Written by Tahni Cullen with Cheryl Ricker, Josiah’s Fire: Autism stole his words, God gave him a voice begins with the story of Josiah Cullen’s decline into autism and his resumption of communication in 2012 by typing on an iPad. The book then traces Josiah’s iPad writings of experiences with God from 2012 to 2014 (approximately ages six to eight, pp. 17, 99, 100).
The story of Josiah is written with passion that connects quickly with readers through feelings of warm sentiments. We are drawn to empathize with the emotional pain of his parents and then the joy they must feel as communication is reestablished. Autism can be devastating to parents. I am so glad that Josiah resumed communication, giving his parents the joy of reciprocity in relationship. I also appreciate the apparent desire of his mother to do what she believes God wants her to do. However, I find the book troubling on a number of counts.
– Claims to Visit Heaven
According to Cullen and Ricker, Josiah claims to be taken by angels to heaven, sometimes nightly. On his iPad Josiah wrote, “We swoosh up through the clouds to nestle in mental feathers of the miraculous” (163). There, he has been taught by Abraham Lincoln, seen Renoir paint, talked with King Josiah, and heard Bach “sound it out with rich opuses…” (164-165, 244). Descriptions of his experiences in heaven can be found on many pages in the book.
Does Josiah visit heaven? Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13). But didn’t Paul go to heaven? There are four biblical authors who were given visions of heaven–Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. Josiah’s descriptions deviate drastically from theirs.
On the topic of heaven tourism I suggest http://www.challies.com/articles/heaven-tourism. A history of the heaven tourism genre of literature is at http://www.challies.com/articles/greetings-from-heaven-a-modern-history-of-heaven-tourism.
– Talking with the Dead
According to the authors, Josiah claims that in heaven he was instructed by King Josiah, received new revelation about heaven from Abraham Lincoln, and received a Bible edit from Moses.
“I talked to him [King Josiah], Mom. He told me nominal kings not only make names for themselves, but they name their kingdoms to be their buildings…Basically, King Josiah told me times vanished when business became God, when…” (244-245).
“I was led by Abraham Lincoln and his angel to be spiritually aware of what happened on the other side of the veil that was earth’s” (164).
“Moses tells me that standing on the rock, the angel lifted up his arms, not merely Aaron and Hur” (164).
May I state the obvious? Lincoln, Moses, and King Josiah are dead! Jesus said that it is not possible for the dead to talk to those on earth (Luke 16:25-26). Scripture expressly forbids consulting the dead (or trying to, Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10-12; Isa. 8:20-22).
– False Teachings about Christ
Mrs. Cullen accepts, even requests, Josiah’s instruction on topics as momentous as Christology and the Trinity (chapter “Trinity Talk”). Josiah says, “King Jesus said vines are your heart’s salutations toward sending foliage, bringing all the answers you need from your heart” (183). On the contrary, about the heart Jesus says the opposite, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts…deeds of coveting…pride and foolishness” (Mk 7:21). The heart is no place to look for answers.
Josiah says, “Jesus educates me in school” (in heaven) and taught him about lizards (88). This idea is childish, frivolous, and false. The Bible says that in heaven Jesus is ruling from His seat “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1-2). Jesus is preparing a place for His own (Jn 14:1-3). Jesus is interceding for His followers (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24).
Jesus warned that some people would falsely claim to see Christ and commanded that we not believe those people (Matt. 24:23-27). The next time Christ is seen it will not be in secret, private viewings. He will be seen by the whole world.
– Undermining the Doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture
According to the authors, Josiah claims, and his mother affirms, that his messages are from God (174, 183). If so, then those messages must be classed as revelation because, by definition, God revealing something is revelation. Josiah says he hears God, Jesus, and angels, learning from them spiritual truths “without your studying it,” in other words, apart from the Bible (160). Revelations beyond that already given in Scripture is, by mere math, additional. It is extra-biblical revelation. Now, if there is more revelation, then the Bible cannot be sufficient; more is needed. This book undermines the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
But 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is very clear that Scripture holds enough revelation for us.
All Scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
It’s sufficiency was true of the Old Testament and is also true of the New Testament since all Scripture is God-breathed. The written Word of God is sufficient to save a person, to teach who God is and how to please Him, to rebuke for sin, to correct from sin back to right living, and to train a person in godly living. What more to living is there? The Bible is “able to equip for every good work.” Every good work covers all God-pleasing decisions and actions in every circumstance. In the Bible we have all that we need in abundance to understand the character of God, the nature of man, sin, salvation, how to do relationships, godly speech, decision-making and problem-solving. The Word of God is sufficient for every situation, enough to know how to please God in every way. No further messages from God are needed.
– Undermining the Authority of Scripture
The claim presented by the authors is not only that Josiah receives extra-biblical messages but that his messages carry divine authority. The chapter title “Divine Directives” is unequivocal. Reinforcing the title are examples of Josiah telling his mom “directives” from God and she obeys them, even to the quitting of her job which was bringing in half the family income. Dad submits, too. (I can hardly believe a parent would publish this admission. Besides ignoring mere common sense, this turns Ephesians 6:1-4 on its head in a parent-child role reversal.) Josiah also gives directives to other people. While the book uses the word “directive,” a directive is a command and a command implies authority.
This is not a matter for just the Cullen family. It is a matter for all. Why? Since God is divine, all that He says is authoritative. Every word is necessarily equally authoritative; some of His words cannot be less authoritative than others. Therefore, Josiah’s claim puts his messages from God on par with the Bible.
The assertion of the authority of Josiah’s message is not only implied; it is overt. Besides the chapter title “Divine Directives,” on page 160 he says,
“A dream is a sleeping ordered to ring in truths only the spirit says to you without your studying it. So work it out to voice boundless dreaming, western church, because you are so stuck in logic. Trial this truth: God uses all of these to talk to us” (emphasis added).
In other words, Josiah scolds the western church for using logic (for using the mind) and calls upon the western church to seek revelation from God “without your studying it,” without the Bible! His extra-biblical revelations are not just for him and he is giving all believers a “directive” to seek private revelations.
– Undermining the Inerrancy of Scripture
Apparently, Moses made an error in Numbers 17 and finally, 3,500 years later, he corrects the record through Josiah Cullen:
“Moses tells me that standing on the rock, the angel lifted up his arms, not merely Aaron and Hur” (164).
The Scripture says nothing about angels upholding Moses’ arms. When we dare to accept extra-biblical revelation, we make ourselves vulnerable to the hubris of correcting the Word of God, even by addition.
– Trusting Experience for Truth
The blurb on the back cover claims that “Josiah’s eye-opening visions, heavenly encounters, and supernatural experiences forced his family out of their comfort zone and predictable theology…” From Josiah’s experiences readers can “Follow a trail of truth into Josiah’s mysterious world…” and “Learn to hear and trust God’s voice. Identify the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit. Be aware of the workings of angels.” This promotes experience as a trustworthy source of truth.
Proverbs 28:26 says “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool”–he who trusts in his own interpretations of his experiences has misplaced his trust. Isaiah commanded the people to stop trusting those having miraculous experiences and return to the written Word of God, “To the law and to the testimony!” (Is. 8:19-20). When Jesus said,
“Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17),
He exalted the Word of God, not someone’s supernatural experiences, as the source of authority for our sanctification (growth in godliness) .
Josiah may be quite intelligent, retaining a great deal of what he hears and sees so that he seems to know more than one might expect. I do not doubt that Josiah has had experiences. What I do not believe is the interpretation of the experiences. No one can prove the claims. It is Scripture, not someone’s extraordinary experiences and knowledge, that is to be trusted.
Besides the untrustworthiness of any human perceptions, Josiah is a young child. The Bible says that children begin life thinking foolishness (Prov. 22:15). Sincere as children may be, they lack discernment, are gullible, easily deceived, and extremely susceptible to appealing suggestions (Eph. 4:14). They innately perceive, reason, form conclusions, and speak immaturely and unwisely (1 Cor. 13:11). Josiah needs loving, gentle instruction from the written Word of God that will exalt Scripture over his perceptions, correct his vain imaginations, and renew his mind (Rom. 12:2).
One aspect amazing about this book is how many adults are accepting the imaginations of a mere child as profound spiritual truth. Any adult should know better! Christians ought also to remember that it is not just Christians who claim dreams and visions from God; people from other religions experience the same phenomena and make the same claim for their source–divinity. Furthermore, the Bible says that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). For these reasons and more, shock-and-awe should ring warning bells, not draw our fascination. Appeals to sentimentality, like in this book, should put us on guard.
This book continues to expand trends in heaven tourism, subjectivism, and sentimentalism among Christians. It contradicts and adds to Scripture. It is an example of how listening to subjective impressions, dreams, visions and the like can lead away from the “more sure word” of Scripture and supplant the Bible (2 Pet. 1:19-21). Elevating experience as authoritative, this book undermines the doctrines of the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture, of sola scriptura.
(A discussion of challenges to this review begins here.)
Here are some helpful links that bear on the issue of whether God communicates today through private revelations.
Why Do We Say, ‘God Told Me’?
Apologetics Press – Is the New Testament “Given by Inspiration of God”?
What is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture? What does it mean that the Bible is sufficient?