Format: Trade Paperback
Religion - Christian Life
Author/blogger/speaker Rachel Held Evans wrote a post late last week admitting her skepticism towards all these “I died and went to heaven then came back to life” memoirs that seem to be popping up all over the place. Her basic premise was that, while not wanting to automatically discount the authors of said books, she was not willing to blindly believe all the accounts as true and accurate, either.
If you are a reader or a Christian or both, it is hard for these books to go unnoticed. Heaven is for Real, the “account” of young Colton Burpo’s experience in the presence of Jesus, has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 83 weeks, as of this writing. Now Dr. Mary C. Neal’s book, To Heaven and Back, is attempting to make the same kind of push for popularity and influence.
All of that begs the question that Evans reasonably asks: are books about heaven being for real….well, for real? Did these people really die, experience a taste of heaven, and then come back to life in their earthly bodies? How much of their accounts can be believed? Our responses will lie across the entire spectrum: some steadfastly skeptical and unwilling to believe an ounce of it; others diving heart and soul into the stories, hopeful that in these tales they can find some piece of hope to cling to. Many of us will probably try to find a reasonable stance somewhere in between.
I absolutely believe in the “afterlife,” if that’s what you want to call it. But I also believe in the “life.” What I mean is, I totally believe in an earthly realm and a spiritual realm, and that our souls exist for eternity in the latter. But I also believe that the kingdom of God is here and now. Those who live with faith in Jesus experience a foretaste of heaven now, with the promise of experiencing its fulness later. The more we love Jesus and live for him in this life, the more we get to participate in ushering in this new kingdom that will come to restore all things at some point. It is life now and life later.
So all that said, where do I stand with these Heaven and Back type memoirs? To be honest, I don’t know. Like Evans, I approach them with a healthy sense of skepticism, but try not to write them off from the get go. I try to ask myself a few questions as I read and evaluate them, and ultimately let discernment guide my response as much as possible. Here are my questions:
--Does the account contradict the Bible? The Bible is the written Word of God, and I don’t believe any claimed experience of heaven will contradict the Bible. Period. As I read these accounts, I am constantly testing them against what I know to be true in Scripture. If I start to see discrepancies, the account loses credibility, and quickly, I might add.
--Does the account point to Jesus? Jesus Christ is Way, the Truth, and the Life. “No one comes to the Father except through [Him].” Obviously I can make no claim as to what it will be like to be ushered into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Bible is pretty clear that heaven is full of the glory and the worship of the King of Kings. If an account of heaven does not point to the worship of Jesus, then my skepticism grows.
--Does reading the account build up the believer and edify the church? This may be a simplified and potentially inaccurate view, but stories of afterlife experiences can be considered prophetic in nature. If the experience aligns with biblical truth and encourages the Church, then it becomes more viable, in my opinion. But we are also warned to watch out for false prophets, and I believe “false memoirs” could fit in that category. If the account does nothing to point to Jesus or to edify and encourage the Church, then it may very well be false, regardless of how nice and cozy it sounds.
This year, for different reasons, I read both Heaven is for Real and To Heaven and Back. Based on my own approach, here is my assessment:
Colton Burpo’s tale of the afterlife was all about Jesus. As I read the book, I was constantly drawn to the character and person of Jesus. There were not any big red flags that jumped out at me suggesting a contradiction with the Bible, and Jesus was always present somewhere in the story. When I finished the book, I found myself full of joy, love, and excitement for the time I have left on this earth as a follower of Christ, as well as for the promise of entering His presence upon my death.
Dr. Neal’s account did none of that. Her story mentioned the name of Jesus fewer than half-a-dozen times, and there was certainly nothing that pointed to Him in her account. Additionally, Dr. Neal made some statements regarding the origins of humanity (namely that we are all heavenly beings who are sent to earth with a specific mission as we try to make our way back to the heavenly realm) that do not jive with Scripture at all. Her story highlights angels and miracles, and, rather than build up the Church for the purpose of living out the Gospel, seems solely bent on creating warm-fuzzies by looking for angels around every corner.
In short, I am much more inclined to put stock in the former as opposed to the latter. I certainly would not recommend Dr. Neal’s book as quality reading. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend reading her book at all. Regardless of our reading choices, we must always remember that there is only one book that can be considered the all-time best-selling and most life-changing book ever. There is only one book that we ever need to read if we want to know God and understand His will for our lives. As someone who likes to read a lot, I sometimes need to be reminded of this. Judging by the inventory of our Christian book stores, most of us need to be reminded of that.
Juvenile Fiction - Religious - Christian - Fantasy
Fiction - Christian - General