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Heaven no closer after Barbara Walters’ special

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—No one found heaven during Barbara Walters’ “Heaven: where is it? And how do we get there?” TV special, judging from three professors’ assessments of the Dec. 20 ABC broadcast.

Thomas White, director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Leadership Development in Fort Worth, Texas, and an adjunct professor of Baptist history, noted in comments provided to Baptist Press:

“Although Barbara Walters’s intent should be commended, her content should not. She confused rather than clarified the issue by giving equal weight to popular authors, near-death experiences, movie stars, religious teachers and pastors. She merely surveyed various opinions in a show that should have been titled, ‘Heaven: Have It Your Way.’

“In her journey of discovery, Walters attempted neutrality by not presenting her opinion, but she failed. For example, she offered [Tibetan Buddhist leader] Dalai Lama nothing but pleasantries — including a parting kiss — while implying that the evangelical community slants its theology based on a political agenda. She antagonistically questioned Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, asking, ‘Would God mean for you to be so judgmental?’”

White also noted that Walters included one Baptist and one evangelical among those interviewed. “Unfortunately, the Baptist never advocated the exclusivity of Jesus Christ,” White said. “Haggard fared better but needed stronger wording. He stated there is ‘only one guaranteed way to go to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ…. [I]f you are not born again, then you do not have the assurance of going to heaven.’ He needed to omit the qualifiers ‘guaranteed’ and ‘assurance’ while pointing to New Testament’s declaration — Jesus is the only way to get to heaven.”

Meanwhile, Mark Devine, associate professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., commented to Baptist Press:

“One would think that the historic, global, virtually universal belief in an afterlife would have given more pause to skeptics from Bertrand Russell to Bill Maar, but no. This barrage of belief still bounces off some minds like BBs from an anvil.

“And certainly, the dazzling array of views presented [during the program] confronts us with a bewildering set of irreconcilable convictions,” Devine observed.

“Inquisitive appreciation for diversity may promote a certain kind of peace and understanding but does not bring us closer to truth,” Devine noted. “The truth about heaven is no more subject to polls than the truth of gravity, and getting either wrong can prove disastrous.”

John Shouse, professor of Christian theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., described the Walters’ special as “a well-intended fiasco that wallowed in lowest common denominator religiosity.”

“The program seemed never to grasp that words like ‘heaven’ hold vastly varied meanings in diverse contexts. It got major dimensions of the Christian biblical position completely wrong — angels, for example, are not dead persons recycled,” Shouse said.

“While there might be some minimal value to the program as a sociological document recording popular viewpoints on life after death in early 21st-century America, as an educational evening it was weak, and as a journalistic essay on a religious theme it was worse. ABC should be commended for addressing an important subject,” Shouse said, “but sobered by how poorly [Walters] was able to accomplish it.”
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by Gregory Tomlin, Cory Miller & Jeff Jones.

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