They are commonly known as Heaven Tourism books. You may have read one or two of them yourself. You know, those books about somebody dying, going to heaven, then returning to tell us all about it.
The only Heaven Tourism book I want to read is the one Rick Steves writes. Rick would be the perfect tour guide for Heaven, pointing out all the best places to eat and all the best vineyards.
Frankly, Heaven Tourism books have always creeped me out. I figure the person who wrote the books are either delusional, lying, or selling snake oil. Besides almost all the bestselling heaven visitation books are written by men (or boys). So does this mean women face gender bias in the afterlife, too? Are men the only ones allowed to tell that story, too? Geeish.
The Atlantic has an article on the science of NDEs (Near Death Experiences), although, try as they might to apply science to the phenomenon, it all comes down to the same thing – somebody’s personal testimony.
Yeah. So I’m a bit of a skeptic. Journalism kind of demands that of a person. Or at least Old School Journalism does. You know what they say – facts get in the way of a good story.
Turns out that sometimes the people who pen these heaven testimonies actually admit to ripping off the buying public. That was the case for The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. Alex Malarkey admitted that he lied about having a vision of heaven as a 6-year-old.
Of course, the buying public doesn’t really care that Malarkey lied to them, his book remains popular.
Publishers Weekly reports that Heaven Tourism is a financially sound investment for Christian Publishers. “This is a good category for us, and we’re going to continue to publish credible stories,” David Lewis, Baker Publishing Group’s vice president for sales and marketing, told PW. “As unfortunate as [Malarkey’s admission] is for Tyndale, it has had no effect on sales of heaven books that we can see, nor on our decisions to publish them.”
Beth Malarkey and her son Alex tried for years to recant the story told in The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. The problem was the book was a bestseller. Says his mother: “There was proof everywhere that he did not stand behind the content of this book. But it was a bestselling book. Nobody in the industry wanted to kill it.”
When it comes to Heaven Tourism stories, truth isn’t the issue. The bottom line is.
Baker has sold some 7 million copies of 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life by Don Piper. The book has been adapted for a movie, now under production. For a good review of the book, check out this one by Tim Challies.
Here’s the real fact about these heaven visitation books: It is big business for Christian publishers.
So the news that LifeWay Christian Resource will no longer carry such testimonials books is no small matter. It is big, big business. LifeWay is sure to take a hit in the pocketbook over this decision. LifeWay spokesman Marty King explained the decision to the Baptist Press: “We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them.”
LifeWay thinks the Bible offers the only testimony we need on the matter.
People buy these Heaven destination books because they want affirmation – “proof”- that there is a Heaven and that they or their loved ones are going to a better place.
There is much to love about this old world of ours. We like the familiarity of it. We enjoy its rivers, its lakes, its mountains, its beaches. The world is a place filled with wonder and wondrous works of art and creativity and imagination.
Reading these heaven visitation books offers an assurance and a hope that all of that beauty and wonder exists in the Heavenly Yonder.
Seekers and Believers alike are eager to read the fairytale of a great Gloryland. That’s why millions buy up books about stories that are marketed as fact, but are most often fiction.
That’s not to say a great Gloryland doesn’t exist. The Bible tells us that Jesus has gone to prepare a better place for us.
Could it be that Heaven Tourism books is a sign that we don’t take Jesus at his word?
Are we so desperate for affirmation that heaven exists from somebody – anybody – made up of flesh-and-blood and in the here-and-now that we will keep buying their died-and-gone-to-heaven books even after they’ve told us adamantly, over and over, that they made it all up?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? because I need more room for my plasma TV. (Zondervan).