Thinking Out Loud

June 13, 2014

Southern Baptists Condemn All “Heaven” Books

Heaven is for Real books

If you haven’t heard, this week’s Southern Baptist Convention convention (redundancy intended) included a resolution that basically said, ‘To hell with heaven books.’ Blogger Kristine McGuire summarizes the story accurately in this introduction,

There is an article on Charisma News which is reporting that the Southern Baptist convention has issued a resolution stating books (and now presumably movies) such as Heaven is for Real and others like it (such as My Journey to Heaven by Marvin Besteman, To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary Neal, and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper) are not in line with “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and are determining to remove Heaven is for Real from Lifeway Christian Stores.

And it’s taken them how many years to come to this decision? Heaven is for Real has been in stores since 2010…

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Christian Retailing reported the same story:

…The parent body of LifeWay Christian Stores stopped short of calling for such products to be pulled from the retail chain, however.

Delegates—known as messengers—to the Baptist body’s assembly focused on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife,” cautioning against putting books about personal heaven experiences on the same level as the Bible’s description of the hereafter…

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But certainly the rule here should be caveat lector, let the reader beware. By extension, isn’t any Christian book in danger of being elevated to the same status of the Bible? And doesn’t this already happen in certain circles, where the words of both Charismatic and Reformed superstars are given an almost divine authority.

Black Christian News reported:

In another cultural pushback, Baptists affirmed “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and criticized best-selling movies and books that have focused on heaven and suggested descriptions of it.

“Many of these books and movies have sought to describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” they said.

In the same session where the resolution was passed, a messenger asked that Heaven Is for Real be removed “for theological reasons” from LifeWay Christian Stores, which are affiliated with the SBC. The request was ruled out of order.

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J.D. Hall at the blog Pulpit and Pen notes:

What’s forgotten is that Burpo’s book (and Wallace’s movie by the same name, Heaven is for Real) is nothing new, novelty, or unique. Phil Johnson gives a good list of books with similar testimonies that have become so prominent in the evangelical marketplace that Tim Challies has come to call the genre “Heaven Tourism.” Johnson gives the list including 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.

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Heaven is for RealHis article is titled “Heaven is for Real: Is Discernment Dead?” and makes the point that in the final analysis, “the details of the book ought to strictly and immediately raise the red flag of discernment for even the most elementary of Christians – let alone those serving as provost of Southern Baptist seminaries.” But he seems to disagree that giving so much stock to the child’s story as to render it worthy of condemnation is the wisest move. Good, personal discernment is all that’s needed.

Many articles noted that LifeWay did not actually end up having to remove the book from sales. There’s too much money to be lost, and LifeWay is a cash cow for the denomination. In various places here we’ve reported on instances where the company puts profit over principles, such as Southern Baptists’ wholesale condemnation of women in ministry, while at the same time publishing and promoting the ministry of Beth Moore. 

By falling just shy of condemning the book outright at LifeWay, the company leaves itself open to carrying the DVD, certain to be both popular and profitable. The film has earned $89,007,517 in the U.S. so far according to Box Office Mojo, and ranks 15th for 2014. The movie is scheduled to release on July 22nd from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, with an initial MSRP of $30.99 for DVD and $40.99 for Blu-Ray.



  1. I read the book because so many people said it was a “must read”. It was one red flag after another. If God did not choose to reveal what heaven was like, I am not going to trust the comatose imaginings of a small boy.I am sure the family is sincere and the story is interesting, but the phenomena that it has become is dangerous.Scripture alone must form our faith base.

    To be fair, and controversial I am sure, I had a similar read flag experience with Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”. I did not, however, have the same reaction to “The Shack” since it claimed to be nothing more than fiction. The fault in that case was not that of the author but of those who decided to give his imagination theological weight.

    Comment by Cynthia — June 13, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

    • I have an ambivalent relationship with PDL and HifR — I have not read neither one — because I work in a bookstore environment and have to look people in the eye who have been deeply drawn to both titles and they have proved instrumental in getting them thinking about a variety of faith topics.

      I respect what Warren has accomplished at Saddleback, but found PDL to be a bit formulaic. It’s actually based on a much earlier he wrote, The Purpose Driven Church, which I’ve read more of, and find it to be full of helpful analysis for pastors and church leaders.

      HirR is a whole different thing. I approach these things with a bit of cynicism, but unless everyone is lying, there are parts of Colton’s story that beg further investigation. I had no interest in Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven until I watched a one hour video of him describing the whole ordeal, at which point I was willing to concede that something out of the ordinary transpired. Both Piper and Todd Burpo resisted the idea of publishing for the longest time, and Burpo has never had any interest in doing another book. (We tried to interview him here on the blog to help readers get the sense of what he truly is: A local church pastor.)

      I’m not defending any of these books, I’m just saying we truly don’t know what is going to be instrumental in the life of an individual, and I don’t want to be dismissive of someone else’s genuine (i.e. the reader’s) experience.

      At the end of the day however, the compelling factor in life change is going to involve gazing into the eyes of Jesus, a face-to-face encounter with the living Christ. A testimony may start the conversation but it is not going to produce personal transformation.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 13, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

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