Monday, August 22, 2011

Discernment lesson: books where people are given tours of heaven and hell

There have been a spate of books lately in which the author shares his or her trip to heaven or hell, as the case may be. The three I'd like to address are the following:

Heaven is for Real, published 2010

23 minutes in Hell, in 2006

90 minutes in Heaven, 2004

The most recent is Todd Burpo's Heaven is for Real, which was a surprise, phenomenal bestseller. The following article is from NY Times this past March:

"Colton’s father, Todd, has turned the boy’s experience into a 163-page book, “Heaven Is for Real,” which has become a sleeper paperback hit of the winter, dominating best-seller lists and selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Thomas Nelson, the book’s publisher, said it had broken company sales records. The publisher, based in Nashville, began with an initial print run of 40,000 copies. Since the book came out in November, it has gone back to press 22 times, with more than 1.5 million copies in print. On the New York Times best-seller list for paperback nonfiction last Sunday, “Heaven Is for Real” was No. 1. The book remains in the top spot this coming Sunday."

Why is this, one wonders? The answer, for this company at least is answered later in the NY Times article:

“We all are perhaps desperate to know what is on the other side of the veil after we die,” Vice-President of the Publishing Company) Mr. Baugher said, adding that his initial skepticism about the Burpo family’s story was short-lived."

We all wonder about the other side. We are intensely curious, I think we all need to be honest about that. When a book comes out that purports to have special information, insider stuff, a sneak peek, people flock to it ... as evidenced by the statistics shared by the Nelson Publishing company about the Burpo book.

Don Piper experienced a terrible accident and it was while he was trapped in the car that he said he visited heaven. Although the title says '90 minutes in heaven' he never actually visited heaven. He was only ever standing on the outside of the pearly gates. He never entered. Todd Burpo is the father of the boy who said he visited heaven. Colton was just turned four years old when his appendix burst and he lay on the operating table, unconscious and under anesthetic.  As Colton recovered from his medical ordeal, over a period of months, he revealed tiny details of his trip to heaven and after 6 or 7 years, his pastor father wrote the book.

BIll Wiese was just sleeping and was inexplicably transported to hell by Jesus. Jesus gave Wiese a tour of the place and sent him back topside 23 minutes later with a message that "I am coming very, very soon."

I don't want to diminish anyone's terrible medical tragedy or be insensitive if anyone has mental problems, demonic dreams, or just plain seeks attention in this bizarre manner. There is no doubt that for Piper and Wiese that whatever they experienced changed their lives. They are constantly sharing their testimony, witnessing, and evangelizing. But was what they experienced from God? Or not? And how should we as Christian readers respond?

My opinion is that what they experienced was not from God. I personally do not believe that Jesus is in the business of giving personal tours of heaven or hell. We do know that Ezekiel, Isaiah, Paul and John saw the heavenly things. But once the bible was completed, I believe that is all that Jesus has to say on the subjects. We read in the bible that we die once and then the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27). I could go point-by-point on the things in these books that are unscriptural, but I want to be more general than that. The title, for example, "Heaven is for Real." Do we really need a book dictated by a four year old to tell us that heaven is real? The title 90 minutes in Heaven, for example, is disingenuous. He did not enter heaven. The bible says that when we are absent with the body, we are present with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:8). The bible does not say "absent from the body you will hang around the entrance to heaven for 90 minutes only to be turned back without seeing Jesus."

I am a bible believer. I am a big fan of the bible, besides. It is the revealed word of God, generously given to us from on high, by His grace and intellect. He crafted that Word over 1500 years and the writers went through great pains to put to paper the Spirit-inspired words for future generations to be blessed by. And at that, it may be opened occasionally at a church, IF the pastor actually preaches from a bible and encourages his flock to bring one and open it during the sermon. More usually, the book gets tossed in the back of the car, to become sun-faded and ignored.

But when a four year old awakens from a drug-induced operation, and drops details of his visit to heaven, over a period of months, that his father fills in the details of, people buy the book by the millions. SAD!

The bible tells us all we need to know about heaven, AND hell. The bible. It should be all we need to have hope in the future promise of heaven. His Word is impeccable, solid, and sure. Christian Book reviewer Tim Challies has a good review of these books here. He also addresses the underlying reluctance and guilt we have to reject such books: saying, 'who are we to dismiss another's experience?'

Challies said: "If you struggle believing what the Bible says, but learn to find security in the testimony of a toddler, well, I feel sorry for you. And I do not mean this in a condescending way. If God’s Word is not sufficient for you, if the testimony of his Spirit, given to believers, is not enough for you, you will not find any true hope in the unproven tales of a child. This hope may last for a moment, but it will not sustain you, it will not bless you, in those times when hope is waning and times are hard. So reject this book. Do not read it. Do not believe it. And do not feel guilty doing so."

This reviewer endured a traumatic medical trauma as well but questions the legitimacy of those who have such experiences while under the influence of medications. She wrote in part, "I wasn’t planning to read the book, because I’m skeptical about it, but maybe I should … and maybe I’ll be won over like you were. The reason I should read it is because people are asking whether my experience of almost dying matches any of it. After receiving severe injuries in an accident, I spent about 48 hours hovering between life and death. I have some foggy memories that I could wrap in Heaven language, but I don’t feel comfortable doing so. My body was in a traumatic situation and I was heavily medicated … so why would I trust anything I thought/saw/experienced at that time? While I realize the book brings comfort to the family (and many others) my biggest doubts are with the certainty placed in a 4-year old, especially while in a traumatic situation. (plus, when else do we base major beliefs on what a 4-year old says?) Also all the experiences I’ve heard he had confirmed what the family already believed. What if he had ‘come back’ with new information that would have challenged what they believe or cost them something, such as: if he had said Jesus really does want them to sell everything and give all to the poor?"

What we should feel guilty about is not rejecting another's extra-biblical revelation of heaven or hell, but of  rejecting God's word in favor of man-made experiences. This is all too common of a problem today, substituting a personal experience for God's Word. We cannot make a theology out of what we experience. We are sinners and therefore flawed. We see through a glass darkly. But God sees all things perfectly, and He has told us how heaven is and what hell is like.

Pastor Reid Ferguson wrote about Burpo's book, "So, if you have read the book, and have found your “faith” bolstered by it or your soul encouraged by it, my question to you is – Why? Why not the Bible? Why this story – and not the authoritative one? What does this say about your own attitude toward Scripture? What does it say about your understanding of Scripture? What does it say about your approach to truth – and how it is found, discerned and processed? Why does this strike a chord with you God’s own Word to you does not?"

Good questions. If you would like to read some secular books that are biblically based that illustrate heaven, I recommend Heaven by Randy Alcorn, and also Alcorn's "We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon's Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven" which is a compilation of Charles Spurgeon's sermons on heaven, lightly edited and with an introduction to each sermon by Alcorn.

Be discerning, people, and READ THE BIBLE!


  1. The travesty is that this garbage is being sold in so-called "Christian" bookstores!

  2. I just wish people would actually read the bible. Who isn't moved by Isaiah's vision of the throne of God and the seraphim hovering and saying holy holy holy! The most beautiful visions of our future are contained in the word of God, and that is one book that IS sold in Christian bookstores :)

  3. OK i have to share this. A few years after my mother got saved she died for a few minutes during surgery. She has a story similar to this but she doesn't really broadcast it. I actually had to sit her down and ask detailed questions about her experience.

    Anyway, she went through the experience of seeing herself, her body and everything around her but as she was floating away...she also said that she was about to enter the gates of heaven but Jesus suddenly appeared. She said she heard singing, really beautiful singing from MANY voices...anyways she describes Jesus as having a long white robe and wearing a crown but she said she could not see his face because it was so unbelievably bright. I think that's all she remembers about Him.

    He told her that it was not yet her time and that she still has work to do. She says the last thing Christ told her was that He was coming SOON. She always mentions that. Next thing she remembers waking up. I actually caught her tearing up the other day and she let me know it was 20 years to the day since Jesus spared her life that day and she was so thankful.

    I never questioned if it was real or not but I don't know if it's kind of different from people getting TOURS of heaven and hell. I see many documentaries about people having these experiences (hell in particular) and giving their lives to Christ because of it.

    One very wonderful miracle I've been hearing of happening lately is muslims, buddhists, hinduists..etc around the world seeing Jesus Christ appear to them in dreams. An asian woman who used to be a buddhist said she had a dream and saw Jesus Christ standing on top of buddha. He told her that He is the one true God. Also a muslim imam had a dream where Jesus appeared to him and he rushed to a church the next day to learn more. He eventually came to the Lord. Dr. Michael Youseff shared this testimony.

  4. I found your article very insightful. However it is the semantic that I wish to discuss which pertains to your listing of people who supposedly saw heaven. I noticed that amongst the list you site Paul who supposedly saw heaven (I assume you are referring to 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 if not please list the passage you had in mind.) I find it interesting you site him if you read the passage he himself says "The Man" was caught up to the third heaven and HEARD THINGS it nowhere says that this man actually saw anything..

  5. One of the women in our church here in Ukraine is a medical doctor. Twice in her own life she died - was dead for up to half an hour, the paperwork was all filled out on her, legally declared dead - until she started breathing again. (This is one of the reasons some Christians do not believe in becoming organ donors - the whole body including the brain can shut down for periods of time like this, but your life is not yet over.) Lyena was not a Christian at that time. She had a "heaven" experience one of those times and she described it for us. The one comment that has stood out to me that corresponds with the little boy's account is they both said there are colors in heaven we have never seen here on earth. Lyena said that in her experience she got to the "edge" of heaven and was told she didn't belong there yet - she had to go back. And she did. She had never heard the Gospel at that time - but when she did, she believed and trusted Christ as her Savior. We have talked several times about how when she gets there next time, she will go right in, permanently!

    Secular authorities say it's all just a matter of the mind mis-firing during extreme stress, or the effects of drugs on the mind, and so forth simply because they do not believe in a spirit world or in heaven and hell.

    We Christians DO believe and we understand that there is much we don't have a clue about in our earthly existance. Elisha's servants eyes were opened and he saw the armies of God surrounding and protecting them. Stephen looked up into heaven BEFORE they started stoning him and saw Christ. Jacob dreamed and saw a ladder going up into heaven with angels ascending and decending. Paul (or "a man in Christ") talked about not knowing if it was in the body or out of the body when he was caught up to the third heaven. John - well, on this blog we all know what happened to John! And there are others, recorded in Scripture.

    There is a veil between us and eternity, but I for one am convinced that God can and does give peeks through that veil at times. I'm not saying He gives us new information or new Scripture, just a peek into what will be and what really is all around us. I don't think you have to be "dead" for that to happen, even if you may appear dead to those around you - the little boy, according to his medical charts/reports, never died, nor did they think he ever had. After reading the book, my thought is not that he died, but that he was given a vision of heaven. Why? I don't know and won't pretend to know. He, and the parents, do not claim any new revelations about God or from God - just that this actually happened. I don't know his parents, but from what I read, I don't think they wrote the book for financial gain. The other books - I have no desire to read them and am always skeptical of financial motives.

    We are definitely in agreement on this - people should read the Word of God! Trust Christ as their Savior! Then, through the help of the Holy Spirit, they will begin to know and understand spiritual things, including the reality of heaven. John 16:13-15 "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you."

    (I would comment about Acts 2:17,18 but so many Christians today do not understand what the word 'prophecy' means, or what Peter was actually talking about in that sermon ... I'll just quote this part: "“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. ... your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." :) :) )

  6. This is what Jesus said about this topic in Luke 16
    19There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

    20And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

    21And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

    22And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

    23And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

    24And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

    25But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

    26And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

    27Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:

    28For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

    29Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

    30And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

    31And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

  7. Anonymous of 11:38PM,

    It is generally understood and interpreted that Paul was speaking of himself. He did not use his name because he was making a point about not boasting. Yes he heard inexpressible things, which it is not proper for a man to discuss.

    John, though he was given specific visions and told to write them down, was still banned from telling about the Seven Thunders, and Daniel was told to shut up the book and let it remain secret until the proper time. (Rev 10:1-4; Daniel 12).

    Of all the millions who have died not one was permitted to come back and speak of God's glories fully or if they were able, were unable due to limits of man's speech (Ezekiel trying to describe the angels of wheels within wheels). Lazarus in hell was not able to come back and tell. The bible does not record any resurrected person describing his journey to heaven (Dorcas, Mary's Lazarus, Peter's mother in law, the resurrected saints at the death of Jesus...)

    So I am not getting into semantics discussion. You understand the point of the post, I hope.

    My comment to other anonymouses who shared their friends or relatives' experiences...thank you for sharing but I remain skeptical.

    Though those four who were taken up or who saw it in a vision were told not to disclose fully...yet are supposed to believe that a four year old was shown the battle of Armageddon by Jesus. And that these writers who were allegedly taken up (or down) were told to write a book and put it all in there and go forth and fully disclose...) Not buying it.

    Man's experiences, no matter how real to them, are not a substitute for reading the actual bible nor is it an excuse for confirming what the bible explains...

    Thanks Jeff for the reminder about Lazarus and the rich man...

  8. One thing to remember is that there is a big difference between "clinically dead" and really dead. Really dead never revives.

    I have no problem with NDE's which lead the person to see everything as if they were outside the body - that just proves our spiritual nature. However, those who claim to have seen heaven and Jesus are having dreams based on their faith, etc. When you read what these books actually claim and compare them to Scripture - they contradict Scripture! So that makes them bogus from the git-go.

  9. It is insulting that you think because we are encouraged by these experiences of others that we are not as righteous as you are.nothing can replace the inspired word of god. To me you sound selfrighteous, be careful of this thinking you are not better than anyone else we all come short of the glory of god.apparently you do not understand the power of god, l hope the holy spirit will help you understand.there are to many of these similar occurrences that are not for profit for them not to be true.I believe the lord shows us these things because he loves us and wants to encourage us and others. The lord is returning soon and he dose not want any of us to perish he will do whatever it takes to get our do not discourage,build up others. Ask the lord for understanding because you do not know what kind of damage you can do. I pray for your faith to become complete

  10. Elizabeth this is from the holy spirit. This is my site not yours,it is for my glory not yours,do not tell me how to reach my children, I love all my children,my ways are my ways and not yours. Continue to encourage and build up for I AM coming soon

  11. Anonymous of 8/23, both posts. No, you are not speaking for the Holy Spirit. Those books teach heresy, or the very least aberrational beliefs. The stories they tell about "heaven" contradict everything the Bible teaches. You have allowed yourself to be deceived so you can feel all emotional about the books and their stories. They are false teaching, plain and simple, just as the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses teach falsely. While God can use false teachings to reach people, he does that in spite of the false teachings. God does NOT give people false teachings - he gives them HIS Word!

  12. i think some people who see hell are needing to diminish what they saw by diminishing real ndes experiences so they dont have to face their own sinfulness and rebellion against God and repent before they are condemned forever in hell. some stories may be from a angel of light who convinces people they are right with God because because when they left their body they saw a light and felt loved even in spite of the fact they they are living in sin and disobedience to Gods word.


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