Thinking Out Loud

January 17, 2015

The Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven

Boy Who Came Back From Heaven product lineScreenshot of a book industry page listing product related to Alex Malarkey’s story.

Alex Malarkey, the boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has now recanted his story. The Washington Post provides the update:

Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

The best-selling book, first published in 2010, describes what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir — with its assuring description of “Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World” — became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism,” which has been controversial among orthodox Christians.

Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”

Referring to the injuries that continue to make it difficult for him to express himself, Alex writes, “Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short…. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

Continue reading at Washington Post.

I guess we have to take this at face value. Alex and his mother have been reported as trying to get the truth about the story out there for some time. Still, there’s something about Alex’s final comment, the idea that people should only read the Bible, that suggests he’s been influenced by some ultra-conservative or fundamentalist individuals or group.

Should we get rid of all the books in the same genre? Right now there is a huge backlash online concerning “Heaven Tourism” books like Heaven is for Real by The Burpos and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. Although we carried the Piper book at the bookstore I’m involved with, I carried it in very small quantities until I was able to watch the hour-long video that goes with a curriculum of the same name. That changed my mind. And I think that Todd and Sonya Burpo have been very realistic about whatever it was that Colton experienced; there’s no denying that he was party to information after the experience that had never been shared with him, and that they, like Don Piper, were very reluctant to go public.

We ran this quotation a few days ago here in the link list:

“Among conservative Christians who think critically about these matters are Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland, both of whom have written on the subject. In discussions with them, they seem to agree that while NDEs [Near Death Experiences] have debatable significance in giving us a glimpse of heaven, and little to no value in proving the Christian faith, they do have significant value in discrediting naturalism (the belief that there is no transcendence to nature) and scientism (the belief that science can explain all things). Why? Because, at the very least, NDEs give evidence that there is a conscious part of individuals that transcends the body and brain. NDEs give evidence of the soul.”

Read more at Parchment and Pen.

It’s not been a good year for Tyndale, either; they were also the home of Mark Driscoll’s Resurgent imprint. The earliest indications here in Canada are that suppliers will take inventory back, but subject to normal return policy; in other words, only stock you purchased in the last 360 days.

I also need to clarify that the last link is to a blog called Parchment and Pen, and the upper story contains a link to Pulpit and Pen. Confusing. The people at the latter are also part of the group called #the15 who are trying to hold LifeWay retail stores more accountable for the things they carry that are inconsistent with the store’s and the Southern Baptist Convention’s standards. Needless to say, they’re jumping all over this in the same way the mainstream press is jumping and punning all over Alex’s last name. For them, the timing couldn’t be better; however, this affects all of us who have retail stores.

“So,” I hear you saying, “You seem like a smart guy, why did you carry this book in the first place?”

I have a certain amount of skepticism about many of the titles customers at the bookstore order — we sometimes deny orders on certain subjects ranging from what constitutes hate speech under Canadian law in some titles, to books that encourage rather severe corporal punishment of children — but frequent ordering means that titles find their way into core inventory. (That’s what happened here, we passed completely on what are called ‘pre-pub’ or pre-publication offers.) But I don’t think it would be right to look at similar books in my store and say that we as owners, managers and staff lack discernment. Honestly, our “heaven tourism” books are all on a lower shelf. From Betty Malz to Aldo McPherson these stories have an appeal to a certain type of person, but then, I personally distance myself from most prophecy titles, yet there’s no denying that there are people saved and attending church today because of The Late Great Planet Earth and even the Left Behind series.

I’m not thrilled with everything the Christian publishing industry produces, but to toss everything except the Bible means to toss out a vast catalog of Christian literature that includes everything from the writings of the Early Church fathers to the great classics of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Furthermore, many of our spiritual heroes claimed a number of strange and mystical experiences, many of which we don’t talk about today.

To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to display ’em, and know when it’s time to take ’em down. This one is done.

2 Comments »

  1. I do believe that people have been taken to the precipice of heaven, but it was not to come back and tell everyone what it was like through a book and movie deal. (except if you were John who wrote Revelation…his revelation was for us who were to live in earths final days). Paul also speaks of his death/heaven experience but was awed almost into silence. He certainly didn’t sensationalize it (“I know a man” he begins) .God has a specific reason for these rare occurrences and it is not to set us up for life with royalties. That being said, in the cases of Don Piper at least, he was urged by everyone to tell his story. So he did. His fame spread and everyone wanted to her all the details. They (we) couldn’t get enough. Where scripture is silent we ache with curiosity.

    I had a dream/vision encounter in my 20’s where I was taken to the entrance of Heaven and still cannot find adequate words to wrap around what I heard and sensed. More than anything, every fiber of my being wanted to push through those enormous gates and enter in. But it was not my time. I was pulled back into my real world, kicking and screaming and begging the woman who was shaking me into consciousness to please just let me go. It was transformational. I have shared my vision rarely, one on one or once in a small blog I kept, but I have felt checked, as if I am telling a secret I ought not tell.The message in my near-heaven experience was for me. I know what I learned from it and how it altered the course of my life.

    The denial of this young man is sad. But I still believe that people are given glimpses. I also believe that the vast majority of us do not publicly share what we saw and heard. It feels altogether too sacred and divine.

    Comment by yokedwithhim — January 17, 2015 @ 9:24 am

    • It’s also interesting to hear of the many people who are coming to Christ out of a Muslim background because of dreams. I don’t think we should be too quick to dismiss these stories, but I would hate to hear a week from now of someone who came to Christ because of reading Alex’s story and now being disillusioned and walking away.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 17, 2015 @ 9:36 am


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