Introduction and review:
A couple of days ago we began a series on Biblically evaluating the growing fascination among Christians and the culture alike over books authored by those who have had “Near Death Experiences” (or what is referred to in the literature as NDE’s). In 2004 Don Piper’s book “90 minutes in Heaven” became an overnight sensation in a pastor’s retelling of his alleged hour and half experience in heaven following a traumatic car accident. In 2010 another book, featuring the alleged recounting of heavenly experiences by six year old Colton Burpo in the wake of emergency surgery sent the book in the coveted #1 New York Times Best Seller List.
To be as fair as possible, the books are well written and prove very interesting to read. Certainly their emotionally compelling recounting of surviving trauma in the face of death draws the reader into the world of the author. With that said, the question that keeps pressing in the back of this writer is: are these types of book Biblical? Are they helping or hurting the cause of Christ? Are they faithful to the Gospel and Biblical Christianity or do they ultimately undermine the message? Answering such questions will be the aim of this paper. This author has aimed to show that books written about NDE’s are ultimately without the authority, clarity or profitability in comparison to the only book that is singularly authoritative on matters related to life and death, heaven and hell – the Bible. Yesterday’s post aimed to answer the question about what role, if any such books function in understanding life and Bible doctrine. We concluded that in the final analysis they don’t really offer help and that the reader needs to search the scriptures instead. Today we conclude our study.
Some doctrinal deviations that can be observed in Near Death Experience books
1). Confusion on Heaven. All of these books present a man-centered and angel-centered view of Heaven, with God in the background or mentioned in passing. The Bible on the other hand presents Heaven as the God and Christ centered reality, with the angels and people being in the back ground or mentioned in passing. See for example Revelation 1:1-20; 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-13; 11:15-17; 12:10-12; 14:2-3; 15:3-4; 19:1-10; 21:1-9; 22:16-21.
2). Scripture ends up being not enough. These books are communicated as eyewitness accounts of experiences in Heaven and thus, whether meant by the authors or not, become treated as authoritative sources for describing heaven. The danger of such books is that over time, though such books would never be declared by many people to be on par with scripture, in practice the appearance of DVD-based Bible study curriculum featuring these writings unnecessarily blurs the lines. 1 Such central truths as the clarity and unity of scripture tends to be softened when these types of book are consulted and read. Todd Burpo writes in the book “Heaven is for Real”: When you look at the book of Revelation and other biblical teachings about Heaven, it’s kind of fragmented.” 2
The Scriptures on the other hand are alone sufficient and powerful in deepening one’s faith not only for a life-time but for all eternity. (Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:15-4:4) Any theology, Sunday School curriculum, sermon, lesson or devotional ought to never have as its foundation an experience, but rather scripture.
3). Blurring or conflict with key doctrines. Don Piper’s book claims there is no mention of death or the blood of Jesus in any of the songs sung in Heaven. When one compares references in Revelation 5:9-10 and 5:12 of the songs being sung, with references to the blood and the atoning work of Jesus, the conflict between what is written (scripture) versus subjective experience is shown. On page 121 of Todd Burpo’s book “Heaven is for Real”, we see references to people having wings.3 The ready acceptance of such a description by the author blurs the line between what the Bible shows to be the difference between human beings and angels. (compare Hebrews 2:16) Clearly there are serious doctrinal issues with these books that do not line up with scripture.
Why must people be warned and cautioned about Near Death Experience type books?
Many readers may wonder why I am making such a big deal about these types of books and why I cannot recommend them. First, the authors are passing these writings off as non-fictional experiences that count as revelations about Heaven, Hell, Life and Eternity. Such books should never be written in the first place. The Great Apostle Paul had an experience in 2 Corinthians 12 where he saw visions of Paradise and the Third Heaven and yet he was not at liberty to recount what he saw. Should not such Biblical cautions be exercised? This author would without reservation say yes.
Second, the Apostle Peter reminds us of the nature of scripture in 2 Peter 1:20 “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” To take a private experience, uninspired and perhaps more laden with emotional and physical trauma than spiritual insight, and place it in print for millions to read is to in a practical sense make new scripture!
Thirdly, Christians ought to be far more discerning in the positive endorsement of such literature. The Bereans in the wake of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey and preaching were described as follows in Acts 17:11 “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
Closing Thoughts and recommendations
In place of these fallible books, the Christian reader ought to turn to their Bible and seek out what God has to say about Heaven, Hell, life and eternity. Good resources such as Bible Dictionaries, Concordances and online websites such as Biblegateway.com can point the reader to those scriptures that describe these subjects.
Is the Bible sufficient enough in its revelation about Heaven, Hell, Life and Eternity? Think about these statistics: The Heaven where believers go when they die is mentioned and described in the Bible some 150 times, with 34 mentions in the Gospels by Jesus. Hell is found some 95 times and is mentioned 17 times by Jesus. Demons are mentioned 95 times; Satan is found 115 times and good angels are found in some 400 places in the scriptures. The Bible alone is God’s infallible (cannot fail = John 10:35), inerrant (without error = Proverbs 30:5; 2 Timothy 3:16; Titus 1:2); clear (Luke 24:44-45) and all-sufficient (2 Peter 1:20-21) revelation about such matters. Thus it would be contended that the reader seek the scriptures and the Jesus revealed in them, since the Bible alone is sufficient to shape our understanding of life, salvation and eternity.
1. http://www.donpiperministries.com/ For example, on Don Piper’s website we see the advertisement for his wife Eva Piper’s new book: “A Walk Through the Dark – How my husband’s 90 minutes in heaven deepened my faith for a life time”.
2. Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. Heaven is for Real. Thomas Nelson. 2010. Page 149.
3. Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. Heaven is for Real. Thomas Nelson. 2010. Page 121. Todd Burpo writes:“But when I asked him what Pop looked like, Colton would talk mainly about his clothes and the size of his wings.”