From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

Heaven and Hell

The afterlife is quite popular these days, judging from the popularity of books relating “near death” experiences. But what does the Bible actually say about heaven and hell? This is the subject of Edward Donnelly’s book Biblical Teaching On The Doctrines Of Heaven And Hell, and I’m finding it an excellent read. Donnelly points out that of course we don’t like to think or talk about hell; but we don’t hear much preaching or read much writing on the subject of heaven, either. His book is devoted to a Biblical exposition of both. And while it may sound quite abstract and theoretical, I’m finding it comforting, awakening, and pastorally helpful.

Here, for example, is one quote that clarifies what heaven is, and isn’t:

  • It is interesting that the New Testament nowhere speaks of believers going “to heaven” when they die. Instead, they go to be “with Christ”. Paul writes from prison to the Christians in Philippi, explaining how eager he is for the life to come, “having a desire to depart” from his present existence. But what, or who, is the attraction in that future realm? Not so much, apparently, heaven itself. The apostle’s great desire is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23)….For Paul, heaven means Jesus, so much so that the place and the Person are almost equated. Just as heaven is often synonymous with the glory of God, so is it inextricably identified with the Son of God, in whom his glory is revealed.

Tim Challies has reviewed the book and says this about it:

  • Though only a short book, weighing in at just 127 pages, Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell still seems to be thorough. This is, I believe, because though the subjects of heaven and hell are mentioned often in the Bible, we do not receive a great deal of detail about them. They are so far beyond our experience that God can only give us glimpses of what they will be like by drawing comparisons to what we know and experience in this life. This is a book that dedicates equal time to both subjects, first allowing the heart and spirit to recoil at the though of hell but then comforting it with the knowledge of heaven. Throughout the book Donnelly is pastoral, often challenging the reader and continually returning to the gospel, ensuring the reader knows that the promises of heaven are given only to those who know the Lord and that the horrors of hell can be avoided by those who will turn to Him. For those interested in doing some reading on the subject matter, this book is a worthwhile investment in both time and money. I recommend it.

So do I. It just might make a good Christmas gift for someone who wonders what the “true meaning of Christmas” really is.


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