Do Pastors Avoid Teaching on Heaven?

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Scholars and authors say the church does not often present the topic of heaven anymore, and they wonder why.

Despite the recent popularity of books revealing near-death experiences — such as Proof of Heaven, which has spent the last 27 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and 90 Minutes in Heaven which sold 5 million copies — scholars and some pastors told the CNN Belief Blog this week that churches don’t preach on heaven much anymore. Some said heaven is hardly talked about in seminaries at all,  and few high-profile pastors spend much time on the subject. 

“People say that the only time they hear about heaven is when they go to a funeral,” said Gary Scott Smith, author of Heaven in the American Imagination and a history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

Talk of heaven answers a universal question: What happens when we die, says the Rev. John Price, author of Revealing Heaven, a book offering a Christian perspective of near-death experiences. “Ever since people started dying, people have wondered, where did they go? Where are they now? Is this what happens to me?” said Price.

Price said his stories of near-death have helped people, and those who’ve had similar experiences of heaven should “shout them from the rooftops.”

“I’ve gone around to many churches to talk about this, and the venue they give me is just stuffed,” he said. “People are really hungry for it.”

“It’s a tough topic for a pastor,” said Lisa Miller, a former religion columnist for the Washington Post. “If you get too literal, you can risk sounding too silly. If you don’t talk about it, you’re evading one of the most important questions about theology and why people come to church.”

How often do you preach on heaven? What Scripture passages do you use? What themes do you present about it? What challenges do you experience in preaching on the topic? Give your insights to others in the Comment section below.

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  • Brian

    Outside of those near death expereinces (which may or may NOT be legitimate), what BIBLICAL passages would you use to preach on Heaven? I’m sure we can find several obscure verses, and we can pull meaning from texts that may or may not have been intended for that purpose. But is that what we should be doing?
    Why teach on heaven anyway? To tell people what they can expect when they get there, so they can make a fully informed choice on if they think it’s “worth” getting saved for? What purpose would it REALLY serve?
    Maybe there’s a reason God doesn’t give us a full description in the Word…becuase that isn’t supposed to be our focus.

    • Jim DeFrancisco

      Thank you Brian for your comments. There are as you say “several obscure verses” or, in my view, verses that have been interpreted through the lens of Hellenistic philosphy and pagan concepts that were the basis of understanding by the Greek and Roman Fathers. The Greek ouranos differs in definition from the Hebrew Shmayim or Aramaic Shmaya. When I asked an Aramaic instructor, “what does the Bible really say about the after life” his response was, “not much.” That was after many years of seminary training through the doctoral level. There are many lofty concepts about heaven being read into the texts but what we have from the Word is: He is risen, the resurrection of the dead, a new heaven and a new earth. Beyond that there is much mis-application of texts, mis-interpretation, speculation and these texts should be identified for what they really are saying.

  • Guest

    Oh how cute, you censor the comments that disagree with your viewpoint. I will now go and unlike this fake christian website, so that I will not receive anymore of your liberal slant posts.

  • Deana Callins

    “Settle” all disputes among yourselves. Put an “End” to all things, feelings, and thoughts that lead to the disturbance of your peace. By knowing, The Covenant of his Grace: “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:10)
    The Lord Loves ALL and will not take sides in unprofitable disputes. But, he will give you healing if your hurt, strength to forgive, forgiveness, love, and peace for the situation. when you focus on him and not the problem. Follow peace with all men.

    1 Peter 1:17 And if ye call on the Father, who without “respect of persons” judge according to every man’s work:

    James 2:1My brethren, have “not” the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory,”with” respect of persons.
    For his Kingdom is not Divided or else how shall it stand.
    Jesus didn’t ask us to Trust in others; He did say “LOVE” All as you Love yourself.

    We might as well learn how to “Love inspite of; as Jesus”. For as we have Eternal Life of those who Believe. We Shall Never Be separated from the Love of God; nor each other in Heaven. So Settle it in your minds that we are ONE IN CHRIST. God blesses us. We still should be thanking him for what he has already done. We are free from all Fear!!!

    • Deana Callins

      It Is Written: For God so “Loved” the world.
      It didn’t Say; this person or that denomination. When we get to Heaven. It Is and going to be “ALL ABOUT JESUS” as it is in Heaven. As it should Be “In Earth”

  • Richard Torres

    It is true that little teaching is done on the aspect of heaven. For this to change we need a biblical perspective on eternal things. To many times we seek God’s blessing in the here & now. We must realize that all earthly things are temporal. We must strive for the eternal which includes our true & future home. Untill this happens. God’s people will be limited in their thinking. by preparing for heaven wewill be much more effective in the here & now.

  • consumer87

    Funny you should ask. We are in a teaching series on Heaven right now. Revelation chapters 4, 21 and 22 are tremendous passages on Heaven. Also I think John 14:1-4, 2 Cor. 12:1-4, and Acts 1:11 shed some light on the topic. 1 Cor. 15 talks at length about the resurrection and the heavenly body. Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22, and 2 Peter 3:13 all mention the new Heavens and the new Earth. Hebrews 11:14-16 says this is something we should all long for and that God has prepared a city. I think the reason you don’t hear much about Heaven is that many of us are looking for our best life on this earth and are only often interested in living a purpose driven life (subtle jab). Also, I think the idea of Heaven seems very archiac for some. I mean, for starters, is Heaven a place? If so, where is it? When we get there, what are we going to do for eternity? It’s a great study and more connected to our lives here on earth than we think. People do gain a better perspective regarding the big picture and with the state of this world system of things, it offers much hope. I would encourage more churches to teach on Heaven, afterall, we are going to spend eternity there.

    • David Le Maungo Mnjama

      I agree wholeheartedly

  • John

    The focus on Heaven is very interesting, especially as the place we “go when we die to spend eternity”. It seems that church has forgotten about the resurrection. The New Heavens and the New Earth will be the Christian’s forever home–not some disembodied Platonic paradise. (I am not rejecting the intermediary location of heaven where the Christian spends time between death and resurrection, I only think that heaven is not ultimately our hope, restored Creation with Christ ruling as King is)

    • John

      100% agreement on what you have written. I speak about eternity often; I do not often mention “heaven.” When I preach funerals, I preach that one day Jesus will return and there will be a bodily resurrection that takes place. Sin will be no more. And the earth will be “refurbished” and made new. This happens through King Jesus. And those who follow him will find the reward.

  • Harvey

    As long as we have pastors who follow the Lectionary, and it’s scriptures… and not follow the leading of the Holy Spirit’s choices for our ears… we will always have pre-selected sermons. No more sweating/praying over what God would have us tell our congregates.

  • Jonathan Hughes

    Don’t people know what heaven is? Don’t preachers know what is in their own book KJV? Jesus said heaven does not come by observation. Heaven is in you. Jesus in you.

  • AmosJYsr

    Jesus came with but one message; The gospel of The Kingdom of Heaven repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Mat 4:17). Jesus said the resent He was sent of the Father was to preach the gospel (good news, glad tiding) of the Kingdom of God. Preaching the doctrine of Jesus Christ Anointed King is to preach the counsel, precepts and principles of God as He commanded (Mat 10:7-8) and He did (Luke 8:1) we need not be caught up in preaching “Heaven” as a “topical sermon” for the word of God from Beginnings to Revelation is ALL about Heaven the Kingdom of Heaven always was (Psa 145:10-13), is (Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done (carried out in the Believer being a doer and not a hearer only in this life) and yet to come (1 Th 4:16-18)