22Jan

Why It Matters How We Think about Heaven

Last week, 16-year old Alex Malarkey made headlines when he publicly retracted his story that he had been to heaven.

Malarkey’s book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story details the events of a car crash that left Alex paralyzed at just 6 years old. The book ic co-authored by has father, Kevin.

Last week, Alex released an open letter to Christian publishers and bookstores confessing that the entire account of his journey to heaven was fictional, and implored them to remove the book from their stores.

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. 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. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough. In Christ, Alex Malarkey.”

The “heaven tourism” genre has unfortunately taken off in force. Books like Alex’s are innumerable and seem to come from a new, but same, experience every month. And people cannot get enough.

Yet Christians have not been utterly silent. Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You Ministries, wrote a critique of the entire genre of heaven tourism books, including Malarkey’s book, over two years ago.

David Platt completely disarms the entire genre in this 4-minute video from a Secret Church simulcast in August 2013.

Yet while we could discuss our opinions on these books and the publishers that have so handsomely profited from their stories, I am not interested in such a discussion.

I am extremely interested in their effects on others, especially those outside of Christianity.

These books, coupled with Malarkey’s brave and honest confession that it was all a hoax, has fueled a barrage of “I told you so’s” from the atheist community.

Why it Matters

What’s even worse is the effect it has had on agnostics and skeptics alike, pushing those who at times are open to exploring faith in Jesus, further and further from the very faith they so desperately need. That is why it is so important how we think about heaven.

I would love for the Church to have a higher level of discernment when it comes to books and phenomenon such as this. In fact, I have committed my life to serving the Church so I am more than interested in seeing Christians get this right.

However, it is a far greater thing to see those far from God be brought near to God by the blood of the Lamb. And frankly, our team’s response to these books has not helped that in any way and we need to own that. We need to get heaven right because it is a glorious thing that is worth talking about.

I was glad to see Alex Malarkey’s retraction but I initially had no plan to write about it. I was glad to see it but I am not usually in the business of turning other Christian’s shortcomings into blog fodder. That changed yesterday.

Yesterday NPR ran an op-ed piece entitled, “What if Heaven is Not For Real?” It is a well written, and heart-breaking, article. Here’s the author’s conclusion,

I’m not concerned about the many years of my nonexistence before birth. Why then should I be concerned about the many years of my nonexistence that will follow death?

Granted, the author, Adam Frank, is a staunch agnostic (oxymoron?), especially about matters of the afterlife. He simply does not care. So a solid book on heaven would probably not change his mind regarding the afterlife anyway but the heaven tourism genre of books, movies, and merchandise simply gives people like Frank that much more of a reason not to believe.

Recommended Resources on Heaven:

Life After Death: A New Approach to the Last Things,  by Anthony C. Thiselton

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Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright

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The Glory of Heaven (2nd Edition): The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life, by John MacArthur

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