About all those “I went to Heaven and came back” books . . .

I know these books are popular and have brought comfort to some people, but I encourage discernment in reading anything, and especially popular Christian books.  Here’s a good overview by Phil Johnson about this genre.

Blogger Tim Challies has labeled the genre “Heaven Tourism,” candidly dismissing one bestseller in the category as “pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity.”  This is not a totally new phenomenon. Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie’s Embraced by the Light was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.

What’s different about the current crop of afterlife testimonies is that they are being eagerly sought and relentlessly cranked out by evangelical publishers. They are bought and devoured by millions who would describe themselves as born-again Bible-believing Christians. Every book I have named in the above list comes from an ostensibly evangelical source.  . . .

These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn’t even be necessary. No true evangelical ought to be tempted to give such tales any credence whatsoever, no matter how popular they become.

Don’t miss this next point.

One major, obvious problem is that these books don’t even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.

But the larger issue is one no authentic believer should miss: the whole premise behind every one of these books is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about heaven.

In an upcoming book dealing with this subject, John MacArthur says,

For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.

We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” (Proverbs 30:4). . . .

All three biblical writers who saw heaven and described their visions give comparatively sparse details, but they agree perfectly (Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1 and 10; Revelation 4-6). They don’t agree with the Burpo-Malarkey version of heaven. Both their intonation and the details they highlight are markedly different. The biblical authors are all fixated on God’s glory, which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God’s holiness. Notably missing from all the biblical accounts are the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller lists.

. . .

Evangelical readers’ discernment skills are at an all-time low, and that is why books like these proliferate. Despite the high profile, high sales figures, and high dollar amounts Christian publishers can milk from a trend such as this, it doesn’t bode well for the future of Christian publishing—or for the future of the evangelical movement.

. . .

Some good news:

Spoiler alert: Heaven’s a lot more glorious than any of these current bestsellers suggest.

If you want an outstanding book on Heaven, read In Light of Eternity: Perspectives on Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  It is fairly short and easy to read but thoroughly biblical.

Oh, and the Bible is a good book to read as well.

Hat tip: Sola Sisters

4 thoughts on “About all those “I went to Heaven and came back” books . . .

  1. If you wouldn’t rely on the Weekly World news for the latest about drilling to hell http://weeklyworldnews.com/headlines/3060/oil-drill-opens-hole-into-hell/ then why would you trust other accounts about heaven?

    I do have to admit I love the quote from Joe Biden in the link “I have consistently voted against exploration in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, and this is the perfect example why. We don’t yet know the long-term environmental effects, let alone Biblical ones.”

  2. The blogger Johnson quotes MacArthur, and here’s the complete paragraph:

    “We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: ‘Who has ascended to heaven and come down?’ (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: ‘No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man’ (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.”

    Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross points against any possibility of a purgatory or “soul sleep,” but while I have quite a bit of respect for MacArthur in general and have found one of his daily devotionals to be quite worthwhile…

    (It’s Strength for Today, one of two expository devotionals but the only one formatted for Kindle — formatted poorly, but still quite readable.)

    …I’m not sure one actually can draw from John 3 an absolutely universal conclusion that no one has ever returned from Heaven. I’m not sure, NOT because I believe these afterlife accounts: I don’t; I’m skeptical, and I think all such accounts must be subordinated to the authority of Scripture, but MacArthur’s conclusion must likewise fit with all that Scripture teaches.

    His claim is based on a reading of one of Christ’s claims to Nicodemus, but his claim raises questions about other events in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.

    1) If no one but Christ alone can return from Heaven, was Lazarus in Hell before Jesus raised him from the dead? That would add a deeper meaning to Jesus’ weeping, but…

    2) What about the “saints” (Mt 27:52) who were raised when Christ died?

    3) And where were Moses and Elijah between their earthly deaths and the Transfiguration? It is implausible in the extreme to believe that they weren’t in Heaven, and I don’t think any of the Gospel accounts even arguably suggest that their presence on the mount was merely a vision rather than a physical reality.

    Looking beyond the gospels, you have the return of Samuel’s spirit in I Sam 28, called by the witch of Endor, to say nothing of 1 Thess 4 and the eschatological return of the dead in Christ. But even the three events listed above suggest to me that the door between life and death isn’t one-way: Jesus is quite clearly key to the question of who might pass back through, but He’s just as clearly not the only one to pass through.

    • Doesn’t it strike you as odd that these visions of Heaven aren’t congruent with the way the Bible describes it…and (as Neil pointed out), how they place emphasis on feeling good about oneself, as opposed to being overwhelmed by God’s glory?

      This has been in the spotlight for a couple of weeks now because a neurosurgeon – “a man of science” has claimed to die on the operating table and then return to tell the tale. He described at least two things which are not only not found in the Bible, but appear to directly contradict it – being told he could do no wrong, and a place of “warm darkness” which is allegedly the home of God.

      I don’t need an account from someone claiming to have returned from the dead, to tell me that Heaven is real. When this story broke on Yahoo, I commented that I didn’t necessarily think the good doctor was lying, but may have been deceived by demonic spirits. The evil one would have much to gain by tricking someone into thinking he’s on the right path….when he isn’t.

      The only question I have is about those who claimed not to go to Heaven, but to Hell. Some people have claimed to have seen lakes of fire and devil-like figures while on the “other side.” What are we to make of these?

  3. That doctor also spoke of multiple lives which is anti Biblical. :(

    What I do find compelling about near death experiences is that people speak of becoming detached from their bodies and can give evidence of things they could never have known, or that took place in another room or building. However I am very dubious about the Heaven descriptions, particularly if they do not coincide with Biblical texts.

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