Having said that, I have some concerns. There has been a spate of “I died and went to heaven” books recently. Probably the most well known are Burpo’s, Piper’s 90 Minutes In Heaven and Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander. I do not know what actually happened to those people in their near death experiences. What I am quite clear on is they did not die and go to heaven. Having a near death experience is not the same as dying (as Miracle Max said in the movie The Princess Bride, he's only “mostly dead” and there’s a big difference).
Most telling is what is absent in all of these recent supposed heavenly visits. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul and John all were given visionary glimpses of heaven. What takes center stage is the awesome majesty and glory of the Almighty God. Isaiah was stunned and cried out, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” John said he fell at the feet of the Lord as though he was dead. Paul said what he saw in his vision was literally inexpressible. This is all quite different from the recent accounts in which God’s glory doesn’t appear at all. Rather the focus is on the person telling the story and how warm and fuzzy they felt in heaven. This seems to be a very different picture. Whose picture is likely to be the more accurate, Isaiah’s and John’s or Colton’s and Don’s?
Another problem I have is if we put faith in the experiences of Colton Burpo and Don Piper must we not also give equal weight to those of Eben Alexander? Unfortunately his experience was very different from that of the others. In his there is no mention of a personal God and certainly nothing about Jesus. His is much more of new age “become one with the universe” sort of “heaven.” This is hardly surprising since he describes himself as a “faithful Christian…more in name than in actual belief.” I’m not sure what he means by that except that he does not really believe in Jesus. It’s not too surprising then that his “heaven” had no sign of Jesus, nor of God and his glory, nor any resemblance to a biblical heaven. So if we insist on buying into Burpo’s account, must we not also accept Alexander’s? But since there’s a big difference, doesn’t this create a problem? The answer of the more new age oriented likely is, “No, your heaven will be whatever you think it should be.” Unfortunately that is utterly at odds with the Bible’s view of things.
These stories are a curiosity, to be sure. But they are not more than that. I don’t know what happens when the brain goes through that “near death” phase. No one really does. Strange things may occur. Could God give people visions of heaven? Yes, of course. He did so with the prophets and apostles. But I feel safe in saying if someone had such a vision given by God it would match up more closely with what he has already revealed than do these recent stories. We can speculate about these incidents, but in the end we don’t really know, except to say we surely should not found our faith in them. We must ground our faith in God’s revealed Word.
It is fine to go see a movie like Heaven Is For Real. Perhaps if it makes money it will encourage film makers to produce more movies that are positive rather than salacious, violent and degrading as so many are these days. Maybe it will even, as stated earlier, encourage people to consider their eternal future. But while we may enjoy it, we should take it not merely with a grain of salt, but with a whole shaker full.