Updated: Jul 17, 2019
The following is the second post in a series looking closely at the teachings of Robert Henderson found in his book Operating in the Courts of Heaven. I first suggest some theological questions that require answers before the teaching is embraced whole-heartedly, then evaluate the biblical passages used to back-up the teaching.
Is the nature of the Courts of Heaven obscured by the limitations of human language?
There is an age-old problem of theological language. To state it simply, no human language is able to accurately communicate spiritual truths. Henderson seems to not appreciate this difficulty when explaining the courtroom model. The question arises numerous times: Is he speaking literally or metaphorically? With more technical precision, should the model he describes be taken to be merely an approximation of the true reality using human language, such that the modern western legal system more or less corresponds to what goes on in the heavenly realm when we pray? Or should the model he describes be taken in its most basic sense without metaphor or approximation, such that there is as an actual room in Heaven, where actual immaterial books are read, and where Jesus’ blood appears before the Judge to give testimony?
The answer could be that Henderson intended the description of the courtroom of heaven to be a mixture of anagogical  and literal language; sometimes one and sometimes the other. He is not clear which he intends. The options discussed so far are;
- anagogical, or
- literal, or
- sometimes anagogical and sometimes literal.
If Henderson intends the model to be understood as literal only (2), then the accusation may justly arise that he is projecting the structure of the modern western legal system onto heaven from the ground up. Such a mistake is similar in type to thinking the divine being has well-developed muscles because it is said “He is strong.” God is strong without having muscles, just as he is faithful and just when answering prayer requests without being a judge who sits a courtroom. Moreover, if it is the case he intends (2), then a host of new theological problems come crawling out of the model’s woodwork [See links below]. We will explore these in future posts. A more charitable reading therefore would be Henderson’s description of the courts of heaven model as anagocial (1) or partly anagogical (3).
If he intends the model to be understood to be as anagogical (1), then the accusation of projection can be overlooked. He would instead be presenting a heuristic; an approach to the problem that employs a practical method, not guaranteed to be perfect or rational description, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal. Like a rule of thumb or police profile, his description of the courts of heaven could be thought of a practical guide to achieving an end rather than a true or accurate account of what really goes on in the heavenly realm. This is the most charitable way to read Henderson.
Arguing against (1) however is the complexity of the courtroom model, his extended arguments for and illustrations of it, and the complete absence from Henderson of any consideration given to the problem of theological language in his writings. Arguing against (3) is again, the absence of any consideration of the problem of theological language, and the lack of care taken to differentiate which parts of the model are intended to be taken literally and which are intended to be of a metaphorical nature. Further, if (3) is the case, the question arises; is there a better way to describe the nature of intercessory prayer; one that is more precise and rational, less theologically problematic and more biblical? One is left with the impression that he intends the reader to think that what he describes corresponds precisely to the heavenly reality. Accordingly, I think (2) is his intention, even though it is not the most charitable.
Regardless, even if it were anagogy in part or in whole, the following theological problems are of sufficient importance to Christian orthodoxy to warrant caution. One might present it as one way to think about intercessory prayer, instead of the way. However, even this could give the enquirer the wrong impression and lead him or her into more dangerous deception.
- Anagogical is the type of metaphor or imagery where the likeness created is intended to point to a spiritual referent; one that is not of this world. It is similar to an allegory, where the likeness is used to point to a referent that is of this world. For instance, In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when Alsan dies on the stone table and the table was broken, it is an allegory where the referent is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; both things that happened in this world 2000 years ago. When he speaks of “the deeper magic,” Lewis is pointing to the anagogy of the spiritual law of sin of death being broken by a perfect sacrifice. The scene is therefore an example where both allegorical and anagogical readings are intended.
In “The Courtroom on Trial?” series of posts, some theological problems with the Courtroom model of intercessory prayer are discussed. These include;
- Is the nature of the Courts of Heaven obscured by the limitations of human language?
- Does the courtroom model suggest God is not the ultimate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest either God is not all-knowing or heaven is imperfect?
- Does the courtroom model suggest Christ’s atoning death on the cross was inadequate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works?
- Does Operating in the Courts of Heaven imply a theological method that prioritises personal experiences over biblical revelation?
Following these the exegetical problems are discussed. These include;
- The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
- The heavenly books
- Heaven’s council
- The five stage process (Romans 8:29-30)
- Simon Peter’s courtroom trial (Luke 22:31-32)
Finally, I provide my own conclusion and recommendations.