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Thursday, October 18, 2012 | Comments (54)

Shortly after the publication of this article, Beth Malarkey, Alex's mother, contacted Grace to You to let us know that the analysis of these books is acurate, and that she and her son had been working for years to disavow and recant the story depicted in The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. To read the rest of the story, including a letter from Alex that resulted in the book being pulled from the shelves of several Christian book sellers, click here.

by Phil Johnson

It's odd and troubling that the best-selling evangelical book of the past decade is a fanciful account of heaven spun from the imagination of a four-year-old boy. (Believe it or not, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Prayer of Jabez are both now more than a decade old.) Peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction is the current Next Big Thing in the world of evangelical publishing.

Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo, tells the story of Burpo's son, Colton, who says he visited heaven while anesthetized for an appendectomy at age 4. Colton, now 13, says in heaven he got a halo and real wings (though they were too small for his liking). He also claims he sat on Jesus' lap while the angels sang to him; he saw Mary standing beside Jesus' throne; and he met the Holy Spirit (who, according to Colton, is "kind of blue").

More than seven million copies of this book are now in circulation, and the publisher has been assembling a sizable catalogue of spin-off products, including a planned movie version (to be produced by televangelist/prosperity preacher T. D. Jakes).

That book is not to be confused with The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, by Kevin Malarkey—another runaway best-seller. Malarkey's book is about his son Alex, who at age 6 was nearly killed (and left permanently paralyzed) in a devastating automobile accident. In the immediate aftermath, and then during his rehabilitation, Alex says he made multiple trips to heaven and back.

The Malarkeys' version of heaven is considerably darker and not as full of details as the Burpos'. "There is a hole in outer Heaven," Alex says. "That hole goes to hell." The devil evidently uses this portal freely, because he is a major figure in Alex Malarkey's description of paradise. Alex says he has personally seen Satan many times, first at the accident scene and then later in heaven.

Indeed, this is perhaps the most vivid part of Alex Malarkey's whole account: "The devil's mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I've never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don't know about the color of the skin or robes—it's all just too scary to concentrate on these things!"

Those books are part of a burgeoning genre, currently one of the hottest trends in publishing: imaginative tales purporting to be eyewitness accounts of heaven and the afterlife. (Blogger Tim Challies has labeled the genre "Heaven Tourism," candidly dismissing one bestseller in the category as "pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity.")

Examples of these works include My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . . A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man's Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese; and many others. Several of these titles have appeared on various bestseller lists, and most of them are still riding high.

This is not a totally new phenomenon. Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie's Embraced by the Light was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.

What's different about the current crop of afterlife testimonies is that they are being eagerly sought and relentlessly cranked out by evangelical publishers. They are bought and devoured by millions who would describe themselves as born-again Bible-believing Christians. Every book I have named in the above list comes from an ostensibly evangelical source. Many of them are old-guard mainstream ECPA publishers, not vanity presses or dilettantes from the charismatic fringe.

These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn't even be necessary. No true evangelical ought to be tempted to give such tales any credence whatsoever, no matter how popular they become. One major, obvious problem is that these books don't even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.

But the larger issue is one no authentic believer should miss: the whole premise behind every one of these books is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about heaven.

In an upcoming book dealing with this subject, John MacArthur says,

For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.

Only four authors in all the Bible were blessed with visions of heaven and wrote about what they saw: the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, and the apostles Paul and John. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55). As Pastor MacArthur points out, all of these were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from the dead in the Old or New Testaments ever recorded for us what he or she experienced in heaven. That includes Lazarus, who spent four days in the grave.

Paul was caught up into heaven in an experience so vivid he said he didn't know whether he went there bodily or not, but he saw things that are unlawful to utter, so he gave no details. He covered the whole incident in just three verses (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

All three biblical writers who saw heaven and described their visions give comparatively sparse details, but they agree perfectly (Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1 and 10; Revelation 4-6). They don't agree with the Burpo-Malarkey version of heaven. Both their intonation and the details they highlight are markedly different. The biblical authors are all fixated on God's glory, which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God's holiness. Notably missing from all the biblical accounts are the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller lists.

Every week, I answer e-mails and inquiries from evangelicals who are confused by the barrage of afterlife travelogues. Why Christians who profess to believe the Bible would find these stories the least bit compelling is an utter mystery, but it is a sure sign that many in the evangelical movement have abandoned their evangelical convictions. Specifically, they have relinquished the principle of sola Scriptura and lost their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Why else would they turn from clear biblical teaching on heaven and seek an alternative view in mystical experiences that bear no resemblance to what Scripture tells us?

This trend away from biblical authority was even noted earlier this week by a secular reporter in The New York Post. Consider the implications of this quotation:

Lynn Vincent, who ghost-wrote "Heaven is for Real" on behalf of the young boy Colton Burpo and his father, said that she was initially reluctant to include Colton's description of people in heaven having wings. "If I put that people in Heaven have wings, orthodox Christians are going to think that the book is a hoax." She did and they didn't.

Evangelical readers' discernment skills are at an all-time low, and that is why books like these proliferate. Despite the high profile, high sales figures, and high dollar amounts Christian publishers can milk from a trend such as this, it doesn't bode well for the future of Christian publishing—or for the future of the evangelical movement.

Watch for an all-new edition of John MacArthur's classic book The Glory of Heaven coming from Crossway next spring. The book will include thorough critiques of Heaven Is for Real and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, plus extended evaluations of a few other bestsellers in the same vein. More importantly, it gives a thorough exposition of what Scripture teaches about heaven.

Spoiler alert: Heaven's a lot more glorious than any of these current bestsellers suggest.


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#1  Posted by Justin McCurry  |  Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 11:31 PM

I have to say, it is very ironic that the author's last name who wrote "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven" is "Malarky . Very ironic indeed.. ;)

#2  Posted by Margaret Dunn  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:05 AM

Thank you for this clarification. I read one of the books and it seemed hokey to me but your confirmation of same puts my mind at ease. I gravitated to the book when I was at a very low point in my life - my mother was dying. It was depressing to think that Heaven was just what that little boy was describing and nothing more. I'm glad I read it with a skeptical mind (thanks to your great teaching over the years!)

#3  Posted by Moses M  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 4:12 AM

This is an answered to pray! I hope these 3 authors can be verified if authenthic or not.

Though there is one thing, God still can reveal parts of heaven to a person who died and bring them back to life. So God can do this if he wants. The hard thing is to find out which are the geinune ones from the false ones. Just like Jesus can heal if he wants...

What would you say if a skeptic said he nows belives in Christ cause he died a skeptic and came back a beliver?

It would be too strong to state that all near-death experiences are faked, imagined, or Satanic, but there are still serious concerns, biblically, about the validity of near-death experiences.

I hope these 3 can be reviwed:

Smash by a truck!

Seem Biblical??

Ian Maccormack did not believe and said the Lord took him through the Lords pray:

This gets very details! Anne Rountree. The Priestly Bride.

If they are false how would Ian suddenly become a Christian? The Lord told Him ne needs to see things in a new light?

Don piper was a pastor, Anne I am still pondering???

The 2 testimonies sound biblical though, they mention sin, hell and heaven. And they don't describe alot on heaven apart from Anne.

Anyway I hope this can be review in Pastor John macarthur new updated book!

#4  Posted by Moses M  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 4:48 AM

I read that these NDE agree that their vision of Jesus of heaven and hell is the same. And that the gate of pearls and the description of the river and the trees are the same as in Revelation.

So sound very convincing! So again how do you really distinguish if it is just false or deceptive?

Ian said he died and when God sent him back he saw someone poking his leg! Mutiple Boxer jellyfisher stings!

Don Piper said all his bones was crushed by this truck! His surgery and recovery was very extensive! And He just died! Until a friend prayed him back!

Perhaps we just have to leave it in God's Hand and advise just read the Bible and stay away from these things to protect yourself from error. One thing is for sure they are not passionate like Paul washer or John macarthur on the Gospel. If they have indeed saw Christ they would come back having this urgent urgent need to share the Gospel with sinners! And preaching repentance! This aspect is missing from their lives and seems that they can plug into a church like Rick warren and show no concern what so ever on doctrine error. Even dimiss doctrine!

But to others who are keen in reading don't read its very emotionally moving and will grip you. That is why its so popular! Its gives you that nice emotionally feeling! And if your reading the wrong thing then you can fall into deception

How about this by top Surgeons who says its true?

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife

Cardiac surgeon of near death experience

Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall

So they have verified the patient have died so this gets even more confusing when DR are claming it too!

#5  Posted by David Ballard  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 5:40 AM

Thank you for the clarification; I have been working on a fiction piece that incorporates a mystical element within the larger work to make it more compelling. For whatever reason, the world looks to fantasy rather than scripture for spiritual satisfaction. As a creative writer, there is a temptation to write what your audience wants rather than what God intends. Recently, I have realized using a mystical element is a little questionable, but after reading this post, I have a clear presentation of the dangers of including it. I will now take it out. Thank you!

#6  Posted by Phil Morgan  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 5:52 AM

Great article, Phil. Thank you. (Especially love the spoiler alert.)

The front cover of the current issue of Newsweek is "Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife". The lead story is a teaser article for a forthcoming book by a Dr. Eben Alexander. The hook, I guess, is that this isn't a 4 year old boy, but a medical professional for supposed extra cred (Alexander is a neurosurgeon).

From what I read of the article (in 5 minutes at the magazine stand while waiting for my wife) the Dr's own position seemed to be a mishmash of "spirituality" rather than an evangelical one.

Older, degreed writer ... same ol' same ol'

#7  Posted by Andrea Ferro  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 7:31 AM

I love the people at my church. They are very loving and giving, but their lack of discernment worries my greatly. Even our pastor and his wife believe these books are amazing, true life accounts. They lack discernment in other areas as well, and I believe our church is weak for this reason, amount other reasons, like a lack of discipline in the church body. The pastor and elders are so nice, they don't question much and let things "just happen". I don't understand this.

#8  Posted by Regan Bautista  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 7:40 AM

glad to know nobody has pre-empted heaven yet, ever, in a non-biblical way, so when i/we go there, it's a totally a 100% brand new, 'not previewed' experience, exactly as what paul really told us. i think stories that claim seeing heaven, then, are demon-inspired, more than any other reason. goes w/out saying, nobody has pre-empted hell, likewise. (the former gives more excitement to believers, the latter must give more fear to unbelievers.)

#9  Posted by Sara Service  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 7:53 AM

I've never been sucked in to these accounts of people traveling to Heaven and back. I believe that everything we need to know about Heaven is in the Bible. I'm curious what folks on here think about people's accounts of going to hell and back and then becoming a believer after that.

#10  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Sara Service: "I'm curious what folks on here think about people's accounts of going to hell and back and then becoming a believer after that."

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Return trips to the afterlife are no substitute for the imperishable seed God's Word. Jesus Himself affirms this in Luke 16:31.

I'm grateful for anyone who responds to the gospel, but if someone claims that it was a mystical experience that brought him/her to faith apart from the gospel, that's not a credible testimony. Such a claim is even less believable--and less biblical--than these elaborate tales about return visits to the afterlife. It's a serious mistake to imagine that bizarre claims and mystical experiences must be authentic just because the person telling the tale professes faith in Christ, or is a pastor, or whatever seems to give him/her an air of legitimacy. Those who take such a naive approach to discernment will be susceptible to anything.

Moses M: For those reasons, plus the reason given by John MacArthur in the quotation above, the array of claims you cited should not need to be answered individually. Exercise biblical discernment and questions such as those will cease to trip you up.

#11  Posted by Jonathan Wood  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Phil, I was wondering if you could comment on the content of the Burpo book, itself? Typically, I agree with all the skepticism towards "visions of heaven" in books and media. But I had a trustworthy friend who thought it was an interesting read, mostly b/c she said that many of the things Colton saw were details actually recorded in Scripture. Her reaction was that it was amazing that he, being too young to have read/learned these things already, could describe these things to such precision.

I havent read it myself. But i was wondering, if it was the case that his testimony is consistent with Scripture, what are your thoughts on that seemingly unexplainable phenomenon? It's true that God is not obligated to reveal Himself that way. I look to Scripture first and test everything by it. I was just wondering: if this was a Scripturally-tested vision, what would you think? Thanks.

#12  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Jonathan Wood: "I was wondering if you could comment on the content of the Burpo book, itself."

There'll be a whole chapter in John MacArthur's book analyzing the content of Heaven Is for Real, and I can't reproduce the whole thing in a blog comment, but here's an abbreviated reply:

There's no legitimate way for anyone who takes Scripture seriously to read that book and come away thinking it agrees with Scripture.

The "details" Todd Burpo claims "are actually recorded in Scripture" are few and trivial. The extrabiblical details he gives are nothing like what the Bible actually describes--wings and halos, rainbow-colored horses, the color of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus "shoot[ing] down power" as if He were Thor throwing lightning bolts or the Emperor zapping Luke Skywalker.

In my view, the notion that Colton Burpo's description of heaven is reconcilable with Scripture is only possible for those who don't take the Bible's descriptions of God's glory seriously.

Here's a brief excerpt from Pastor MacArthur's coming book, where he deals with the very questions you're raising:

#13  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 11:55 AM

From The Glory of Heaven, by John MacArthur:


Most of the details Todd Burpo recounts about Colton's near-death experience came to light months after Colton's release from the hospital, and even then the story did not spill forth unprompted in a coherent account. Fragments and anecdotes arose here and there over a long period of time—usually in response to tenacious parental questioning. Thus new details were unearthed from Colton's memory on a fairly regular basis for years. In every case without fail, Pastor Burpo concludes that Colton's knowledge of the afterlife could not have been gained through any means other than firsthand experience, and therefore he is easily convinced his son's account of heaven is fully reliable, accurate, and authoritative. . . .

The inclusion of Bible references throughout Heaven Is for Real may convince superficial readers that Pastor Burpo has painstakingly compared his son's account to Scripture and judged it accurate on that basis. But to those who take the time to look up the citations and analyze them in context with any degree of discernment, it will be clear that Todd Burpo's facile method of proof-texting betrays a lack of any serious engagement with Scripture. He has failed to test everything carefully as we are instructed and encouraged to do (1 Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 17:11).

Amazingly, Todd Burpo himself admits that he rarely "tested Colton's memories against what the Bible says." [At one point he asked] his son if he had ever seen God's throne. He first needed to explain to the boy what a "throne" is. ("I picked up the Bible storybook and pointed . . . ")

"Oh, yeah!" Colton replied. "I saw that a bunch of times! . . . And do you know that Jesus sits right next to God? . . . Jesus' chair is right next to his Dad's!"

Pastor Burpo's response again emphasizes his avid credulity (not to mention his cluelessness about what kind of images a four-year-old raised on illustrated Bible stories might have in his mind): "That blew me away. There's no way a four-year-old knows that. It was another one of those moments when I thought, He had to have seen this.”

#14  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 11:55 AM

There is no doubt that the fictional writers mentioned in Phil's article may be classified as certain persons who have crept into the church unnoticed-hypocritical liars, devoid of truth, always learning, yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Jude reminds the church of prior warnings from Paul, Peter, and others beginning in verse 17: Beloved, remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

We must indeed guard ourselves and look out for the interest of others, guarding them from the temptation to become dull in their hearing, complacent, and deceived by messengers of Satan. Such messengers are so blatant in their depravity, we dare not compliment them (as they would interpret) as having 'transformed themselves into angels of light.'

Beloved, we must dilligently pray for and support GTY as a ministry that our heavenly Father has ordained and our Lord Jesus has graciously given to the church to warn our generation.

#15  Posted by Karen Rogowski  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 12:17 PM

On 11/21/2004 I was hit head on by a drunk driver.

I had a significant brain injury, and lost consciousness.

At some point I stopped breathing. My heart also stopped beating as well. I awoke from the coma on the 5th day in the intensive care unit. I was unaware of anything that had happened to me. I did not have any out of body experience, and yes people ask me that all the time. What I was fully aware of was that God's grace was real and I had received more grace than I deserved.

My life is better for having been thru this. Because I know God allowed this to happen and it was truly a blessing from God.

True faith in the Living God, Jesus' sacrifice at calvary, confession-repenetance of sin that is the only way to heaven.

#16  Posted by Moses M  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:59 PM

To Phillip Johnson thanks for reply, its good evaluating it just like evaluating the shack of false teacher and their teachings.

You evaluatate it so people can know why and hows its wrong and perhaps even reach those who had those visions to repent! Its needed so people can see how logically in a biblically ways they have been deceived, if they have been deceived? The Apostle Paul repented while seeing a vision of Christ so its possible. So you must not put God in a box that well God cannot reveal glimpse of heaven to some who have died, God can do it if he wanted too. :)

How about muslims who have received visions of Christ and change dramtically to become dedicated preachers of the Gospel? Even being hunted down cause they were once terroist but now have deep insight into the religion? Would you say they have been deceived? No they are risking their lives for Christ and His Word. :)

I suppose the important thing is that we hold to scripture and not visions. :) And not make your visions as if it had the same authority as scripture. Just read God's Word and pray the Lord will protect us all from unwanted false visions and being pulled to visions. Cause this is how many will be deceived cause of a strong spiritual vision, they think its true but its not!

I think the visions too are also of todays culture since todays culture are very visually and emotionally orientated. So why visions have such a strong impact on us when we read something like it! And so why many flock to it just like to teachings of Rick warren. It appeals to them and give comfort even if it deceptive.

And so it will get worse in the future and more will flock to it and so what Jesus said rings true! Matthew 24:24

We always think a false prophet is knowable and when you see one you will know! But it will be so confusing cause of the very fact that they will perform signs to make you believe they are of Christ! And so if you flock to these visions now you will flock to even more deceptive visions later on!! I suppose if you are aware of people like Bill Johnson and you stay away from his conferences then you most likely won't be deceived.

But it will affect millions of avg Christians in the avg church. :( So this should worry any commited Christian! That those churches with a water down gospel and longing for more spiritually will get pulled into this great deception of visions!

So not only is the church faltering on strong biblical teaching but its also faultering too on the spiritual realm and programming this generation to accept visions and to hunt after these things. Cause they are bringing it into their churches. And so they will think oh these visions must be okay then!

Hence so its true the Church will not save the end times as proclaim by these modern prophets with power from on High. But the mega churches we see today and how they see church will fall. :) But they majority are beliving a lie that it will rise to save the day!

#17  Posted by Moses M  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 4:32 PM

From previous post:


So these made up churches will fall in the future when things get really bad. They are building a self man made tower that looks spiritually impressive from the outside but oh its foundations are very weak and so why it would collapse one day.

And as shown through History the true Church of God will shine in that day! It will be revealed who are True to God and His Word and who aren't! It will be clearly visible cause of the global persecution to Christians that will come upon this World.

These are leaders, men,women who will get persecuted for Christ cause of the Gospel truth they stand on. And we already are seeing it in persecuted countries! It just have not reach a global scale yet where the West is also heavily infected!

And as we know this is because of the rise of this terrible antichrist that will bring about this horrible terror upon the world!!! Just like how hitler rose to power and then millions died under his rule. This false antichrist will promise many good things too and show many wonders to the world and so why they would love him and want him to bring peace into this world! Buts its false peace as we know.

But mega churches like Rick warrens, Bill Johnson are unknowingly leading many churches down this path and to their doom. :( They unknowingly are playing a major part in making the avg Christian accept this antichrist!!!

How is this?

Yes many believe they won't accept this antichrist and they will know it and they will not want to be part of it. But their actions speak louder then their confession. :(

With all the false teachings that is going on today and the water down gospel approach we all know. And that doctrine does not matter anymore and works and good deeds is far more important. And the boom of prophetic visions and healing and conferneces all going on. The music too and how they do church to emphasis all these things. And that you can receive power from on High to go out and change the World. You have got a call and mandate to bring heaven down. You will see heaven open, its almost like promising to be superman no joke! Its all about power and how you can change the world! We just need more spiritual power to build courage and change and impact this world! And the emphasis as explain that you just got to show Gods love more to this word by Good works and deeds and uniting with other faiths to denounce immoral values.

And the mystical side of spiritual formation by the catholics being used be evangelicals and declaring its a good thing! Using techniques by past catholic monks cause it just awe! It will just bring you close to jesus.

Its all these and more that Pastor like John macarthur are speaking about but these church are not listening!

Contiune below........

#18  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Reject any fables and false doctrines..... for no one dies and come back to tell the story... His story is not biblical... Amen..

#19  Posted by Russell Aubrey  |  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 9:08 PM

It's a little off subject, but I had an experience that has always been a huge question mark for me. One day when I was a college student, walking my dog on a lazy afternoon, I was suddenly and powerfully struck by the idea that one day I would be caring for my ill parents, and the only one that would be doing so. It was so powerful that it bothered me for quite some time. I wasn't a Christian at the time, so I didn't really think in terms of a spiritual message from God, but oddly enough it came true. I recall looking up to heaven, if one can do such a thing, and thinking, "That's crazy, I have three older sisters, and I'm sure they will participate."

Well, this exact thing came to pass, and I was the only one that was able, when the time came, to help my folks. In short, I wonder how John and Phil think about such things? I can add honestly that I wasn't worried before then, about such a thing, and in fact it had never before crossed my mind. So, John and Phil, and my fellow Christians, what do you think, if I may ask? Would God provide me with such a powerful message years before it came to pass? And I wonder for what reason, other than preparing me for it. But, like I said, I wasn't overly concerned about it to begin with. It's just something that I know actually happened, and there you have it. A true story.

#25  Posted by Keith Belcher  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Burpo's book, and the popularity of the book, is making it's way through our congregation. A friend, who I respect a lot, gave me a copy which, in fairness, I haven't read. I continue to pray that, even though it may seem subtle, people realize God's truth is under attack.

I look forward to Dr. MacArthur's book.

#26  Posted by Dianna Garrett  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 9:06 AM

It is a good thing to read books, to uplift and edify oneself and most importantly if it's in agreement with the Scriptures. When the Apostle Paul had his vision, HE DID NOT DISCUSS THE DETAILS OF IT, and when Stephen had his vision it was something that could be proven by the Bible. The above mentioned books are to me, like the so called "Christian" best seller, the "Shack" by Paul Young a gnostic, modalistic version of christianity. These books are very emotional and exciting to our human nature, but do not teach the message of the Bible. If Christians are relying on a book to make the Biblical message plain, then we are in trouble, especially when the book and author are out just for monetary gain and really don't have any concern for the reader of the book! John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Dianna

#27  Posted by Lisa Teel  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 9:43 AM

I have recently started reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn and would be extremely interested in Dr. MacArthur's opinion on this biblically based book. I find it to be in line with scripture and think it clearly details heaven from biblical standpoint. Could you please give us your opinion on this book and the ministry of Eternal Perspectives?

Thanks to GTY for providing great leadership in this day and age of media overload.


#28  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Russel Aubrey: what do you think, if I may ask?

I'd classify your experience in Puritan terms as an extraordinary providence. Not an authoritative prophecy or a divine revelation, but a work of providence that (as you say) began to prepare you for what you would one day need to do. Here's an article I wrote about the danger of treating normal human intuition as some kind of authoritative prophetic gifting:

Lisa Teel: Could you please give us your opinion on this book and the ministry of Eternal Perspectives?

I think it a generally sound and helpful book, slightly marred in places where Alcorn veers off a bit into speculation that is not warranted by Scripture. I'd give it three and a half stars out of five. I don't think there's anything dangerous in it, but I would have done more than Alcorn did to try to stifle speculation with regard to matters where the Bible is silent.

#29  Posted by David Rojas  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Phil, I was wondering if you could clarify something for me:

You wrote: "Paul was caught up into heaven in an experience so vivid he said he didn't know whether he went there bodily or not, but he saw things that are unlawful to utter, so he gave no details. He covered the whole incident in just three verses (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)."

As I am reading that passage in 2 Cor., it seems that Paul is saying "I know a man..." referring to someone other than himself.

Additionally, Paul explicitly says that this man, he *knows* was caught up into paradise (whether in the body or not, he did not know)...

So it would seem imply that something of this kind of revelation or experience is, in fact, possible.

I am not advocating for those books you mentioned, or the stories written therein, but generally speaking, it does seem that an experience where one is caught up to heaven for a time (whether in the body or not) is possible. Here's the passage written out again:

"I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

I think one of the most important things to realize from this passage is not whether or not it's possible to be "caught up to heaven" and "come back," like Paul describes, but that 1) there is nothing to be gained by this boasting, and 2) the temptation to become conceited is very we ought to handle these stories with extreme caution, and not put too much weight to them.


#30  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 3:15 PM

Is that true that Paul may or not be talking passage about Stephan that was while being stoned?? Just a thought.. hmm.

#31  Posted by David Rojas  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 3:24 PM


If Paul was referring to Stephen, then he would also have known that Stephen was NOT "in the body" when he was taken up to heaven (but his soul was), since he died. So I am thinking that Paul is not referring to this particular man as having died...

#32  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 4:26 PM

I had to ask.. :) tks

#33  Posted by Sara Service  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Thanks for your response to my question Phil. I appreciate it. Looking forward to Dr. McArthur's book.

#34  Posted by David Rojas  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 6:42 PM

Okay, I think I completely see how Paul is referring to himself...which in that case, you can ignore my original comment. :)

#35  Posted by Peter Gruner  |  Friday, October 19, 2012 at 9:46 PM

What about the even more dangerous stuff from an author like N T Write about the new 'purgatory' which sounds more like a health retreat, and then the 'new' doctrine about hell ?

It is just so sad that we won't be able to obtain John's books in this part of the world with the exception of just a very few, and ordering them from the States with the added postage just makes them unaffordable here in South Africa. I have used Kindle but its not the same as having a real book in ones hand.

#36  Posted by Lisa Teel  |  Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 12:26 AM

MacArthur's Bible Commentary says:

II Corth 12:2 "a man in Christ"..Though Paul's reluctance to boast caused him to refer to himself in the third person, the context makes it obvious that he was speaking about himself; relating the experience of another man would hardly have enhanced Paul's apostolic credentials.

Paul was so overwhelmed by his heavenly vision that he did not know the precise details. However, whether he was caught up bodily into heaven, or his spirit was temporarily separated from his body, was not important.

#37  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 11:46 AM

Mathew 24:24 and Mark 13:22

"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect."

.....and they'll surely write, publish, and advocate absurd religous literature.....for the sake of sordid gain.....

Such men and women are more apt to be lovers of self....false believers.....exchanging truth for lies.....not immature believers, MM.

#38  Posted by Brian E  |  Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Good post Phil. Glad to see that John will be tackling this subject in a new book. Look forward to it

#39  Posted by Isaiah Stillman  |  Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 8:21 PM

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their OWN LUSTS shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

4 And they shall TURN AWAY their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 2 Timothy 4:1-4

#40  Posted by Donna Kirkpatrick  |  Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 8:13 AM

When I was 15 years old I had what is now called a 'near death experience'. My family doctor later confirmed to me that I had almost died of a medical complication. In my experience I remember temporarily leaving my body and for brief moment traveling very fast. Then the next thing I remember I was in my body again. After several months I recovered from my illness and resumed my normal day to day life.

Within weeks after my experience I found myself unexplainably drawn to the Bible. I found a copy of the Bible in my parents house and began reading it. I memorized Psalm 23. (KJV)

As I was recovering from my illness I would keep the Bible close to me on my night table by my bed. It brought me comfort as I was recovering.

I believe I had experienced something genuine. Before this event happened I did not believe in life after death. I thought, when you're dead you are indeed dead. But I changed my mind, and I began research into this topic.

During my research I found other people's accounts of their 'near death experiences'. The first one I read was Betty Eadie's account. After reading it, I knew it wasn't true. That's not at all what I experienced. I also read about reincarnation, and soul sleep. But none of what I had read collaborated with my experience.

I really wanted to know if there was a God and if there is life after one's body physically dies. I kept reading the Bible and finally I began to see Jesus in the Scriptures. He was everywhere! In prophecy, in the ancient Hebrew Celebrations, in the Psalms.

After much reading and prayer I went forward in public to receive Jesus Christ as my personal savior during the 1999 Franklin Graham Crusade in the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta. I was later baptized in a church in Calgary.

When I look back now upon my experience I find it very humbling to know that it led me to Christ, and very ironic that other people were allowed to supposedly see heaven when I was not. But then, I don't need to see it now. I know its there, and when I'm curious about what its like I turn to the Scriptures to greater clarification.

For His Glory.

#41  Posted by Kelly Whalen  |  Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 1:17 PM

Thank you soooo much for clarifying a confusion for me. I am ashamed to say (I have been a Christian a long time) that I was taken in by one of these stories last Sunday. A dear Christian at Church got up and spoke of having one of these out of body experiences as a non believer many years ago. Because this man is an upstanding faithful believer, I believed what he said. Afterwards I started having doubts. After reading what you had to say about it I am no longer confused. Thank you so much, it hurts my heart to think that I believed this story, but God is so merciful to have allowed my doubt to cause me to see this article and be deconfused.

#42  Posted by Cathy Prince  |  Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Okay my fellow Christians: ever hear of legalism? This is what YOU are practicing! Of course the scriptures are the absolute word of God. But there are still areas we don't completely understand. This much I know is true: you cannot refute someone's personal experience. If it brings forth fruit according to God's word, than it is of God. But do YOU always know this ahead of time? Paul said "whether in pretense or in truth the gospel is proclaimed and I rejoice." Hmmm. For example, there are some tv preachers I can't stand. But do I have the right to say who God can use? Eventually, God's truth will triumph. Well, I read Heaven is for Real rather susupiciously as I've been a Christian for over 35 years and have been around the block in many Christian circles. But there are 3 instances that cannot be explained away: a. How did Colby recognize the picture of his great-grandfather as the man he says was in heaven? b. How would Colby know about a "sister?" It turned out that before he was born

his mother had a miscarriage and it was a female baby. c, According to the book, a young girl in the Midwest had painted a picture of whom she thought was Jesus and Colby pointed this out when he saw it for the first time on TV. His father says he asked Colby many times, "Does Jesus look like this?" and up until Colby saw the painting, he always said no. So, either this father, a pastor, is lying or distorting the truth at best--is that what you are saying? In the end, I agree with Paul that God has some interesting ways of bringing folks to His Kingdom but some of you seem to think you've got it all figured out.

There is ambiguity in life and mature people need to understand that some things may be mysterious or out-of-the-ordinary and be entirely consistent with God. Are you denying that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and living inside of us, helping us to discern truth from fiction? I say, pray that these stories will lead people to Christ!

#43  Posted by Karen Reid  |  Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 7:16 PM

I read the Burpo book and made a negative review to a book club concerning it, and then I read the Malarkey book and also saw the DVD, and what saddened me concerning this blog, was the comment that what these books have in common is "relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God." Alex Malarkey was dying and was so weak his mother had to lean down and tell the surgical team what he was saying. ALL that little Alex was concerned with was whether or not people had a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Please read the book before you judge Alex Malarkey. That child is constantly told by doctors and others that he is amazing. Without exception, Alex constantly corrects people and says "GOD is amazing!" And where in all of this criticism is there one single request for prayer for this child who lies there so paralyzed that he cannot even eat on his own, and is tortured by a ventilator forcing air into his lungs--but even so, his only concern is, as previously stated, that people have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. I encourage everyone to obey Jesus' command that we love one another, and to pray for Alex Malarkey as he lies there in a condition of suffering that none of us could ever even imagine.

#44  Posted by Luke Nickola  |  Monday, October 22, 2012 at 6:01 AM

Thank you Phil for your article.

You wrote: "The book (referring to the all new edition) will include thorough critiques of Heaven Is for Real and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, plus extended evaluations of a few other bestsellers in the same vein.

Two questions please:

1) Will there be any critique on Randy Alcorn's book?

2) When is the new edition due to be on sale?

#45  Posted by Angrade Forden  |  Monday, October 22, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Comment deleted by user.
#46  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Monday, October 22, 2012 at 3:54 PM

If I saw God... I would'nt live to tell the tale... These to young boys saying that they went to heaven and back.. Best not to believe their tales.. Amen..

Passage.. to help?

Ecclesiastes 9:5

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

#47  Posted by Isaiah Stillman  |  Monday, October 22, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Christ commands us to be of a sober mind and spirit and to test all things whether they be of the spirit of truth. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. These are the words of the apostle John, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now, to truly call ones claim truth it must line up with scripture. What did The Lord God Almighty Himself explain to Moses, in Exodus 33:22 ? And he said," Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live."

God does not lie. Nor is any deceit found in His mouth.

#48  Posted by Moses M  |  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 12:06 AM

About that its not possible to enter heaven and come back to tell the tale. Just remember again if God wants it to happen it can! Were they near death exp in the bible? No! But they sure were total death exp in the bible! How about lazarus rising from the dead? The 12 year old girl who died and whom Jesus commanded that her spirit be return?

And I am sure that when they died they went to heaven! So it can happen and live to tell the tale! :) So it can happen today also! It just that we don't know which are the geinune ones. :(

The Apostle John saw Christ Glorified face in revelation and he live? Or was it in a different from hmm perhaps John macarthur can explain this?“backside”-god-exodus-33188211349

The Bible consistently teaches us that no man is able to see God face to face and live.107 Had God granted Moses all he had asked for, Moses would have been struck dead by the presence of the living God. It is only in heaven, when we are rid of all sin, that we shall behold God face to face (Revelation 22:4). Thus, God will grant Moses the privilege of seeing more of Him than he (or any other man to this point, I believe) has ever seen before. He will see part of God’s glory, but not all of it. He will see, in human terms, God’s back, but not His face.

I was reading and I think it is God's Amlighty we cannot see and Live! Its His face we cannot see. So most of the NDE stories never said they saw God the Father face or even Jesus face.

Also if your living you can't see God in your flesh and live so those NDE are those who have died so they say...

#49  Posted by Barbara Persohn  |  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 8:10 AM

Thank you Phil for this article. Another popular and very false book on the same topic is called "Heaven Is So Real" by Choo Thomas. The author claims she gets caught up to heaven frequently by Jesus and describes what she sees. However, it's another Christ, another gospel, and a book in which a false Christ exalts the novel, not the Bible, as "God's end time book".

Choo's uncontrollable body movements (wild dancing all through church services, violent shaking, etc) are not from God, as the Word clearly states that temperance (or self-control) is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5) Jesus' disciples asked Him the signs of His appearing, and He told them what to look for in Matthew 24. He also said many false Christs would arise before He appeared to gather His elect. I believe Choo has been meeting with one of those false Christs, and many are being deceived by her book.

#51  Posted by Kevin Earley  |  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Thanks Pastor. A family member has been sucked into the Burpo-Malarkey cult. I haven't called her on it, I've just listened to her understanding and rationale. You've given me some excellent information to help me make a case.


Also, kudos to Justin McCurry and Margarete Dunn--Love the comments. I was thinking the same thing.

#53  Posted by Randall Brookhiser  |  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 8:08 PM

Great posts! I have read many of these books in the past I suppose because of the curiosity which is not always a good reason to read something. There is quite a variance in the accounts of heaven and in every case the person going through the "heavenly encounter" are always painted as superspiritual after that. There seems to be very little true Bible teaching these days with book after book being used in small group "Bible Studies" and the basis for many sermons. It seems like all the preaching is about "me, me" and very little about obeying and glorifying the Lord. I am so thankful that we have GTY!

#54  Posted by Martha Brady  |  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 9:33 PM

I am amazed at how seasoned Christians and even Pastors get caught up in these stories/experiences as reasons/proof to believe in or support their faith in Bible, God, and Christ. People who make these claims should realize no one is going to understand them anymore than they do and their marketing of it casts a 'shadow of doubt' in itself. People who are not willing to believe in God based upon His word, with its credible and reliable historical setting, alone, will not be able to distinguish truth from error; but will latch on to these personal claims as their source of hope, instead. I look forward to John MacArthur's upcoming book on this topic.

#55  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 8:34 AM

Yes, it's interesting to see how eager (not to say "desperate") some commenters are to justify their superstitious credulity. Note the twisted rationale they give for putting faith in someone's tall tales:

". . . no reason to not believe."

Really? Even though these accounts do not comport with Scripture? Even though they contradict one another? Even though they all feature a pseudo-modest yet unrelenting self-focus that seems to elevate the storyteller to an artificial level of gnostic enlightenment and superspirituality?

Ah, but, "[When] I read . . . your comments [scolding people for questioning these little boys' stories], I felt better."

I see.

And Moses M: You're making arguments (Lazarus, the apostles Paul and John) that were answered in the original article. Did you actually read it? Do you understand the difference between a vision and a face-to-face encounter with divine glory?

Plus, your statements are not even accurate. You say: "Most of the NDE stories never said they saw God the Father face or even Jesus face" Wrong. Most of these accounts DO claim to have seen Jesus face to face. Colton Burpo's dad devotes a considerable amount of ink to useless speculation regarding what Jesus looks like. He has even identified an image drawn by a little girl that Colton claims is accurate--even down to the color of Jesus' eyes (which, according to Colton are Scandinavian rather than Semitic).

The fact is, there is no compelling reason to believe any of this stuff, and biblically-minded Christians in any previous generation would have paid no attention whatsoever to claims like these. The fact that so many today are eager to jump on this bandwagon proves how biblically illiterate the average church member of today is.

#56  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 10:15 AM

Cathy (#42) Is it not reasonable for Christians to be careful not to feed their imaginations as gluttons while starving their hearts and minds of truth?

#57  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Oh, yes. I forgot to mention the "legalism" feint.

Shallow Christians use that as a convenient complaint for everything they disagree with. How in any biblical or rational sense is it "legalistic" to point out the egregious inconsistencies and contradictions of biblical teaching inherent in the Burpo-Malarkey doctrine? If someone wants to make a charge like that, please explain with biblical references what you think "legalism" entails, and then show why it is "legalistic" to subject obviously fabricated, imaginary, and exaggerated tales from the mind of a 4-year-old boy to the scrutiny of Scripture.

Blithe credulity, blended with a stubborn refusal to take such a careful, measured, rational, and biblical approach to discernment is the primary reason so many people in the church today are clueless about biblical doctrine.

#58  Posted by Keith Belcher  |  Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 12:54 PM

There is enough scriptural truth to debunk these "encounters" in heaven. But, let's say you don't think so. My question would be then, what in these experiences are edifying to the Church?......Nothing.

#59  Posted by Marlita Cagas  |  Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 6:20 PM

Yes, I strongly agree on what you've said Sir. Most Evangelical Christians who were tempted to believe this sort, entertain only what appeals to their emotions, and have clung to slothfulness in searching the scriptures. Let's dig the word. Let's heed Paul's instruction in Ephesians 4:14: "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming."

#60  Posted by Russell Aubrey  |  Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 9:58 PM

Phil, thanks for the response to my question, and the article. It was short but informative. I've never gotten too weird about what happened. In fact, I never mentioned it to my sisters, and I think you are only the third person I've ever told the story to. You might be wondering what happened to my sisters, and why they weren't involved. My oldest sister moved across country, my middle sister became estranged from my folks, and my youngest sister passed early. That left me, and I was pleased to do it. Perhaps more than you wanted or needed to know. Nonetheless, thanks.

#61  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Friday, October 26, 2012 at 7:44 AM

How can Scripture be more explicit? "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man"

I am sending this to a few of my disillusioned friends. Thank, Phil; miss you over at PyroManiacs.

Mary Palshan