I was recently asked about people’s claims of their dying and going to heaven. ‘Heaven tourism’ books (and movies) have become very popular the past 15 years. From what I’ve read the past couple years they are big money makers. One example is the movie, ‘Heaven Is For Real’ – about a little boy in Nebraska who claims he went to heaven. It was made for $12 million and released in April 2014. By August 2014 it had grossed more than $91 million.
Here’s why I don’t read those books and would encourage you not to as well: We have no obligation to believe these unverifiable accounts that distract us from the Bible and its authoritative teaching regarding death, resurrection, and heaven. These books and movies deceptively allure us to be more fascinated with people’s experiences rather than be discerning and clear about the Gospel – the unchangeable, unwavering truth: God saves sinners by the once-for-all work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
I’m not going to re-invent the wheel, but quote Tim Challies at length. I’ll provide the link to his website below. Here’s Challies:
In the first place, we have no reason to believe or expect that God will work in this way–that he will call one of us to the afterlife and then send us back to our old bodies. The Bible says that it is for man to die once and then to experience the resurrection. There are many experiences we can have in a near-death state I am sure–dream-like experiences that may even seem real–but the Bible gives us no reason to believe that a person will truly die, truly experience the afterlife, and then return. Those who have a biblical understanding of life and death and heaven and hell will know that for a person to die and visit heaven, to experience sinlessness and the presence of Jesus Christ–for that person it would be the very height of cruelty to then demand that they return to earth. None of these books are at all consistent with a robust theology of heaven and hell, of the work of Jesus Christ, of the existence of indwelling sin. On the surface they may seem compelling, but in reality they raise far more questions than the few they may appear to answer.
In the second place, the very idea of God calling a person to heaven and back and then having that person share his experience in order to bolster our faith is the exact opposite of what the Lord desires for us. We have no reason to look to another person’s experience of heaven in order to prove that heaven is real or hell is real. The Bible promises blessings on those who do not see and yet believe. Our hope is not to be in the story of a minister or toddler or doctor or anyone else who insists they have been to heaven; our hope is to be in Jesus Christ as God has graciously revealed him to us in the Bible. Faith is believing that what God says in his Word is true and without error. You dishonor God if you choose to believe what the Bible says only when you receive some kind of outside verification. You dishonor God if you need this kind of outside verification.
A question remains: How do I respond to a Christian who has read these books and who finds great joy or comfort in them? You point that person to what is true. You will need to be careful with tone and timing, but ultimately, it will be a blessing for any Christian to direct his faith to the worthy object of faith. Faith will be strengthened by reading the Bible and believing it. Faith will be weakened by reading the Bible and believing it only after reading 90 Minutes in Heaven. You can serve any Christian by directing him to the Bible and helping him to see that we are called to believe God on the basis of what he says in his Word, not on the basis of another person’s experience. 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is For Real and all the rest are not books that beautify the doctrine of heaven, but books that attack the doctrine of Scripture. The Bible insists that it is enough, that it is sufficient, that we have no need for further special revelation from God; these books insist that it is not.
Here’s a YouTube link to Justin Peters – a Christian who has done much research on these books and claims: