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Friday, 18 March 2016

Why I Don't Support Heavenly Tourism

Maybe this seems like an obscure topic but I hope you will see the reason this is important by the end of this post. I began hearing about the books published by various authors claiming that they had “been to heaven and back” a number of years ago. I immediately dismissed them from my mind believing that it was obviously a load of rubbish and that any sincere Christians would surely do the same.  I was shocked when I began hearing Christians talking about these experiences as if they might be genuine and when I saw people buying and reading the books. The interest in people’s stories about their personal experiences in “heaven”, whether real or not, seemed to be so intense that these books began hitting and remaining on Best-Seller lists worldwide. 

Did I develop a sudden personal interest and think that maybe I had been too hasty in my earlier judgement? Did I rush out and buy a copy of “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” or “90 Minutes In Heaven” to fill in the gaps that God had apparently left when He inspired the Bible? Um….no, actually I just forgot about all of this and assumed it was a fad that would die a quick death. I occasionally noticed the books in Christian Bookshops and on the internet, usually proudly displaying their “Best seller” status’ on the front cover along with their high rankings, but that was the extent of it.

However, the subject came up again this week when I overheard a conversation amongst some Christians in an American book warehouse. Whilst sorting books, one of them asked whether they should dispose of a vast quantity of paperback copies of one such “heavenly tourism” book and remove the title from sale. (I forget which exact title they referred to as there are so many of them now.) Before the person could reply I spoke without thinking (it happens sometimes,) and commented that I couldn’t understand why any Christian would believe the stories anyway and that I was glad they were removing it from sale as it was clearly unbiblical. Then followed a period of weighty silence where no one seemed inclined to agree with my comments (at least not out loud.) Then, the person to whom the question was addressed eventually stated that actually it was  a different title (and therefore a different person’s trip to heaven) that was no longer going to be sold but that the original title would still be available for sale. 

Later, and more privately, I asked the manager about this and was informed that the reason the title “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” was being removed was because the author’s son, who had claimed he had been to heaven, had now recanted his tale stating that he had fabricated the entire story as he knew it would gain him attention. To his credit he then sought to explain clearly and Biblically why his earlier experiences could not have been true…

The conversation bothered me for a while but I knew from past experience that there was no point in taking the matter any further as it is not within my sphere of influence. Then today whilst sorting books in the same warehouse I stumbled upon a book that I had never seen before, the title of which immediately caught my attention. “Visits to Heaven and Back; Are They Real?” by Mark Hitchcock.After reading the cover I borrowed the book and read it in one sitting. I read this book, not really to confirm what I already knew, that these claims could not possibly be true, but more to gain a Biblical basis for my instinctive response. I thought, not for the first time, how confusing it must be for non-believers when they see Christian Bookshops selling one group of books with Christian’s personal experiences in heaven, and hell now as it turns out, and then other books, including the Bible, probably occupying the same shelf space, stating how these experiences cannot be true! What a mess we get into when we don’t take the Bible seriously.

Hitchcock’s book is well-researched and I believe timely. He lists 40 of the most popular of these books by title. He then examines some of the very well-known titles in light of the Word of God. He documents error in each account proving from Scripture that these experiences cannot be valid. He gives a balanced review and highlights positive features where they exist, e.g. if a particular author has shared the Gospel correctly despite their erroneous claims. He further explains why these books are dangerous and why as Christians we should avoid and reject them, I have picked out some of the points he makes; 

a) They encourage people to search beyond the Bible for information that they are not at liberty to gain suggesting that the Bible/God are not sufficient. 

b) Many of the books indicate that everyone will go to heaven regardless their spiritual state

c) Removing the fear of the unknown about death may also remove the necessary fear of “judgement” and create a false assurance in non-believers

d) They encourage Christians to base their beliefs on personal experience and not on what Scripture says about that experience.

e) Many of the experiences are self-centred and trivialise the serious issue of eternal destinations.

f) The books and authors contradict each other in relation to what heaven/God/Jesus are like. 

g) Their descriptions of heaven do not compare with the Glory of Heaven described in Scripture.

I am not going to go into detail about the Biblical errors in each book as there are too many and sadly too many authors making these and similar claims.  I suggest you buy and read this book if you want specifics or preferably read your Bible before rushing to celebrate the latest crazy claim. The idea that a professing Christian can somehow end up on a “guided tour of hell” isn’t really worthy of further comment….but many people obviously thought that it was judging by the sales.

Hitchcock writes “God is sovereign, but that’s no excuse for promoting error. Professing Christians who write books- even books about very personal experiences- are responsible to make every effort to interpret Scripture accurately and at least not to directly contradict it…..the prevailing notion today is that it’s unloving and uncharitable to question someone else’s experience or private revelation from God….but we are all subject to God’s Word…it’s incumbent on believers to discern the truth of the claims being made and to think biblically about heaven and the afterlife” Pg 11

So, the real reason for my post, other than drawing attention to this phenomenon and giving those who are uncomfortable with it some moral support, is a call for Christians to have greater discernment before blindly, hastily and often foolishly accepting anything and everything that crosses their path in the name of Christ. It’s time to examine Scripture in context to see if our experiences are Biblical and not the other way around.

Revelation 21 vs 1-4

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”