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Last night, ABC News aired a two-hour Barbara Walters special entitled “Heaven: Where is it and how do we get there?” Since I missed the first twenty minutes of it, and I only took notes on the last hour and a half, this will be something of a “preliminary” report. I will do some more research on this and write a fuller analysis next week.
As you would expect, the show focused on the concept of heaven and the way different religions understand it. Evangelicals were represented, as were Buddhists, Muslims (both the radical and the “peaceful” ones), skeptics, scientists, new-agers, and pop-culture icons. The near-death experience crowd (which appears to be predominantly women) was given a chance to tell a prime-time audience about the theology of “the light.” Ellen Johnson of the American Atheists was given an opportunity to explain her belief of unbelief. Barbara was quite taken with the Dalai Lama and even asked to be able to kiss him on the cheek as they parted. Richard Gere, Maria Shriver, and Elizabeth Taylor all made guest appearances and espoused their views of what “heaven” means to them. In the end, the show solved nothing, raised no significant objections, and led us all back to where it originally started: Where is it and how do we get there?
The Evangelical view was represented by Ted Haggard, senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Barbara’s voiceover told us that Pastor Haggard spoke for 30 million evangelicals. While on the whole he did seem to do a good job in answering her questions, he left a lot of “wiggle-room” in his answers, a la Billy Graham. When asked if people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ will ever see heaven, Haggard replied that “there is no guarantee of eternal life” for them. Pressing further, Barbara asked if Buddhists, Hindus or others whose religions do not acknowledge Jesus will be in heaven, Haggard said that they will need to “work that out; they have to work out their own eternal life.” What this means I have no idea, but it most certainly gives a false impression to those outside of Christ and it demeans the redemptive work of Christ, the one who was born to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
A rather sad moment for me was when Barbara, continuing her line of questioning, asked Pastor Haggard “if someone doesn’t accept Christ as Savior, will they [sic] go to hell?” After a slight pause, Haggard answers “Yes.” Barbara then asks, “But what if the God is not Jesus Christ, if it is a different God, do they go to hell?” Haggard answers, “I think so, unfortunately.” In other words, Haggard is ashamed of his mean ogre of a god that sends sinners to hell. If Haggard were God, things would be different, but since God calls the shots, “unfortunately” pagan sinners who refuse to acknowledge their Creator and Sustainer will be sent to hell.
Now, I want to be clear that I have no idea what Pastor Haggard said that we never heard in the final edit of the show. Having been intimately involved in the shooting and post-production of similar type features, I know for a fact that things aren’t always what they seem. I would be surprised if Pastor Haggard is not livid right now about the hack job on his words. He may have gone on to clarify his answers in much more detail, but the American public will never know it. The editor and the producer have a certain direction in mind and clarifying or detailed answers will almost always find their way out of a production, unless they reinforce what the producer is trying to communicate.
Interestingly, there were a few individuals who spoke rather authoritatively in this special. One was a Muslim jihadist, who was in prison for trying to suicide-bomb an area in Israel. The other was the atheist, Ellen Johnson, who cleverly made her position of unbelief appear as the lack of belief and therefore, in no need of being proven. That is, believers have “faith,” she has “reason.” Barbara interviewed the jihadist from prison and cut back and forth between his “extreme” answers and the answers of a moderate-type Muslim cleric. The jihadist, at least, had the nerve to tell Barbara that she was, in fact, going to hell if she did not believe in Mohammed (interestingly not Allah). Next, Ellen Johnson emphatically told Barbara that this life is all there is, no life before, no life after; too bad, so sad, get over it. If only Pastor Haggard would have come across as authoritatively as these two. As Christians, we are the only ones who can speak authoritatively because we have the mind of the Creator revealed to us in His Word. Heaven is not some arbitrary concept; God’s Word tells us what we need to know about it.