It is interesting to see Christians line up on one side or the other of this new movie, Heaven is For Real, either passionately speaking out against it as a dangerous movie that Christians should be warned against seeing or welcoming it as an evangelistic tool to start people thinking about heaven. I have to admit that I was bothered a bit by the tone of David Platt’s video in the last blog. I’m not sure that laughing at or mocking everyone who’s reported a near death experience, along with their attempt to describe what they experienced, is the right response to this movie. It seems almost as presumptuous to assume that we know with 100% certainty that every NDE (near death experience) is a fraud or a satanic deception, as it does gullible to believe every report & gush over every detail revealed as if it were infallible. Having said that, I do respect David’s Platt’s general views & actually agree with most all of what he said. I may be alone on a island here, but here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.
First of all it is right to be highly skeptical of the multitude of reports of people who claim to have been to heaven & have come back to proclaim their vision, then make claims of special insights or truth based on their experience. God’s Word & the revelation contained there clearly trumps & is the final revelation & measure of the truth of anything we can know about heaven. However, I don’t know if you can categorically & dogmatically claim that all of these experiences are simply drug induced or demonic deceptions – although many, if not nearly all, may be. However, there are reasonable, mature Bible believing Christians who are at least open to the possibility that some may be more than that.
Dr. Michael Saboam, a Christian cardiologist, in his book Light & Death attempted to do a controlled, objective & technical study of these kinds of experiences several years ago & presents some very interesting findings & results. He is a mature and well-grounded believer. In fact R.C. Sproul writes a brief introduction/statement at the beginning of his book:
“It shouldn’t shock the Christian when people undergoing clinical death and being revived come back with certain recollections. I’ve tried to keep an open mind, and I hope this interesting phenomenon will get the benefit of further research… Too many of these experiences have been reported for us to simply dismiss them as imaginary or hoaxes.” – Dr. R.C. Sproul, Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.
Dr. Paul Copan, a respected Christian apologist & theologian, author of the book, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless, has written several interesting chapters in which he explores charges such as: ch. 6 The Soul is Nothing More than the Brain & ch. 7 Why Think Immaterial Things Like Souls Exist? In his book he makes a case for the soul (mind) being different than the brain. Otherwise after our physical brain was dead, we would have no capacity to perceive, think or know. (As Bill Gilham said if that was the case we might get to heaven, but we wouldn’t know we were there!) Along with scripture & the apostle Paul’s experience recorded in II Cor. 12:1-5 (where he was caught up to the third heaven), Coban makes an appeal to some of the more well-documented cases of near-death experiences as offering evidence of man having a soul that is able to function apart from our brain. His conclusion: “The very strong evidence for near death experiences or out of body experiences taking place suggests that body and soul are different substances.”
Dr. Gary Habermas (chairs department of Philosophy & Theology @ Liberty University) & J.P. Moreland (professor of Philosophy @ Talbot School of Theology & Biola University) in their book, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality also explore the possible legitimacy of near-death experiences as well from a Biblical and Christian perspective. They conclude that “substantial doubt has been cast on a Christian response (that have ruled out the validity of all NDE’s) and on a naturalistic position… The data show that some NDEers apparently report objective data that could not have been gained by any natural means.”
Having said all that I agree with the concerns voiced in the links Greg posted. I’m familiar w/ the book Heaven is For Real, but haven’t read it. I didn’t find that particular story compelling myself, from what I’d heard about it. However I don’t think you need to, nor should you feel condemned or foolish, if you chose to read the book & found it an interesting or intriguing story. As long as you do not base your faith on it, I do not think you need to feel ashamed for being interested in it. Heaven is the most fascinating subject we can imagine. It is linked so closely with what we all long for – the deepest longing of the soul – what theologians call the Beatific Vision: when we will see His face (Rev. 22:4). I understand the attraction. The Bible of course is the ultimate & only completely reliable source with which to stir our imagination, that will not mislead us.
Also, if you do happen to go see the movie, I think it would be safe to say that most Christians have been far more undiscerning and wasted money on far less edifying and perhaps even more spiritually ‘dangerous’ movies, than this one. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still dangers in these books and movies if we are undiscerning about some of the potential pitfalls that have already been so well articulated in previous blogs on the subject.
Here is a brief, but fairly balanced link on this very controversial subject that mentions views by both William Lane Craig & Dr. Gary Habermas: http://christandpopculture.com/christians-respond-heaven-real/
I also respect your convictions if you think all these experiences are Satanic deceptions, drug induced or the result of a brain ‘malfunction’. I just think there is at least the possibility that some experiences may be something more than that. I don’t think we’re ever going to know for sure till we get to heaven.