Someone was approaching him. Who was it? A gentle voice called out the child’s named even as a hand reached down to help the boy to his feet. As the boy reached out to take the hand he was startled to see that it had been torn and mutilated by large spike nails. The kindly man helping the child to his feet was the Lord Jesus.
Eventually the boy was told that he was to come back to life, return home, and tell people about his experience of heaven… and so the boy did.
According to numerous news outlets, Malarkey, who is now 17 years old is recanting his entire story about dying, going to heaven, and meeting Jesus. According to a written statement from Malarkey, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”
So what should our response be to this sort of literary and theological… er… malarkey?
Let me offer a personal disclaimer first: To begin with, I DO believe in heaven, I DO believe that the souls of departed saints immediately go to be with Christ, I DO believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead when Christ returns, I DO believe in a coming new creation... However, I am highly suspicious of "Heavenly Tourism" books.
Even so, as it relates to this particular "Heavenly Tourism" book, I think we need to recognize that the young boy at the center of the aforementioned book has faced quite a lot of debilitating trama in his young life due to the accident he was involved in and he deserves our sympathy and our prayers. More than this, however, he deserves our hearty praise. It takes guts to publicly confess that you’ve lied about something – especially when the lie took place on such a massive scale. Young Malarkey has done the right thing even though the right thing was certainly very difficult to do. He told the truth... Over and above all of this there is something else about Malarkey that should determine our response to his recantation - namely, the reason Malarkey made it…. His recantation was the result of a new-found conviction about the absolute authority of Scripture.
Yes, according to Malarkey, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was/is unhelpful not merely because it was/is malarkey, but much more importantly, it is unhelpful because it is unscriptural…. (Go back and read the previous sentence again and stew on it for a while.) Yes, that’s right, these kind of “Heavenly Tourism” Books, represent direct (though possibly unintentional) attacks on the Word of God, The Bible.
"'The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' is... unhelpful because it is unscriptural."
Let me suggest three unhelpful things that “Heavenly Tourism” Books imply about the Bible.
Heavenly Tourism Books Suggest the Bible is NOT Complete
Since its earliest days the Church has understood Scripture to be God’s perfect and final revelation to man. In other words, Biblical Christianity maintains that God has said all He wanted to say in the 66 books of the Bible. There is nothing He forgot. Nothing He put in it by mistake. There is no further revelation to be given. It is complete.
Heavenly Tourism books, however, add to God's revelation as if He had accidentally left something out. These books contain specific details about death, heaven, angels, the saints in glory, and the Lord Jesus, that God did not reveal in the Bible. But if the Bible is complete and without error, as the Church has historically maintained, then God has given us all the information that He, in His wisdom, wanted to reveal. We do not need appendixes to Biblical revelation written by 6-year olds (or anyone else) claiming to have spiritual knowledge beyond what God has revealed in His Word. To do so constitutes nothing less than adding to God's Word.
Heavenly Tourism Books Suggest the Bible is Not Sufficient
Here’s a great technical term to impress your friends with – “perspicuity” – a word that simply means “clarity.”
Central to Biblical Christianity is the belief that the Bible is a clear book. No, we do not mean that every individual passage of scripture is equally obvious in its meaning, but we do mean that the Redemptive Historical flow of Scripture is clear to the person who will only take time to read the book. It is clear who God is. It is clear what man is. It is clear what God requires of us. It is clear what God has done in Christ to redeem us. And therefore the Bible is sufficient in and of itself to give us a full and clear knowledge of God in Christ. And in this full and clear knowledge we see not one single account of Heavenly Tourism. The closest we get to it is a fairly obscure statement made by the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). He hints that he has actually seen heaven but then stops himself saying that it would be "unlawful" to say anything else about the subject.
Ironically, though the Apostle to the Gentiles, and arguably the greatest missionary-evangelist who ever lived claimed that it was improper to share first-hand accounts of heaven, the evangelical publishing giants of modern America believe that it is perfectly fine for 6-year olds to do so... After all heavenly Tourism books "inspire" people and lead them to saving faith in Christ.... right?
Sensationalistic extra-biblical data about heaven cannot be of any use to get a person into heaven. It cannot reveal Christ to a person, cannot save him/her, cannot educate him/her accurately in the things of God… Yes, it can give him/her a pseudo-spiritual sugar buzz and tweak his/her emotions temporarily but (as someone has said) it is perhaps best to avoid glandular Christianity.
Heavenly Tourism Books Suggest the Bible is Not Authoritative
If you’ve actually managed to read thus far you might feel like shouting, “Who cares about all of this talk about Biblical sufficiency and completeness and whatnot? Even if this Malarkey kid says that his story is false there are plenty of other people who haven't recanted their stories about heaven. Surely just one recantation doesn't disprove all of the other stories about heaven! And anyway, who are you to question the validity of another person's experience?”
Those are all good points and I don't have the answers to them all. And also, it must be said that I am not an authority on other people's experiences... But I know where an authority can be found - the Bible.... and our experience as Christians, and the alleged experiences of others (particularly the religious and spiritual ones) are to be understood and interpreted in light of Scripture alone.
"But what about the experiences of those other people who went to heaven and came back to write books about it???"
Ah, yes! There it is! You've hit the nail on the proverbial head... We live in a day where "experience" is the great idol our culture bows down to. What we feel like or what we've felt like has become the final judge and arbiter of all reality... and even Christians are not immune this this. Whereas we Christians are supposed to evaluate reality by what God has actually said (or left unsaid) in His word we often evaluate reality by how we feel... My friends, there is great danger here... You see, when we begin determining right or wrong and truth or error, by a strictly subjective standard we have replaced the objective standard of Scripture as our sole authority.
I can almost hear them say, “Crabtree, stop trying to burst my bubble. I genuinely like these “Heavenly Tourism” Books – as you call them. They are encouragements to me. They inspire me. They make me want to go to heaven one day.”
To answer you let me first point you to Malarkey, who offers a warning to those drawn to sensationalistic books like, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. According to Malarkey, “People should read the Bible (instead)… (because) the Bible is the only source of truth.”
Also let me say this… I want you as a Christian to be encouraged and inspired too. In addition to this, I want you to desire to go to heaven…
Therefore I encourage you to read a real life-after-death drama.
It’s found at the heart of Christianity and it’s true. It’s a story of someone who did in fact die.. a story of someone who did in fact come back to life… a story of someone who has gone on to leave us with a very wonderful book. That someone is Jesus. That book is the Bible. Read the latter and you’ll see more of the former.