James A. Beverley is professor of Christian
thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary
in Toronto. Find more of these columns at
On the eve of finishing my 15th book, I am still wait- ing for a bestseller. Sure, a few of mine have sold
around 10,000 copies, but that’s
minor in the big leagues. The Da
Vinci Code used to sell that many
copies per day.
I do know one way for almost
certain bestseller status – I don’t
really want to go this route, but it is
at least interesting to think about.
Here it is in four steps:
2. Go to heaven
3. Come back to Earth
4. Write a book about your time
I’m not ready to try this route
because I don’t want to die yet, or
more particularly follow gruesome
paths that lead to death. Also,
there’s no certainty coming back
would be an option.
But what about all the first-person
books about people’s journeys to
heaven and back?
Eben Alexander III, a neurosurgeon, had a near death experience
(NDE) in 2008 and claimed he
went to heaven. His book Proof of
Heaven has earned him enormous
wealth and worldwide acclaim.
I noted the case of Todd Burpo in
this column a year ago. His book
about his NDE in 2003 has sold
over 10 million copies.
90 Minutes in Heaven tells the
story of Don Piper’s NDE from a
horrific car accident in 1989. His
book was on The New York Times
bestseller list more than five years.
Howard Storm’s 2000 book My
Descent Into Death is another case
of an amazing story followed by
There is enormous debate about
whether these books are accurate.
What there is no debate about is
that people worldwide are interested in the subject of heaven.
Personally, I have thought more
about heaven in the last year than
any other time in my life. This has
nothing to do with book sales but
with facing death close-up, personal and tragic. A year ago my wife
Gloria and I experienced the worst
moment in our lives. Gloria’s sister
called to tell us the heart-wrench-ing news that Jennifer, our beautiful, caring, smart, wonderful niece,
had died in the night. Totally unexpected. She was 21. The news of
her death, attending her funeral,
and coping with the loss has been
at times unbearable.
Now, my mother died when I was
20, and of course I’ve thought often
about heaven. Five years ago I lost
four close friends and two close
relatives. I preached at my Aunt
Marg’s funeral that year from John
14: 2, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
Jennifer’s death has made that won-
derful text more important and the
promise of heaven more comforting.
In the face of death, it’s no wonder books about heaven sell so well.
However, there are complications
in the to-heaven-and-back genre.
First, a few NDE accounts have
turned out to be bogus. Alex Malarkey’s book The Boy Who Came Back
From Heaven was withdrawn from
circulation earlier this year after he
went public that his NDE accounts
were lies. Second, the NDE books
contain contradictory views of the
afterlife, God and the way of salvation. While these two points do not
demand total disbelief in NDE
stories, we do need caution.
There’s a better way for confidence about heaven – the testimony
of Jesus about heaven and all the
great reasons to trust His word and
the word of those who knew Him.
“I go to prepare a place for you,”
and “I tell you the truth, today you
will be with me in paradise” (Luke
23: 43), and many more.
Life’s pain and evil drain many of
their trust. Why do I still believe in
God and heaven?
First, logically, if God can give
life this first time round, then He
can do it again. Second, historically,
the evidence that Jesus robbed
death at Easter is superb. On this,
read Michael Licona’s incredible
work The Resurrection of Jesus: A
New Historiographical Approach
(IVP Academic, 2010). Third, ethically, I trust the moral and spiritual
integrity of Jesus of Nazareth and
His claims about a heavenly home.
I dedicated my recent book to
Jennifer. I wrote: “Memories of fun
times, your loving spirit, your
amazing creativity and your fabulous smile will hold us until we
meet in that place where God will
wipe away all tears from our eyes
(Revelation 21: 4).” /FT
for confidence about
heaven – the
all the great
JAMES A. BEVERLEY
To death and back
Can near-death experiences tell us anything about heaven?