Yes, Dolly, There is a Heaven

I don’t think I’ve ever met a fellow Tennesseean who doesn’t like Dolly Parton. She’s folksy, funny, talented, beautiful, and charitable. She may very well be the most beloved Tennesseean who has ever lived. This Christmas, however, many in her Bible Belt fan base may be disappointed with Dolly. She took to national air waves during her Mountain Magic Christmas special on NBC and, after singing about God and Christmas for over an hour (and even rebuking the Devil), proclaimed the following:

“I hope I haven’t crammed God or Jesus down anybody’s throat. That’s what happened to me when I was a kid, but tis the season. I guess nobody knows for sure if there is a heaven. But if there is, I just hope to hell I go.”

Dolly Parton

Despite being raised in church and singing gospel music in front of thousands of people over the years, Dolly Parton can’t say for sure if Heaven exists. I assure you, it does. We know this by faith. We know this through God’s word. The Apostle Paul, who himself was once caught up to Heaven, assured Christians that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The Lord Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Heaven exists. It is the destination of every soul who has repented of his sins and placed his faith in Jesus Christ. To doubt the existence of Heaven is to doubt the gospel of Jesus Christ itself.

Through the wonders of plastic surgery, the years have been kind to Dolly Parton. She does not resemble a woman of 76 years. In addition to her physical appearance, Dolly Parton has retained her wit. She is a sharp as ever and her voice is still as beautiful as it was when her career began. But even Dolly Parton can’t hold on forever. One day, as has happened with everyone since the fall of Adam and Eve, Dolly Parton’s body and mind will fail. She will die and she will face God’s judgement. “Hoping to Hell” won’t get her to Heaven.

Giving free books to every child in Tennessee won’t get her to Heaven. Being inclusive to people who are different won’t get her to Heaven. The adoration of her millions of fans won’t get her to Heaven. Only faith in Christ will do that. He is the only hope anyone has for eternal life. All of Christ’s people will live forever with him in a renewed Heaven and Earth. No wigs, facelifts, augmentations, or botox there will be needed. When God fixes this fallen creation, He will have fixed it for good.

Christians are the true “salt of the earth” preserving agents of this fallen world. Until our Lord returns to make it new, His gospel must be proclaimed…not hinted at, intimated, or suggested but proclaimed with bold confidence and without compromise.

Growing up in the same region as Dolly, I’m aware of the kind of suffocating legalism that often accompanies fire-and-brimstone Bible Belt preaching. I think I know exactly what Dolly meant when she said she doesn’t want to “shove God or Jesus down anyone’s throat”. Unfortunately, I also think I know what she meant when she told her audience, using language strait from the Bible, that “God is Good,” “God is love,” and the “Kingdom of God is within you”. I think Dolly meant that God accepts everyone for who they are. I think Dolly meant that the love of God is inside us all.

But He doesn’t it and it isn’t.

When Jesus told the Pharisees “the kingdom of God is within you” he was referring to Himself. He was telling them that since He was in their midst, the Kingdom of Heaven had been innagurated before them. The Apostle Paul exhorted Christians to put off their old self, rejecting their former corrupted nature, and put on a new self, having a renewed mind in Christ.

In her special, Dolly Parton encouraged her listeners through song to be just “who they are” and “what they are”. One didn’t have to look very hard to read between the lines. Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas special was full of homosexuals. A homosexual lifestyle, according the Bible, must be repented of; yet, Dolly Parton’s clear message to homosexuals was one of acceptance. Nothing could be more tragic. Every HIV-infected homosexual who finds forgiveness in Christ will be loved, renewed, and receive a perfectly healed body in the age to come. Dolly Parton, more accepting of sinful lifestyles than the Lord, can’t even tell homosexuals for sure if there is a Heaven. Such worldy acceptance may be comforting in the short term but it’s hardly the good news that Christ will make all things new.

The words of God are trustworthy and true. Accept them. Have faith in them. Live them. Dolly Parton is not a church-going woman (if she was, she might understand and accept God’s word) and describes herself as spiritual but not religious. She is the last person this earth needs on national TV at Christmastime singing about Jesus and preaching about God. She presents a veneer of Christianity that is as empty and hopeless as her nonassurance of Heaven.

Yes, Dolly, there is a Heaven. Be assured of it. God is…and we all will face Him one day soon.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or any educational institution from which I have graduated. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant