Format: Trade Paperback
Religion - Christian Life
The problem with a book about someone's personal account of a series of very personal events is that there's no way to constructively criticize or verify the author's account. I have no reason to doubt Dr. Mary C. Neal's stories as told in To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again, A True Story, yet as I read I kept thinking, "Really?" I finally decided that, having no reason to question her veracity and integrity, I might not question her account, but I might question her interpretation of her experiences.
Dr. Neal, an orthopaedic surgeon, was kayaking when she became trapped underwater and drowned. While her kayaking buddies searched for her, she drowned. As her friends recovered her body and administered CPR, Neal says she died, and was escorted to heaven. Before she could enter in, her heavenly companions informed her that it was not yet her time, so she returned to her body. Her companions rejoiced and got her to medical care.
Her brief visit to heaven, followed by some angelic encounters during her recovery in Wyoming, convinced her that she was brought back to life purposefully. From that point forward, she has lived with a heightened awareness of her purpose in life and the impact that her life has on others. Anyone, especially any believer can appreciate the way these events have shaped her and made her a more faithful Christian.
My concern is that Dr. Neal doesn't seem to filter her experiences through the testimony of scripture. She gives an honest account of the events and her experience, but does not stop and wonder about her theological interpretations. I won't get into the whole out-of-body, near death experience question. There's huge body of literature debating these experiences. At the root is Christian anthropology. I tend toward monism, which states that man is of one essence, that you can't separate body and soul. Dr. Neal is definitely dualistic, the view that the soul leaves the body at death. She even states that the soul sometimes leaves the body before death, such as when a patient is on life support.
I think both can be defended biblically. Dr. Neal takes her dualism a bit fat, I think, when she states that our souls exist with God before we're born. We "make a basic outline for our life" and "review it and discuss it with our 'personal planning' angel." Children are more aware of angelic visitation and the world of God because they were there recently. She learned this during one of the angelic visitations. She doesn't know if it was an angel or Jesus. In fact, in one passage she says angel and then Jesus, as if they're interchangeable. I'm not saying she wasn't visited by an angel or Jesus, I'm just saying that this pre-planning she describes is not biblical, and may be anti-biblical. When we have a vision or dream, we should always test it against scripture.
I wonder about her interpretation of other events. On several occasions, she attributes natural events to messages from the dead: blossoms on a tree are a gift from her recently deceased stepfather; flowers on her land were a reminder from her dead son; a patient's dead husband told the patient details about Dr. Neal's accident. She also sees angelic messages in, for instance, the gaze of an owl hanging around her house. Again, I do not doubt that these things happened to her, but I wonder about the theology of the dead making flowers grown and angels inhabiting animals. God may cause a tree to bloom as a gift to us, but can dead people do it? Again, let's be discerning in our interpretations.
So while I was inspired by Dr. Neal's commitment and the way her life was impacted as a result of her accident, I was constantly scratching my head over her interpretation of events and experiences. She seems to lack biblical, theological discernment, turning what could have been a solid, inspiring story into a questionable, sentimental account.
Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for the complimentary review copy!
Juvenile Fiction - Religious - Christian - Fantasy
Fiction - Christian - General