In two recent articles the Rev. Mark Hoeksema has discussed the “findings” of Dr. Raymond Moody concerning what is popularly called “Life After Life,” which relates to the experiences of individuals who, though declared clinically dead, have lived to tell some strange things which happened to them while “dead.” The reader may refresh his memory by referring to Rev. Hoeksema’s articles. Briefly, he approached the issue from the point of view of II Timothy 3:5, suggesting that the experiences reported and their interpretation represent something of that phenomenon of the last days—a form of godliness without the power thereof.
Concerning this I have some questions:
1. Do these experiences really manifest a “form of godliness,” or is it more likely that here is an example of devilish deception by the one who sometimes casts himself as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:14)? After all, it cannot possibly be maintained that these people were actually dead. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment.” (Heb. 9:27) Thus, their experiences are not those of people who have returned from the “other side.” Add the fact that not all those who had these experiences are Christian, and you have a problem explaining why the experiences were almost always pleasant. Does Rev. Hoeksema suggest that God would so mislead the ungodly? Is it not more likely that Satan is deceiving people into a view of death that does not square with Scripture’s facts?
2. What does Rev. Hoeksema mean when he asks in his second article (9/1/77), “Is it not possible that the descriptions given . . . approach the truth of the glory of which the Bible speaks?” (p. 472) and then, a bit further on (p. 473), “. . . is it not the will of God to encourage His saints by this revelation (italics added) be it by means even of wicked men giving them a partial and imperfect glimpse into the future glory of the faithful?” What meaneth this “revelation?” Surely Rev. Hoeksema does not believe in “revelation” in the sense in which pentecostalism speaks of it.
What then? Should we not be warning our people against the deception involved in this “Life After Life” madness, rather than finding good things to say about it?
Please Rev. Hoeksema—some clarification.
I would like to thank Pastor Case for his questions regarding my articles on “Life After Life.” It is evident to me that he writes in the spirit of a friendly and Christian attempt to further our knowledge of God’s revelation especially as it applies to our lives in the end times. I reply in the same spirit, attempting to answer some of the questions he has raised.
The first question implies the necessity of choosing between two mutually exclusive viewpoints: Do these experiences manifest a form of godliness, or are they an example of devilish deception? While I have said the former, Pastor Case seems to take the latter position, and implies also that such a choice must be made. That alternative I do not accept, because I do not believe that these are mutually exclusive alternatives, I think that rather the point is that both must be taken together, in the sense that this devilish deception is part of the form of godliness. It must be remembered that the godliness concerns form only, and not contents; this in itself implies that there is deception involved, and we know that the father of deception and the lie is the devil. Surely, then, this matter of Life After Life is an example of devilish deception that God allows the devil to practice on the wicked; but it cannot be denied that even this deception comes in the garb of a form of godliness. And is not this the way in which the devil always works?
Regarding the other statements and questions appended to this first major question, I would observe the following. Pastor Case asserts that the people under discussion did not have the experiences of people who returned from the other side, implying on the basis of Heb. 9:27 that this would be impossible. But is it? What about Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus, as well as other Scriptural examples? Why could not the same phenomenon occur today, given the abilities of modem medicine? If these people did not return from the “other side,” then from where, being dead in the fullest sense of the word as we understand death, did they return? Pastor Case also refers to a problem of explaining that all the experiences were pleasant, whereas Scripture presents a picture of judgment and damnation. Exactly this problem I raised in my first article, but the problem was solved in Dr. Moody’s second book, in which he speaks of negative experiences. Pastor Case wonders whether I mean to suggest that God is misleading the ungodly. My intention in my articles was not to express an opinion on that particular point, but if asked directly, then I reply that that is certainly within the realm of possibility. II Thess. 2:11-12 says (in the context of reprobation) that “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” To answer the last question, surely Satan is deceiving people into accepting an erroneous view of death, but always under the sovereign control of Almighty God and for His purposes.
Regarding the second main question and its connected items, Pastor Case questions my application of this whole matter to the people of God, and wonders if we should be busy in warning our people against such evils. Regarding this matter of warning, I agree, and the whole tone of my articles, as well as specific statements, reflect that spirit. I admit that I did not state this warning directly, but rather implied it, even in the titles of these articles, which spoke of form without power. Is that assuming too much on the part of our people? And most emphatically, Pastor Case, I do not believe in any Pentecostal conception of revelation. Perhaps that word was ill-chosen because of its wrong use by many today, so I am open to the suggestion of a better one. I do, however, stand by my interpretation of-the significance of this whole matter for the people of God. I do not mean at all to deny that there is a large negative element of the lie, deception, and wickedness involved, against which God’s people must be warned. But is the meaning of this limited to a negative application?, If we believe that God does all things for the sake of His elect church, and that allthings must, in one way or another, serve the redemption of the saints, then does not the matter of life after death do this also? I do not mean to suggest that all that has been reported is fact, but implied the opposite in asking in my second article, “Assuming that even a small part of what Dr. Moody reports is true, why does God in His sovereign control choose to reveal these things??’ Surely God does not use unbelievers to instruct the church in the truths of the kingdom of heaven, for unbelievers cannot even perceive the spiritual realities of the kingdom. Nor, as I stated in my second article, must we view this matter as proof to faith, since faith rests upon the Word of God in Christ alone. Faith, then, does not view this matter as an extra-Scriptural form of God’s revelation. But do all these negative truths preclude the possibility that God’s people see some positive purpose in all of this? Perhaps there is no positive significance, or perhaps the positive significance is not what I implied in my articles. That, too, is exactly the reason why I put the matter of any positive application in question form; I did not take any hard and fast position, exactly because matters of life after death are deep waters in which to swim. But if the positive significance is not what I implied it could be, then what is it?
I hope that these answers satisfy the questions, Pastor Case, and that I have corrected any mistaken impressions you might have. Again, thanks for your interest!
Rev. Mark Hoeksema
About the Legitimacy of Drama
From the Rev. Alastair McEwen, pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Frankston, Victoria, Australia, your editor received a letter several weeks ago concerning Rev. Bekkering’s May 15 guest article about the legitimacy of drama. This letter I forwarded to Rev. Bekkering shortly before he moved to Houston, Texas; and I suggested that he reply to Rev. McEwen (whom we met during our Australasian tour), and also that perhaps he could write further on this subject when next he was scheduled for a guest article.
Rev. McEwen’s concern in his letter was that Rev. Bekkering’s article was unbiblical because the Scripture references were selective and because important Biblical data were not considered. He suggests that the topic of drama be dealt with again, this time with a more thorough examination of Scripture.
Because his letter is too long and because it is not even clear whether it was intended for publication, I will not quote the entire letter, but only the sections pertinent to Rev. Bekkering’s reply:
“And what Scriptures have not been considered? Remembering that Rev. Bekkering states that ‘the fundamental error in drama is impersonation,’ what are we to do with the example of David—David who ‘did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life’ (I Kings. 15:5)—when he ‘feigned himself mad amongst the Philistines’ (I Sam. 21:13)? Perhaps this is not an example to follow. But what about Ezekiel who, under the Lord’s instruction, acted out the part of an exile (Ezek. 4 and Ezek. 12)? Was not this impersonation? Certainly it was acting designed to convey truth (see Ezek. 12:3). Isaiah was also under the Lord’s instructions to perform similar actions (Isaiah 20).
“But is not the classic example, which, if I understand Rev. Bekkering correctly, ought to be condemned out of hand, that of the man from the sons of the prophets who, ‘in the word of the Lord,’ gained an unnecessary wound and acted out the part of an unfaithful guard? Was not this to convey truth? Certainly we cannot condemn all impersonation when here we see that it was directed by the Lord.
“Let me make it clear that I am not maintaining that all drama is right nor even that any drama of today is right. What I am saying is that we cannot conclude anything until all the relevant Biblical data are taken into consideration. We who are responsible to shepherd the flock of Jesus Christ run the risk of leading them astray when we neglect to examine all the relevant Scriptures when dealing with any topic. This is all the more important when dealing with one with such wide implications as drama.”
Next follows Rev. Bekkering’s response.
Dear Mr. Editor,
I would like to respond to the letter of brother McEwen as follows: First I would like to thank the brother for his interest in and concern for the Standard Bearer.
His letter arises in connection with an article written by the undersigned which appeared in the May 15, 1977 issue of the Standard Bearer entitled “Is Drama a Legitimate Means to Convey the Truth?” (I ask the readers to dig out that issue of the Standard Bearerand reread the article in question.)
As I gather from the brother’s letter his primary concern is for the proper method of reaching a Biblical conclusion on any matter and secondarily is he concerned with the subject of drama.
Now, I too am concerned with proper method, and I agree that all the important and relevant Biblical data should be examined before one comes to a conclusion on any given matter. The problem arises because brother McEwen supposes that he finds in the Bible instances where impersonation is used and directed by the Lord to convey the truth. Upon the basis of his unproven suppositions brother McEwen makes some very strong statements and draws some unwarranted conclusions. I must caution the brother that such a method is not proper. If the brother is going to label one’s treatment of a matter as unbiblical and presenting half the truth it seems to me that it is incumbent upon him to do more than refer to a number of passages from Scripture. He should show clearly upon the basis of the passages referred to that the Bible indeed teaches what he supposed it does.
Brother McEwen has not at all convinced me that he has struck upon passages that are relevant to the subject of drama and impersonation. I believe that the brother commits the logical error of “circular reasoning” or assuming what needs to be proved. He makes the assumption that the acts carried out in the passages cited are in the same class as the drama of today. I believe that they are not at all in the same class, but are as different the one from the other as apples are from ostriches.
The point of distinction between the two can be seen in. light of the premise that “the fundamental error in drama is impersonation.” In the passages referred to by brother McEwen I do not believe that we find impersonation at all and therefore no drama in the ordinary sense of the word as we use it today.
I believe what we find in the passages referred to (with the exception of I Samuel 21:13) is what may be called symbolic or prophetic acts. M.S. Terry in his Biblical Hermeneutics calls the account of the wounding of the- man of the sons of the prophets an Old Testament parable, but I believe that it is at the same time a symbolic or prophetic act.
Now turn with me to the passages referred to and let us consider them in order. I ask the reader to look up the passages and read them as we consider them. They are in themselves interesting as well as important for a proper understanding of the matter under discussion.
The first passage referred to is found in I Samuel 21:10 ff., and has to do with David’s feigning madness before the gates of the city of Gath. When brother McEwen quotes part of I Kings 15:5 to show that David was a godly man he certainly does not mean to imply that David was without any personal sin and weakness. In fact the account of David before the gates of Gath does not show him in the strength of his faith, but at a time of sin and weakness. I do not believe that we have an example of impersonation here, but an example of a saint acting foolishly and sinfully. There can certainly be actions that are not good examples to follow, apart from impersonation.
Secondly there are the passages from Ezekiel 4 and 12 referred to by the brother. He states clearly that he believes that here we have drama as impersonation commanded by God and designed to convey truth. Here he believes is an example from the Bible that disproves the thesis of my former article in which I took the position that drama is not a legitimate means to convey the truth.
Now I grant that in Ezekiel 4 and Ezekiel 12 we have some strange and unusual actions commanded by God to convey the truth; but it is not drama. What we have can be called more properly symbolic or prophetic acts to distinguish them from what we call drama today. When I say that, I am not just calling the same thing by another name, but I mean to show a fundamental difference between the two.
When God commanded His prophets to speak in His name and when they did so then we do not say that the prophets impersonated God, but that they properly carried out the office and function of the prophet. They were God’s spokesmen and not His impersonators. The same is true today from a little different point of view. When God commands fathers today to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as He does in Ephesians 6:4, then the fathers who obey that command of God are not impersonating Abraham or any faithful father in Israel of old, but they are doing what God says and acting in a way pleasing to Him.
As we read Ezekiel 4 and Ezekiel 12 we find the prophet commanded by God to perform a number of symbolic or prophetic acts. What is stated matter-of-factly in chapter 4 concerning God’s command is emphatically set forth in chapter 12. In verse 1 of chapter 12 we read “The word of the Lord also came unto me, saying, . . .” and in verse 7 Ezekiel says “And I did so as I was commanded.” God further tells Ezekiel, in verse 11, to tell the people the exact reason why he acts as he does. “Say I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them. . . .” On the basis of the express testimony of both chapters 4 and 12 we do not come to the conclusion that Ezekiel is dramatically acting out the part of an exile or impersonating anyone, but that he is functioning as a faithful prophet of God and carrying out prophetic acts exactly as God commands him.
Turning now to Isaiah 20, especially verses 2-4, we find the same principle of the prophetic office and acts being obediently carried out by the prophet.
Brother McEwen cites finally the “classic example” of drama and impersonating, found in I Kings 20:35 ff. What we find there, however, is another instance of a man’s functioning in the office of prophet, carrying out prophetic acts just as God commanded, with the purpose of making known the word of the Lord. Verse 35 tells us that the man was “of the sons of the prophets” and that he spake to his neighbor “‘in the word of the Lord.” By these statements I understand that the man was officially functioning in the office of prophet, being “of the sons of the prophets,” and that he was obediently walking “in the word of the Lord.”
Brother McEwen speaks of an “unnecessary wound” that the man gained as he acted out the part of an unfaithful guard. I find nothing in the text to indicate that the wound was unnecessary but rather come to the conclusion that the wound was exactly necessary for the man to carry out his prophetic purpose and to be in a position to bring the word of God to Ahab the wicked and disobedient king of Israel. Here again I do not find impersonation but faithful obedience to the word of the Lord on the part of the prophet.
I hope that this answer helps brother McEwen and is also interesting and helpful to other of God’s people as well.
Rev. W. Bekkering