(Context: Currently in my philosophy class we are studying near-death experiences as it relates to consciousness, death, dying, and finding meaning in life. Since I wrote about this particularly interesting topic for my high school thesis, I found it pertinent to contribute to this timeless discussion by posting it here. Enjoy!)
“Saved by the bell.” Where did that term originate? Was it the stylish story of high school friends in the 1990’s or the boxing term for a fighter’s luck before being obliterated in the ring? The term “saved by the bell” actually originated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Upon burial, bells were placed along the inside of the coffin for the deceased to ring if they revived. It is not uncommon to find throughout history influences of dead people resuscitating during their own funeral; however, it was a strange thing for one to ascend to heaven, or descend into hell, out of the body and return, speaking of majestic glory or eternal inferno.
In one such instance, in 1834, a captain and his crew coasted along the calm, open ocean. The sun beamed down upon the sailors and the sail was let down from the baby blue sky. An ordinary day it was until the captain fell “gravely ill.” After several days of bedridden illness, the boatmen retrieved a doctor, who upon examination said, “There is no use. He’s a dead man.” John Clute, captain of the canal ship, was pronounced dead, yet he apparently heard every word thereafter. Although the captain seemed to breathe his last, a peculiar thing happened. The crewmembers and fellow boatmen proceeded with a traditional burial at sea, dressing the body in formal attire and laying him in a wooden coffin. Before burying the captain at sea, the pallbearers heard a rustle under the lid and a loud groan from the “deceased” captain. Stunned in disbelief, the men set down the coffin. Opening the casket, the crewmembers found an angry, coughing man writhing in distress, “Get me out of here! Are you mad?” Boatmen helped the captain out of the casket while the captain proceeded to speak of his heavenly visions. “It then seemed to me,” he later said, “I died and heaven was opened and then I saw more human beings soaring through one another so happy.”
Whether one is “saved by the bell,” temporarily comatose, or resuscitated on a hospital table, individuals worldwide experience extraordinary things whenever they are on the threshold of death. The true account of the captain holds no more validity than any other near-death experience (NDE). As for Clute, captain of the canal ship, he went on to say, “I did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ…nor do I yet.” Therefore, should the faithful find assurance in extra-biblical revelation, or should believers hold fast to the Word of God, which has stood the test of time for thousands of years?
With the continuous authorship and production of near-death and out of body experiences (OBE), such things must be viewed in accordance with God’s Word. The first argument covers Old and New Testament (NT) experience compared to that of NDE’s while the second argument discusses resurrection and mysticism and the relation between necromancy and genuine revelation, leaving the third and final point to analyze the philosophical and Scriptural inconsistency with the NDE’s. The presentation is not to defend the Bible or its consistencies, for the Word of God shall defend itself, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”
Before moving too far, some words must be defined. Conditional Immortality, the doctrinal name for psychopannychia, is defined as “soul sleep,” the resting state of one’s soul, or spirit, between heaven and hell until the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, which “set the captives free” (Isa. 61:1; 1 Pet. 3:18-20). Eschatology is “the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (e.g. Revelation). Gnosticism “taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity…and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.” Mysticism is “the belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, esp. when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies,” among these includes Gnosticism. Necromancy is “the supposed practice of communicating with the dead, esp. in order to predict the future.”
Due to time and purpose, it is necessary to set limitations for the belief one can ascend to heaven upon death and return via resurrection. This analysis will not address revelatory experience within the visitation. Neither will the theology of eschatology, especially that of Revelation, be deeply researched. Conditional Immortality is of little relevance; therefore, it will not be discussed, and since the subject of conditional immortality will not be addressed, neither will the idea of ghosts, present or past, take precedence. Lastly, people worldwide have NDE’s; however, in this analysis, the matter of hell will be briefly mentioned since heaven is a more popular discussion point.
In Gary Smith’s Heaven in the American Imagination, “Accounts of out-of-body encounters with the spiritual world have a long history. Most notably, Swedish philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) wrote twenty-five books about his trips to heaven and hell” (Smith, 2011, pp.194-195). Even before Swedenborg, visions and beliefs of heaven long superseded the 17th century. For example, Plato, successor of Socrates, believed in what is now called a “platonic” view of heaven (i.e. the things of earth reflect the things of heaven on a much smaller scale). In the early church, many Christians used Plato’s analogies as reference to how born-again believers ought to so reflect Christ (Benson, 2012). In the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, epics depicting heaven, hell, and the middle ground where believers were to be purged of their sins until reconciliation. Contextually, Dante comprised The Divine Comedy with the intention to create a political and ecclesiastical schism (i.e. separation of church and state); however, lost in time, many regarded Dante’s poems to be authentic, but his visualization of heaven, hell, and purgatory are far from biblically accurate (Easton, n.d.).
In recent years, coming out of the Hippie Age of the 1960’s, the ‘70’s offered resurgence of old ideas and eisegetical theology.
…public fascination with the subject exploded after the 1975 publication of physician Raymond Moody’s Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon–Survival of Body Death and cardiologist Maurice Rawling’s Beyond Death’s Door, both of which featured dozens of accounts of near-death experiences (2011, pp.194-195).
Less than twenty years later, in 1992, author Betty Eadie published Embraced by the Light, “a simple laywoman’s personal account of her own near-death experience, replete with powerful religious overtones, narrated like a Christian testimony” (MacArthur, 1996, pp.31-32). “Embraced by the Light is strongly influenced by Mormon and New Age precepts,” which leads to the relation between the Bible and mysticism (1996).
Now, the first argument will compare Old and NT experiences to that of modern-day NDE’s and OBE’s. Whenever an Old Testament (OT) prophet had a vision of heaven, the primary focal point was the glory of God, not the unnecessary specificity of minor details. Only three prophets in the OT caught a glimpse of heaven—Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah. Isaiah describes his vision in Isaiah 6, saying,
…I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple…And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
In the first chapter of Ezekiel (1:26,27,28b), Ezekiel says, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” In 2 Chronicles 18:18, “…Micaiah said, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.” Compare the experiences in the OT with modern-day experiences of the glory of God. Scripture shows holiness, awe, and fear, while new “experiences” reveal passive amazement and fearless gazing. Notice, none of the prophets were neither dead nor physically in heaven. Each received a vision, consciously understanding their surroundings and carefully explaining their account.
Additionally, OT prophets usually received a vision from God concerning the future of the nation of Israel. The vision carried a weight of commission (Isa. 6; Jer. 1) or apocalypse. However, Daniel had multiple apocalyptic visions concerning the glory of God, containing many parallels to John’s Book of Revelation. Furthermore, many authors today do not invoke apocalyptic terminology, but some dare to put prophecy to the test. The Blaze news published an article titled “Beyond Science: Doctor Says She Visited Heaven During a Near-Death Experience — and What She Learned Haunted Her for Years” (Hallowell, 2015). In 1999, Dr. Mary Neal had a NDE in which she ascended to heaven and conversed with angels who escorted her to and fro. While in heaven, the “spirits” foretold of the death of her son ten years in advance. “Ten years later in 2009, she said she learned on the very day that she completed her memoir, ‘To Heaven and Back,’ that her son had died in an automobile accident, according to the Huffington Post” (2015). In an interview with mystic and New Age television host Oprah Winfrey, she explained her eagerness to rationalize her experience and understand the spirits’ prophecy; nevertheless, she believes the incident has brought her “closer to Jesus” (2015). Was this prophecy genuine, or was it mystical fortunetelling? The third argument of this analysis will address that issue.
Like the OT, the NT recordings of heaven are Christ-centered and focus on the glory of God. David Brainerd writes, “My heaven is to please God, and glorify him, and give all to him, and to be wholly devoted to his glory” (Brainerd & Edwards, 1749). Furthermore, “When discussing the glories of heaven, the Puritans were thoroughly christocentric…Further, enjoyment of heaven typically focused on the glories of Christ’s person” (Beeke & Jones, 2012, pp.821). Such a mindset can be found in circumstantial revelation, which occurs in certain situations whenever an individual receives a vision of heaven on their “deathbed” (e.g. Stephen: Acts 7:54-60). As noted by Eusebius Pamphilius, during the first few centuries, while the known world was under Roman rule, on several occasions Christians had been known to catch a glimpse of heavenly glory before their imminent death (Schaff, 2005).
Moreover, visions of heaven also occur via apocalyptic revelation. Apostles Paul and John are the only two people in the NT, except for Stephen whose divine revelation was circumstantial, to see heaven, and each situation—like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah—was prophetic, not a NDE or OBE. Every experience with God in the Bible is fixated on the glory and majesty of God with fear and trembling.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows…and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (2 Cor. 12:2,4).
This verse raises another question: If Paul, later identifying himself as the man who was “caught up to the third heaven,” does not know if he was literally in heaven or simply seeing a vision, how do the modern-day authors of such books, describing their personal visits, know they were, “beyond a shadow of doubt,” in heaven? This leads to the next question, What is heaven like?
According to the Bible, heaven is 1) a place of completion (Phil. 1:16), 2) a place of rest (Heb. 4:1-13), and 3) a place of joyful worship (Rev. 4-5). First, in heaven, sanctification will be concluded by the glorification of the saint’s soul, and the struggle against sin shall meet its end. The sheep shall be separated from the goats (Matt. 25) and the saints who toiled so long to see the Bridegroom (Song.) shall be “transformed into the same image [of Christ] from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). The continual focus throughout the NT and throughout the ages has been the glory of God and his providence to deliver Christians from sin eternally. Christians rejoiced God would deliver them from evil via martyrdom.
Secondly, concerning heaven as a place of rest, in Hebrews 11:8-10 Abraham obeyed God’s call to leave Heron and set out to the Land of Canaan,
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
In other words, the physical Promised Land of the OT was a symbol of the spiritual Promised Land to come. God liberated the children of Israel from captivity in Egypt bringing them to the Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:7-8). “And he [God] said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’ ” (Ex. 33:14), and again, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In other words, reiterating the words of the Puritans, heaven is a place of rest because Christ is there; however, according to NDE’s and OBE’s, “Heaven is ‘the ultimate playground, created purely for our enjoyment’ ” (DeStefano, 2003).
Lastly, heaven is a place of joyful worship. Worship is not an ecstatic experience but a form of living. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1), and again, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23-24). Furthermore, “Heaven is a world of love” (Sermon Fifteen…, 1989) and joy but the emotions of such things are not to be glorified, “You are justified by faith, not by feelings, you are saved by what Christ felt for you, not by what you feel, and the root and basis of salvation is the cross” (Spurgeon, 1861). While much commentary is given to the idea of worship and rest in many NDE books, none of the explanations concur with the Bible.
Some try to refute those who question the authenticity of NDE’s and OBE’s by saying the OT laws are fulfilled through Christ Jesus and are made “obsolete” by his death and resurrection; thus making the usage of the OT invalid since Christians are not indebted to the Law (Gal. 2:16; 3:10; Rom. 8:1). However, with this eisegetical interpretation of the text, one walks away with a flawed understanding of Paul’s intention in Galatians 3, for in the following verses he explains that the grace of God is not nullified. In Romans 6:1-2, Paul clearly explains such motives, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Paul is reiterating the words of Peter, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16).
The second refutation argues, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 1:37; Lk. 18:27). While saying nothing is impossible with God, which addresses God’s omnipotence and inability to lie (Heb. 6:17-18; Titus 1:1-3), one must also take into account the attributes of God, among which God is immutable, unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:17). Therefore, God cannot create a logical fallacy (i.e. a rock too big for him to carry or a round square). In other words, since God is unchanging, whenever his word suggests none has ascended to heaven “except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn. 3:13) as well as, “Who has seen God and lived?” (Jn. 1:18; 6:46; Ex. 19 [ref. Heb. 12:18-29]), he is indeed telling the truth. Later Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
The third refutation begs the question, How did the boy in Heaven is for Real know his father, mother, and church were praying for him, know his grandfather while never meeting him, and know his sister that died in his mother’s miscarriage? One must bring into account the context of the situation. Pastor Burpo asked leading questions such as, “Hey Colton, I bet you asked if you could have a sword, didn’t you?” (Burpo, 2010). Colton would casually respond saying, “Yes,” or “No,” then scurry off to play. The issue is not retaining false memories—which all humans are guilty of—but in fact the issue is the lack of investigation and relying on misinterpreted “childlike faith,” which will be addressed in the inconsistency argument hereafter.
The second point compares resurrection and mysticism to that of the heavenly experiences. Resurrection in the OT serves as affirmation and evidence of the unnecessary flamboyant account of a material-focused heaven (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Isa. 26:19; Hos. 13:14; Dan. 12:2-3). In 1 Kings 17:19-23, Elijah raises a widow’s son from the dead, and in Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, in accordance with God’s promise, after sacrificing him. However, some people (e.g. Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho) theorize Jonah, while in the belly of the fish, actually died and was resurrected (Jon. 2:2 [ref. Matt. 12:38-40]). Nevertheless, the OT is a “shadow of…things to come” (Col. 2:16-19; Heb. 10:1). Additionally, resurrection in the NT serves as evidential fulfillment, an affirmation, of the OT as well as further affirmation concerning the continued “heavenly” epidemic (Geisler & Turek, 2004).
However, though resurrection in the NT continued, the imagery and physical aspect of resurrection pointed primarily to the glory of God, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Jn. 11:25). God is gradually revealing his mystery to mankind, through Jesus Christ. Theologian Christopher Love (as cited in Beeke & Jones, 2012, pp.829) said, “(2) First Corinthians 15:35-36 speaks of seed being sown and dying to bring forth life, which implies that the mortal body must die and see corruption in the grave before being raised up as a glorified body.” According to the Puritans, once a believer dies, his spirit immediately ascends to heaven to finally rest in the presence of God. If that theory is valid, the question arises, how did Lazarus and many others before him come back to life if they were supposedly in the presence of God? Thus the argument of “…‘soul sleep’ (psychopannychy)…The Westminster Confession of Faith likewise says that the souls of men ‘neither die, nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence’ (32.1)” (2012, pp.821). Until the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, Sheol (also known as Hades) was a temporary sleeping place (Is. 61:1; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; Ps. 68:18; Eph. 4:8). After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, only two places exist: heaven and hell. Notwithstanding, one must die in order to ascend to heaven or descend to hell, for there is no return (Heb. 9:27). In Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus tells of a poor man, Lazarus, who dies and goes to paradise, also known as Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man dies and goes to Hades. Being in torment, the rich man asked Abraham if he may receive one drop of water to cool his tongue, but Abraham responded that he is 1) unable because of “a great chasm” separating the living from the dead and 2) while both were alive the rich man received rewards and luxury while Lazarus received nothing. The rich man asked Abraham if he or Lazarus could rise from the dead to warn his five brothers. Abraham responded, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16: 27-31). In other words, it is impossible for one to go to heaven and return without dying as well as dying, going to heaven, or hell, and returning.
Next, mysticism has close ties with the NDE philosophy, which includes the fancies of the occult and necromancy. In the OT, God explicitly speaks against necromancy and other abominable works (Deut. 18:14). In 1 Samuel 28, Israel was to be invaded by the neighboring Philistines. King Saul was fearful of the oncoming destruction, so he inquired of a medium to bring up the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel to foretell of what would occur. After the medium brought up the spirit of Samuel, the prophet Samuel warned Saul that the Lord would allow Saul’s defeat and ultimately, his death. Years later, the nation of Israel would worship Baal and offer their children as sacrifices to Moloch (1 Kings 18; 2 Kings 23:10). On the issue of mysticism compared to the heavenly philosophy, John Piper says,
God’s beef with necromancy is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. Why would you inquire of the dead to find out what you want to know instead of inquiring of me…I have told you what you need to know…And, therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of thing and people ought to stop writing those books (Taylor, 2014).
Contextually, Piper’s reference to “those books” referred specifically to Heaven is for Real and its attempt to appeal to hyper-spiritual people who desire to communicate with “the other side” of eternity without Christ.
The NT is filled with exorcisms and idolatry, similar to that of the OT (Matt. 17:18; Lk. 9:42). In Acts 16:16-18, a demon possessed girl told fortunes, bringing much monetary gain to her “owners.” Paul, being annoyed by the ordeal, cast the demon out of the girl in the name of Jesus Christ, and the girl was healed “that very hour.” Three chapters later, in Acts 19:13,15,16, “some…itinerant Jewish exorcists” attempted to cast out demons in the name of Jesus,
But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man…leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Though this passage is not a NDE or OBE, it addresses the idea of meddling with necromancy for the sake of spiritual curiosity, or simply to appear spiritual (Matt. 6:2,5,16). In other words, reiterating John Piper’s commentary (2014), to communicate with the dead (i.e. the individuals, while in their state of unconsciousness, speaking to spirits, whether they be demonic or imaginary) is not only an abomination, but it is not edifying to the body of Christ, which is the purpose of the church (Heb. 3:13).
Some may insist the OBE of resurrection is just not recorded; however, the Gnostics, a heretical cult who believed to have esoteric knowledge, tried to fill in gaps in the Bible (e.g. Jesus’s unknown childhood) that were never there, claiming to have extra knowledge (Bergman & Higgins, n.d.). The writers of the NT did not reference such events because they were trivial and did not pertain to the bigger issue at hand, which is the glory of God. Secondly, the refutation asks, “Didn’t Enoch and Elijah go to heaven without seeing corruption?” God did take them up, physically; however, they did not return to elaborate “ecstatic” mysteries of their journey (Tillich, 1951, pp.111-115). This argument abuts to “nothing is impossible with God” argument. Lastly, the third refutation resorts to experience. Many believe an experience is unique due to personal or familial experience; however, believing one’s NDE or OBE based on relative terms is not sufficient for authenticity.
The third argument addresses the philosophical and Scriptural inconsistencies within the near-death and OBE’s. As previously stated, only four OT prophets and two apostles plus one martyred disciple are recorded to have caught a glimpse of heaven, and their commentary reflects glory, fear, holiness, or all three combined. In Proverbs 30:4, the writer asks a rhetorical question, “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” Jesus answers this question in John 3:13 saying, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Also, John 1:18, John 6:46, and 1 John 4:12 states, “No one has seen God and lived.” Later, Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9); thus “…making himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18; Phil. 2:5-9). Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” In other words, Jesus is the final revelation (Rev. 22:18-19). By saying one can go to heaven and come back, one is essentially equating the experience to John’s vision in Revelation, indirectly attempting to add to the canon of Scripture (2 Jn. 9).
Nevertheless, what if the people, such as Colton Burpo, Don Piper, Dr. Neal, or Betty Eadie, did in fact see something? Galatians 1:8 says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Paul is saying that it is indeed possible for an individual to have an angelic vision, but if contradicts God’s Word and causes confusion, it is not of God (1 Cor. 14:33). Also, 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…” In other words, Paul does not negate the experience of individuals; however, he dismisses that experience’s authenticity if it does not adhere to Scripture. Therefore, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).
In Chapter Fifteen of The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, Leget explains Aquinas’s eschatology concerning heaven and hell. Aquinas believes in heaven, hell, and purgatory but spends much of his time describing heaven. In Aquinas’s commentary, he believes man continues to inhabit his fleshly body in the afterlife. Nevertheless, even with Aquinas’s bodily theory in place, one can neither crossover from one eternal state to the other. In other words, according to Thomas Aquinas, if man is made holy in heaven, should not upon return from heaven, that individual remain holy? Otherwise, there remains an open debate for heaven containing mutability and flaw-filled characteristics (2005).
On January 30, 1862, Charles Spurgeon gave a sermon “on the occasion of the Hartley Colliery disaster in which some 200 miners were killed,” using Job 14:14, which says, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Spurgeon poses the question:
What would any of us who fear God think, if we were once in heaven? Would not the very suggestion of return, though it were to the most faithful spouse and best-beloved children, be a cruelty? What, bring again to battle the victor who wears the crown? (Crosby, 2005).
Evidently, in Spurgeon’s church, there must have been concern of people wishing their loved ones from the dead; however, the sermon was issued as a comfort to the families of the deceased, yet held no punches.
Additionally, as of early 2015, Alex Malarkey’s The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, has been removed from Tyndale House Publisher’s shelves recently due to the author’s recantation of the incident. In 2004, Malarkey was involved in an automobile accident. After the accident, Malarkey was paralyzed and remained in a coma. After waking from the coma, the young boy described his “visitation” to heaven. Now at sixteen years old, Malarkey is recanting his story saying, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible” (Hallowell, 2015). After this book’s release, other books related to heavenly visitation have come under close scrutiny and evaluation.
Concerning faith, in the movie Heaven is for Real, believers are encouraged to think like children (Burpo, 2010, pp.74), misinterpreting “childlike faith” (Matt. 18:2-4; Mk. 10:3-15) and discounting 1 Corinthians 13:11, which says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” “Ironically, late in the movie [Heaven is for Real] Todd [Burpo] says in a sermon: ‘I see it, so I believe it. And what we believe affects what we see’” (Johnson, 2014). Like the misinterpretation of “childlike faith,” Pastor Burpo contradicts himself, yet again, to justify his position. Romans 8:24-25 says, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” while Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Later Pastor Burpo says, “Why not? We all see heaven every day, in a baby, in a parent’s love” (2014). Pastor Burpo’s comment leads to two problems, either 1) he believes Colton’s experience was metaphorical, not literal or 2) Colton’s experience was literal, making heaven in the here and now.
Lastly, “[r]oughly 5 percent of the general population and 10 percent of cardiac-arrest victims report near-death experiences” (Ghose, 2013), and “[m]ore than 8 million Americans have had a near-death experience” (Wolchover, 2012); however, their experiences are not consistent. Mary Eadie claims to have been “taken through a dark tunnel before finally crossing over into the intense white light of heaven” (MacArthur, 2013), Don Piper claims to walk up to the gates to be greeted by past friends and family (Piper & Murphy, 2004), Dr. Neal is greeted by spirits and escorted around heaven until her return (Hallowell, 2015), and Colton walks through the doors of the church to find angels singing to him (Wallace, 2014), while countless others describe a vast open plain with tall, green grass and a baby blue sky or, if they are unfortunate, describe sorrow, pain, and torment in hell with eternal flames and horrendous demons (Weise, 2006).
The first refutation alludes to inconsistencies as evidences. In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written from different viewpoints, meaning each account was slightly different in caliber yet did not nullify the account but instead verified it, adding eyewitness testimony (Geisler & Turek, 2004). However, contextually, the inconsistencies found in each account with this “heaven” philosophy contradict rather than support, which leads ones to ask the question, Aren’t the descriptions in Revelation similar to that of each heavenly account? Who is to say their experience has no correlation with previous knowledge, or forethought, of Revelation? John, as well as Paul and Daniel, saw amazing things; however, neither had a near-death experience but instead they each had a vision. Neither claimed to casually speak with Jesus, neither expounded upon the colors of heaven without mentioning the glory of God, and neither said they were literally in heaven. Every biblical account of heaven—seven in total—is christocentric.
The last refutation (made by the people who had these experiences) claims that God returns people to tell of the mystery of the afterlife. According to Paul, Christ is the greatest mystery revealed; that is all that matters (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3, 6:19). If one must come back to reiterate what Jesus and the apostles already said, they neither did an adequate or sufficient job.
In conclusion, near-death experiences as well as out of body experiences are not found anywhere in Scripture, nor does their resurrection experience bear any philosophical or Scriptural authority. What is better, for a man to see Christ in all his glory, seated at the right hand of God, and return in despair and agony over his inability to remain with his first love (Rev. 2:4), or wait patiently for years persevering after holiness in faith and one day pass on to find all his toiling was worthwhile, hearing his Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21,23)? It was almost too much for Paul and John whenever they caught a glimpse of glory. That is why Paul said, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Charles Spurgeon best summed up this entire issue (MacArthur, 2013):
It’s a little heaven below, to imagine sweet things. But never think that imagination can picture heaven….“It hath not entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him….” Your imaginary heaven you will find by-and-by to be all a mistake; though you may have piled up fine castles, you will find them to be castles in the air, and they will vanish like thin clouds before the gale. For imagination cannot make a heaven. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive [it].”