Heaven Tourism is bunk & how we can be sure if God is speaking

I was delighted to read that LifeWay, a major Christian bookseller, has taken the decision to no longer stock books that come under the genre of Heaven Tourism. You can find out about why here.

As pointed out here and here, there is really only one reason why Heaven Tourism books keep being published. Money. There is a great demand for them and Christian publishers often make a calculated decision to stock them.

So, if you are offered a copy (or tempted to buy one), here are a few reasons to reject as nonsense any book claiming insight into Heaven from the perspective of one who has been and come back.

The Bible says it is made up

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known – John 1:18

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man – John 3:13

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment – Hebrews 9:27

Although the Bible clearly shows that some people had visions of Heaven, there are no examples in the entire corpus of biblical writing detailing anybody having gone to Heaven and come back. The above verses make clear that the Bible gives no room for anybody to go to Heaven and come back.

God has been pretty clear in his word. Apart from Christ, nobody has seen God fully and nobody has been in his full and direct presence, and come back to Earth to tell the tale. If we accept the word of these Heaven Tourism books, we effectively say God is lying to us.

The accounts are not consistent with Biblical teaching on Heaven

There are only four biblical writers who record visions of Heaven (Isaiah and Ezekiel in the OT; Paul and John in the NT). Of those four, only three tell us what they saw. In each case, the focus is on the glory of God (Isaiah 6:1–4; Ezekiel 1, 10; Revelation 4–6). Similarly, in each case the reaction to God’s glory is fear and shame.Contrast these accounts with the jejune and mundane accounts we are given in Heavenly Tourism books (things like picnics, games, juvenile attractions, familiar faces, odd conversations, and so on). Note the reactions of the individuals to the events happening around them; to being in the very presence of holy, almighty God.

Beyond this, as Tim Challies points out, “Those who have a biblical understanding of life and death and heaven and hell will know that for a person to die and visit heaven, to experience sinlessness and the presence of Jesus Christ—for that person it would be the very height of cruelty to then demand that they return to earth.”

These accounts call us away from scripture & bring dishonour to God

Not only do these accounts not tally with what scripture actually says, they call us away from scripture altogether. They encourage us to take the word of a man (or child) over and above the word of God. They don’t simply lead us to call God a liar if we accept them, they lead us to dishonour God altogether.Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Our hope is not in the word of a child, a doctor, a minister or anyone else who claims to have been to Heaven. Our hope is in the words and person of Jesus Christ as revealed by God in his word. Faith is believing in the word of God as true and without error. To then be convinced of the reality of Heaven based upon these Heaven Tourism books is to say you need more proof than God has given. It is to say the Bible is not sufficient for matters of faith, that God has not given us enough to warrant belief in him. Again, Tim Challies rightly says “you dishonor God if you choose to believe what the Bible says only when you receive some kind of outside verification.”

These accounts are obviously falsified

The Bible insists such accounts cannot be true, they do not accord with biblical visions of Heaven nor of biblical teaching about Heaven and they draw us away from God’s prescribed method of revealing himself to people. All of that should be cause enough for us to recognise these accounts are certainly not reliable. It is reason enough to consider them to be falsified (whether purposefully or not).

But if that’s not enough, then consider the fact that some of these accounts have been recanted by those who wrote them. Alex Malarkey, co-author of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, has since claimed he made up the whole story (see here, here and here amongst others). Malarkey makes clear he did not die and he never visited Heaven. In fact, he made it up because he thought it would garner him some attention.

Such things are not limited to Heaven Tourism books. The Christian world is replete with stories of children (and adults, to be fair) making professions of faith, seeking baptism, giving testimony of how God has spoken to them for a variety of reasons despite none of it being true. Sometimes it is attention seeking, other times to fit in with what others do around them or it could simply be to please a dominant person/voice in their life.

We are wont to believe people at face value without ever seeking to ask the serious, and necessary, questions we must. Does God speak today? Yes he does. Does that mean we cannot question any person who claims “the Lord said to me…”? Absolutely not.

The Lord most usually speaks through his word. Even there we need to be careful that we have understood and applied it correctly. Anybody bringing testimony apart from the Bible must surely be held to a higher standard still. That is not to say such testimony cannot be true but it is to say we cannot be sure it is true unless it is verifiable and closely tied to scripture itself.

In Tim Keller’s book Prayer he offers this story that illustrates the point well:

If we leave the Bible out, we may plumb our impressions and feelings and imagine God saying various things to us, but how can we be sure we are not self-deceived? The eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman George Whitefield was one of the spearheads of the Great Awakening, a period of massive renewal of interest in Christianity across Western societies and a time of significant church growth. Whitefield was a riveting orator and is considered one of the greatest preachers in church history.

In late 1743 his first child, a son, was born to he and his wife, Elizabeth. Whitefield had a strong impression that God was telling him the child would grow up to also be a “preacher of the everlasting Gospel.” In view of this divine assurance, he gave his son the name John, after John the Baptist, whose mother was also named Elizabeth. When John Whitefield was born, George baptized his son before a large crowd and preached a sermon on the great works that God would do through his son. He knew that cynics were sneering at his prophecies, but he ignored them. Then, at just four months old, his son died suddenly of a seizure. The Whitefields were of course grief-stricken, but George was particularly convicted about how wrong he had been to count his inward impulses and intuitions as being essentially equal to God’s Word. He realized he had led his congregation into the same disillusioning mistake.

Whitefield had interpreted his own feelings—his understandable and powerful fatherly pride and joy in his son, and his hopes for him—as God speaking to his heart. Not long afterward, he wrote a wrenching prayer for himself, that God would “render this mistaken parent more cautious, more sober-minded, more experienced in Satan’s devices, and consequently more useful in his future labors to the church of God.”

The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.