One of the frustrations of the Christian publishing market are so many titles tripping over themselves saying essentially the same things. I rather expected Heaven and the Afterlife to be a good review pick having read (out loud, actually) 50 Days of Heaven which an abridgment of Randy Alcorn’s longer work, Heaven. I figured it would somehow qualify me to compare two works on the same topic, and quickly write a short 150-word review.
Instead, I found myself with something completely different; a title much more comprehensive on diverse subjects that preoccupy the thoughts of many; a book that would also appeal to those who had read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, or 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese, not to mention Angels by Billy Graham and a whole raft of titles by Grant Jeffrey. In fact, the book is so wide in scope that while Garlow cites Randy Alcorn, he does so only a couple of times.
The book begins with the subject of near death experiences (NDEs) and moves on to after death communication (ADC) and takes an approach that I think would appeal to the general reader, the secularist, even the skeptic. It’s lighter on Biblical content in the earlier chapters, instead easing into the topic by raising the questions which all of us — churched and non-churched alike — often ask when dealing with these difficult subjects. Later chapters discuss angels, demons, reincarnation, eschatology and the concept of purgatory.
Every one of the 21 chapters in this book could really be a book in itself. At times — such as the chapter on demons or the chapter on end-times judgment — Garlow leaves us wanting more; at others, he covers the ground so quickly that I wonder if skeptics would accept the progressive reasoning, or would, like Wikipedia editors, cry “citation needed.”
But I think that is exactly the point. In 258 pages of text, the best one can offer is a general overview. The subject of heaven specifically and the subject of the afterlife in general, is indeed a complex series of discussions which probably touch on even more than the 21 topics contained here. Where the book most succeeds is to show us that these topics are interconnected and part of a unified whole; considerations that must be weighed against the “big picture” conceived in the mind of God, and reflective of His very nature.
So while the book assumes a basic concession to the Biblical view on such things, it also helps us improve our Biblical literacy on these topics, and builds respect for the scriptural take on death and the end-times.
Therefore, I want to modify what I said last week in a preview to this review. I still think the book might be useful to give to someone who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith; but I think it would work better if given to someone who is already moving in that direction but has some questions. While I might be tempted to file this book under “H” for heaven or “D” for death, I think it also has a place under “A” for apologetics.
If you don’t know Garlow, he is a most prolific writer, a pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego and holds six — count ’em — theological degrees. So he’s quite capable of dealing in later chapters with two current “hot button” topics: Universalism (which can be an ‘all roads lead to God’ viewpoint, or an ‘everyone is saved in the end’ theory) and Annihilation (the idea that those who don’t accept Christ simply cease to exist after death.) He deals honestly with the arguments used in support of these positions and shows respect for their proponents, but then explains why he cannot buy in.
If a book may be judged by its ability to deliver on its title, Heaven and the Afterlife contains — theologically speaking — everything but the kitchen sink. This is the current exhaustive treatment of the breadth and width of this topic.
Heaven and the Afterlife – James L. Garlow with Keith Wall (Bethany House, 2009; paperback, $13.99 US)
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