical leadership — pastors, denominational and para-church officers, and the people who write these books themselves — are not reading theology, social criticism, what have you, either. They, I imagine, are just reading each other, if they read at all. It would be really interesting to find out what the leaders of evangelicalism are reading.

    And David Gregory, I knew that name rang a bell. I saw the movie version of Dinner with a Perfect Stranger recently. Not the last word in apologetics, but a good first word. I know it has given a well-needed kick-start to the thinking of alot of folks — Christians, seekers, and “avoiders” all alike. Thanks for bringing it into being.

  22. Michael,
    I didn’t mean to induce an ecclesial battle. And certainly trash is popular all over the place.

    I think the various lists do, however, point out the value of having skilled writers with institutional authority. Lacking extensive institutional structure, free-church groups are more flexible but give up a authoritative teaching office.

  23. Bob Sacamento says

    I think the various lists do, however, point out the value of having skilled writers with institutional authority.

    Like C.S. Lewis????? N.T. Wright???

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  24. Nicholas Anton says

    Anna A

    I will repeat the whole thought as I listed it; “Christianity is/should be a religion of the mind, will and objective knowledge, and only translates/should translate into physical and emotional responses as the result of the former.” The three components that I list are;
    1) mind;
    2) will;
    3) objective knowledge;
    A rendering of the opposites could be;
    1) emotions;
    2) fate/chance/magnetic determinism.
    3) Intuitive mysticism.
    Infatuation with and devotion to an aesthetical/mystical Jesus is the level of devotion of most devout Protestants and Catholics alike.
    Devotion and appreciation of God for Who He Is, What He Has Done, and What He Commands in His Word is what God desires of us.
    The former utilize rites, processes, images, music, lights etc. to enter into his mystical aesthetical presence.
    The latter enter in his REAL by faith in and to the objective knowledge of Him given to us in language form in His Word. In other words, the mystic visualizes a god while a believer believes an objective God, The God Who Has Revealed Himself In His Word. Allow me to repeat; “… I don’t believe (respond/worship) because of what I feel and experience emotionally, but rather (because of) what I know cognitively.” That requires both the mind and the will.

  25. Chris Stiles says

    But I’m not surprised anymore when the readership lists are dominated by “counseling and ‘how to’ stuff” because, frankly, there are alot of people out there with alot of problems that (now I duck and cover) meaty theology isn’t going to help.

    I agree with your reasoning Bob, in part. A lot of the ‘howto’ are aimed at real problems, though again some aren’t (books of generic boosterism). My problem with the latter is this: what does it say about the teaching in churches when people aren’t actually able to recognise the real problems anymore?

    Furthermore, the readership of such books aren’t evenly distributed. They are concentrated in certain parts of the church. This is an incredibly unhealthy situation and as someone who is a ‘charismatic’ (though in the Sovereign Grace sense these days) is one I find incredibly frustrating. It can drive me to near apoplexy if I only let it.

    I think we need to articulate theology and the cross a whole lot better if we are to wean people off what is essentially spiritual toxic waste. The recent talks by Tim Keller on Evangelism is a very good description of the model of engagement and the spirit we need to adopt:

  26. Um, I think those lists from amazon have more to do with how amazon categorizes their books rather than who’s buying them – 96% of Osteen purchasers could be Roman Catholic, and they wouldn’t be categorizing it in “Catholicism.”

    Piper’s book has a sequel now. We sell the heck out of both at Joseph-Beth – I’d wondered what Lifeway and the others did with it… I intend to use them to prop up a “Christian afterlife” display table soon, so the folks who are looking at Piper’s book will see some other options…

  27. Isn’t the source for the Catholic lists (the first set) Catholic bookstores? So of course Lewis and Wright would show up, but Osteen wouldn’t; because Catholic bookstores carry Lewis and Wright, but not Osteen etc.

  28. O.H.

    I’ve seen a Catholic bookstore with the “Left Behind” series in them. The DRE (Director of Religious Education) of my parish at the time, was surprised that I was upset.

  29. Anna,

    Right, there will be Catholic bookstores occasionally with things like Left Behind; but I’m guessing that’s as rare in your experience as in mine, while serious Protestant theology, even for laypeople (e.g. Wright, Lewis), is much more likely to be sold. So if the statistics are coming from Catholic booksellers, that will be reflected.

    I don’t think there’s any reliable way to find out what Catholics are actually buying and reading.

  30. A lot of non-Catholics pick up B16’s books, too. However, you won’t be finding them at Lifeway.

  31. Michael,

    Guessing that you haven’t read 90 Minutes in Heaven. I was very suspicious of the book but had to read it for an interview assignment. A better title would be, 10 pages in heaven, and 200 pages of recovery from a horrific car crash–a semi literally ran over Piper’s Ford Escort, leaving with with two shattered legs and one arm barely attached to his body. Piper was pronounced dead on the scene, then, an hour and a half later, was found to have a faint pulse. He says he had a vision of heaven during that time frame –but unlike NDE accounts, Piper’s description of that vision is understated–and there’s no guided tour. That vision, he says, reaffirmed his belief in the life everlasting.

    He recovered, in large part, because of the care of his congregation: church members sat by his hospital bedside for weeks, cared for him when he was housebound during his recovery, and encouraged him through an excruciating rehab.