Heaven is no easy topic to write about--yet there is no lack of people who've taken up the task. As Scot McKnight points out in his new book The Heaven Promise, a browse through the local Christian bookstore or a quick Google search reveals that heaven is an "intense human interest story." And how much more now with the recent surge of heaven tourism books...well, at least the ones that aren't rescinded because the author admits to making up the story.
So who better than a seminary professor who teaches New Testament to write a book about heaven with the subtitle, Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come? Except for the Bible obviously, that's the only book about heaven I'm interested in--one that engages what the Bible says about it! And The Heaven Promise promised to be that book:
"In what follows I want to sketch the most important ideas about heaven that come from the Bible." (page 8)
"God gave us our imaginations, but the surest place for understanding Heaven is not our imaginations or stories of afterlife experiences, but the Bible itself." (page 135)
"At the heart of my own argument is the belief that Christians need to form their beliefs about Heaven on the basis of the Bible." (page 165)
Unfortunately though, The Heaven Promise didn't deliver--which is unfortunate, because I liked much of the book. Well, I liked much of the first half. It's basically divided into two halves; the first to look at the promises of heaven, and the second to answer some FAQ's about heaven. Especially interesting to me in the first half are discussions of:
The two dominant views of heaven--theocentric and kingdom-centric (pages 11-14);
The difference between lowercase-h heaven, and uppercase-H Heaven (page 45);
Heaven as a place of deep, ecstatic joy and pleasure (pages 76-79).
To be fair, I agreed with much of what the author said, but I disagreed with much, too. And it's where I disagreed that I have the problem--not because I disagreed per se, but because I expected to be persuaded; I expected to engage the Bible's truth about Heaven. However, the second half of the book, especially, interacts very little with Scripture--at least in any meaningful way. In the section of the book with the potential to be the only part a casual reader may look at, this was where Scripture really needed to dominate the discussion. The FAQ's. The questions about pets. And people who've never heard of Jesus. And purgatory. And children who die. The questions people are asking. The questions were supposed to be answered by "engaging the Bible's truth."
Instead, many of the questions were answered with "it gets speculative at this point," "we don't know how God," "I cannot see how," "I am not confident the Bible allows us to answer this question with absolute confidence," and there was one especially entertaining string of if-then statements about marriage and families in Heaven.
Despite its challenges and failing to actually interact with much of the Bible on the topic of Heaven, I would recommend this book for the purpose of light study. For the person studying Heaven and wanting some interesting (and even encouraging) popular-level thoughts about it, this book would work. For the person searching for biblical answers about Heaven, I wouldn't recommend it--which is not fun to say since that was the author's aim.