Your Best Afterlife Now
(An Examination and Critique of Claimed Visits to Heaven and Hell)
Justin Peters – Fall 2011
Heaven. The Bible describes Heaven as a place of surpassing beauty where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, no disease, no death. It is where the triune God resides in all of His glory. For those of us who are saved, the redeemed of God through Christ, it is our eternal home. Though none of us look forward to the process of dying, as Christians we enthusiastically answer the question asked by Job, “If a man dies, will he live again?” with a resounding “yes.” We look forward to being completely and eternally free of fallen bodies living in a fallen world. But for some people, it seems that Heaven (and occasionally Hell) can’t wait.
Though Near Death Experiences (NDEs) have been reported for hundreds and even thousands of years, the last several decades have seen an explosion of people come forward claiming that they have seen the other side, both Heaven and Hell. Many of these people are not Christian at all. For the purposes of this article, however, we will focus on some of the more prominent ones claiming to be believers in Christ. I will begin this article by providing an overview of some of the more prominent recent examples and will then offer an evaluation of each. While space does not permit an exhaustive review of each account, some of the more important and theologically pertinent points will examined.
Heaven is for Real – Colton Burpo
When Colton Burpo, now aged 12, was just four years old he suffered from an undiagnosed ruptured appendix and almost died while undergoing surgery. During this NDE, Colton claims that he left his body and went to Heaven. According to his father, Todd Burpo, pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, NE, over the next several months and years Colton slowly began to give details of people already deceased and events of which he could not possibly have known. Heaven is for Real , written by Mr. Burpo, is the account of his son’s incredible journey.
During his NDE, Colton left his body and saw doctors working on him from above. He also saw the location of his parents and what they were doing while he underwent surgery. Colton says he then went to Heaven. Some of his notable experiences included “sitting beside the Holy Spirit” when his paternal great-grandfather, “Pop,” walked up to him. Colton met his sister who died in a miscarriage of whom Colton had never been told. While in heaven, Colton heard the songs “Jesus Loves Me” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” saw John the Baptist, many different animals, thousands of colors not known on earth, and gates of gold and pearls. Colton describes all of the people (himself included) as having wings and showing no signs of old age. The boy says that he sat in Jesus’ lap and saw “markers” on His hands and feet, later to be interpreted by Todd to be the nail prints. Asked in 2010 by Gretchen Carlson of Fox News to describe Jesus, Colton reported that He has a “rough but kind face, sea-blue eyes, and a smile that lit up the Heavens” and describes God as a very big Person Who “can actually fit the entire world into His hands.” Jesus also instructed the angels to sing to him for comfort and even helped him with his homework. Colton describes not only the physical aspects of people and things in Heaven but was also apparently granted a sneak peek into eschatological events such as Armageddon.
Regardless of our position on Colton Burpo’s claimed heavenly visitation, we unanimously rejoice that God in His sovereignty spared the life of this young boy. Colton was obviously very sick and was apparently not far from death and yet God graciously spared his life. For this we all rejoice. It is upon evaluating Colton’s claims, however, in which this unanimity dissolves.
At the time of this writing in late August, 2011, Heaven is for Real has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for paperback non-fiction for 40 weeks where it currently holds the #1 spot. From what I hear, there is even talk of a movie based on the book. More will be said on the tremendous success of books in the ‘I’ve been to Heaven’ genre later but for now we focus on the biblical evaluation.
Many of the details Colton provides us of the other side though not necessarily “unbiblical” per se, they are certainly extra-biblical. For instance, he claims there are thousands of colors not known here on earth, that all in Heaven have a light over their heads and wings, and that there were all kinds of animals everywhere. These cannot be said to contradict Scripture necessarily, but neither does Scripture validate such descriptions. While many would have no problems with such claims, I believe there are several.
Firstly, if young Colton did indeed go to Heaven and see these things, then we can take them to the proverbial bank. The myriads of colors, lights over heads, wings, animals, etc., must all be taken as actual, real, authoritative revelation of what Heaven is truly like. This comes dangerously close to violating the warning provided in Revelation 22:18 to not add to “the words of the prophecy of this book.” Even if one holds that “this book” refers only to the book of Revelation, the difficulty is by no means alleviated. Given that all Scripture is equally authoritative, we find in that warning a principle that applies to adding to anything God has spoken. That warning is repeated in other places showing that God is serious about not adding to His revelation.
If Colton went to Heaven, his extra-biblical revelations should indeed be authoritative and words have, de facto, been added to the canon of Scripture. This is the problem not just with Colton’s alleged trip to Heaven but with all who make such claims. Secondly, the Apostles Paul and Peter taught that all Scripture is inspired and wholly sufficient to fully equip us as believers (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:16-21). In other words, there simply is no need for such revelations; they are wholly unprofitable. The question then arises, if God wanted for us to know these details of Heaven via Colton Burpo, why did He not just include them for us in His sufficient Word?
Other details that Colton relates seem, well, odd. While the Bible does not necessarily negate the possibility of people having wings in Heaven outright, it certainly gives no indication that such is the case. Two orders of angels are described in the Bible as having wings, Cherubim (Exodus 25:20; Ezra 10) and Seraphim (Isaiah 6), but people are never described this way. Though details like this are not necessarily “unbiblical,” others are. Take for instance Colton’s description of God as a “very big Person.” Later when asked by Pat Boone in a TBN appearance, Colton describes God as a “huge angel with massive wings (emphasis mine).” This is clearly unbiblical. Not only does the Bible give no description of God as having wings, but He most certainly is not an angel. Angels are creations of God. God is Spirit Who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Equally odd is Colton’s description of Jesus helping him with his homework in Heaven. We will never know this side of the veil the full activity of Heaven but clearly it will center around the unhindered, eternal, and full worship of God (Revelation 22:3). That the Alpha and Omega would be helping Colton with something as trivial (given where Colton supposedly was) as homework is, in my opinion, a stretch too far.
In doing research for this article, I have watched numerous interviews of Todd and Colton Burpo. In so doing, I could not help but be struck by how so many of Colton’s answers seemed very pat and rote. For example, his description of Jesus as having a “rough but kind face, sea-blue eyes and a smile that lit up the Heavens” he has repeated on multiple interviews from TBN to FoxNews to CNN and others verbatim. His answers seem canned at best and coached at worst. His description of God as being able to “fit the entire world into His hands” also seems a bit suspect, reflecting a popular children’s song that says the same thing.
Todd Burpo made a theological statement which raises a red flag. On page 149 he wrote, “The Scripture says that as Jesus gave up His spirit (on the cross)…God the Father turned his back. I am convinced that he did that because if he had kept on watching, he couldn’t have gone through with it.” Scripture does not actually teach this at all but even more to the point is that Todd is drawing a theological conclusion that at best is un-provable and at worst is patently unbiblical given that Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice was planned from eternity past (Revelation 13:8). That God might not have “gone through with it” not so subtly implies that His plan of redemption, the absolute focal point of Scripture, was quite a precarious one indeed. Here again, the problem with extra-biblical revelation comes into clear focus. Todd Burpo offers us revelation concerning the motives, thoughts, intentions, and musings of God the Father. He, in effect, puts words into God’s mouth as he supposedly reveals the thoughts of God concerning His Son’s death on the cross. Burpo’s assessment is that the Father did not have the moral fortitude to go through with His divine plan.
Equally troubling theologically is Colton’s claim that he was upset because he “did not know what was happening” and so “He (God) used people that, people or things that I liked to calm me down. From there on I felt better.” That anyone, even a small child, would feel any kind of fear, confusion, or apprehension in the presence of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God in Heaven is doubtful at best.
90 Minutes in Heaven – Don Piper
On January 18, 1989, Don Piper says he died and went to Heaven. The Baptist preacher was returning home to Alvin, TX from a BGCT conference held on the north shore of Lake Livingston via I-45. On his journey home, Don’s Ford Escort collided with an eighteen-wheeler. He was pronounced dead by EMT’s on the scene. Fellow pastor and conference attendee Dick Onerecker came upon the accident roughly one hour later and asked personnel on scene if there was anyone there for whom he could pray. He was informed that everyone was ok except for the man in the Escort who was dead. Despite this information and seemingly contrary to all logic, Onerecker reports that God spoke to him and said, “You need to pray for the man in the red car.” Onerecker reached his hand through the tangled wreckage, touched the body of Don Piper, and began to pray and sing hymns. An hour and a half after the devastating collision, to everyone’s shock and disbelief, the dead man began to sing along with him. It was during this 90 minutes, that Don Piper says he went to Heaven.
Piper reports that immediately upon impact he found himself in Heaven and was greeted by a large crowd of people. The first person he recognized was his grandfather Joe Kulbeth who still had his “shock of white hair” and “big banana nose.” He also met his great-grandmother, Hattie Mann, whose false teeth and slumped back on earth now sparkled and was straight, respectively, in Heaven. Piper was also greeted by friends, former teachers, and relatives, all of whom, he says, “spiritually impacted me in some way and helped make me a better disciple.” Piper describes Heaven as a place of brilliant luminescence yet not such that it was painful to the eyes. There was no darkness at all, no shadows. Everything was of a beauty the magnitude of which simply cannot be described by words. There was music as well, but not, apparently, the kind described by Colton Burpo. Rather, Piper heard music unlike anything he had ever heard on earth. It was music that he not only heard, but experienced. The music permeated his very body and seemed to be thousands of songs all at once and yet they blended in a perfect, glorious symphony. The music included hymns he knew from earth as well as hundreds of songs he had never before heard. Piper is careful to point out that, though he came right up to Heaven, he never actually went inside the walls. He says that he could not see the ends of the massive walls in either direction, nor could he see their top. The gates were not made of pearls, says Piper, but rather were “pearlescent.” Looking through the massive gate Piper describes Heaven as having streets constructed of literal gold and everything was bathed in brilliant, powerful colors. He said he felt “deliriously happy” and then, suddenly, he left Heaven and was joined back to his body in the wreckage of his Ford Escort. Of all those whom Piper reported seeing in Heaven, there is One he clearly states he did not see: “I did not see God. Although I knew God was there I never saw any kind of image or luminous glow to indicate his divine presence.”
The title of Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, is a bit misleading since only about 7% of his book is devoted to describing his visit to Heaven. The vast majority of it concerns his excruciating recovery from the collision on I-45. Piper’s recovery process was a very lengthy, and an almost incomprehensibly painful journey; a journey which, to an extent, continues to this day. One cannot help but to feel for him. As with little Colton Burpo, we all rejoice that God spared Don Piper’s life. That having been said, there are several things with Piper’s story which should give the biblically informed reader pause.
A number of things stand out. First is Piper’s description of the music. He said that at least part of the heavenly anthem was comprised of songs that he heard while on earth. Carried out to its logical conclusion, this is a troubling statement. Given that Heaven is perfect, the worship in Heaven will also be perfect, pure, wholly pleasing and glorifying to God. It will be inspired – but by inspired I do not mean in an earthly inspirational sense - I mean inspired by God Himself. Perfection comes only from God because only He is perfect. Worship of the perfect God emanating from His perfect angels and His perfected children within His perfect kingdom must be in and of itself just that - perfect. Though the hymns with which we are all familiar are beautiful and many contain sound doctrine, they are not perfect, nor are they inspired in the fullest sense of the term. I am reminded of the words of Puritan preacher John Bunyan, “The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin to damn the whole word.” In a similar vein, no matter how beautiful we deem the hymns and songs with which we are familiar on earth, they are certainly not perfect and, therefore, are not worthy of inclusion in the heavenly choir.
Especially worthy of notice is Piper’s claim as to what hymns were absent from the heavenly worship; hymns such as “The Old Rugged Cross” or “The Nail-Scarred Hand.” Writes Piper, “None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus’ sacrifice or death.” Inspired Scripture tells a different story. The Apostle John records, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders… saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’” Though we can confidently affirm that these specific songs mentioned by Piper will not be in Heaven for the reason just stated, it is interesting (and more than a little ironic) that what we do know from the Bible of the worship in Heaven is that it, at least in part, will deal with exactly what he claims it does not – the sacrifice and death of Jesus. Contrary to Piper’s claims, the worship of Heaven is Cross-centered, offering to the Lamb praise for His sacrifice.
Second, throughout Piper’s book and interviews there seems to be a lack of theological precision. In a TBN appearance on May 27, 2011, Piper says that one of the people who met him at the gates of Heaven was Mrs. Norris, a lady who took him to church as a child. Said Piper, “Why do you suppose she was there? I’ll tell you why she was there, she helped me get there. She deserved to be there.” Commendable though Mrs. Norris’ actions were, she certainly does not deserve to be in Heaven. That is the entire point of the Gospel: None of us deserves to be there.
A third troubling aspect about Piper’s description of Heaven is one which is characteristic about nearly every extra biblical description of Heaven: they are so…earthy. Piper writes, “Heaven was many things, but without a doubt, it was the greatest family reunion of all” and gives physical descriptions of how friends and family members looked with their now perfect bodies (more on this later). Says Piper, “If you want to look good, Heaven is where you want to be.” He speaks of feeling great love but the love he felt seemed to come from the crowd which greeted him and followed him around, not from God. Unfortunately it seems that many, if not most, of us professing Christians when discussing Heaven seem to speak in terms of it as being a big “family reunion” at which we will see our friends and loved ones who “have gone on before.” While it is true that Heaven will indeed have streets of gold (Revelation 21:21) and will indeed include a reunion with loved ones who died in Christ before us (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and will be free of sickness and disease; these are secondary – at best. The true joy and glory of Heaven is God Himself. He is what makes Heaven Heaven.
Fourth, Piper makes serious contradictions between his various accounts of his trip. He clearly states in his book that he did not see God. This is one of the more troubling aspects of Don Piper’s alleged visit to Heaven. 90 Minutes in Heaven in which Piper states in no uncertain terms that he did not see God because, in his opinion, had he done so he “would never have wanted to return,” was published in 2004. In the years since, the overwhelming popularity of the book has propelled Piper into his current activity of traveling around the country, speaking in churches and various conferences, hosting cruises, doing numerous radio interviews and appearing on many television programs to tell his story. It seems that over the years his story has changed in at least one significant way: he now claims he did see God.
On March 29 of this year my wife and I went to see Don Piper speak at First Baptist Church of Bristow, OK. Having read his book, I was quite surprised to hear him say that, in fact, he did see God ‘way down the golden road up on a hill on His throne.’ This is a huge discrepancy. Wanting to make sure I did not misunderstand, I talked to him after the service and asked him why he said in his book that he did not see God when he now says that he did.
Piper: “Really in the distance, yes, in the distance I saw Him.”
Me: “But in 90 Minutes in Heaven you said, ‘I did not see God.’”
Piper: “I’m telling you now that I did.”
Me: “Ok, so why did you say in the book you didn’t?”
Piper,“I didn’t say I didn’t see Him. I, I, I, I was looking from a distance through the gate. You could see the golden street, you could see the buildings, there are mansions, and you could see a hill with a river flowing down the side of it. …It was just so personal to me and so incredibly difficult to describe (that) I just didn’t include that. And that’s one of the things I did not include. Let me tell you something, I didn’t write the book by myself. I had a co-writer who writes. His name is Cec Murphy. So, there are probably some things in there that he interpreted differently than I did and that may be one of them.”
That one could leave out of a book entitled “90 Minutes in Heaven” such a magnanimous privilege as seeing the Alpha and Omega on His throne is incomprehensible. It is not merely a difference in “interpretation.” This is a big deal. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine anything much bigger than seeing God and equally difficult to imagine leaving such an experience out. This is not just a mere oversight.
23 Minutes in Hell – Bill Weise
On November 23, 1998 at 3:00 am, Bill Weise says that he suddenly found himself hurtling through the air, falling to the ground, and then landing completely naked in a prison cell of rough-hewn stone and thick metal bars. Weise says that the first thing he noticed was the tremendous heat – heat so intense that he could not believe that he was alive. He saw two creatures in the cell with him. They were ten to thirteen feet tall, reptilian in appearance but with a human form, scaly, foul-smelling, foot-long claws, massively powerful with the strength of a thousand men, and were seething with evil and hatred. They spoke to one another in “terrible, blasphemous language…expressing extreme hatred for God.” The demons were then joined by two more demons coming into the cell and the four then turned their collective hatred and hostility toward Weise and began to torment him. They picked Weise up, threw him against the wall, plunged their claws into his chest, and ripped his flesh. Though his flesh was mangled, no fluids came forth. The pain, the stench, the agonizing thirst and the absolute hopelessness was beyond anything we can imagine here on earth. According to Weise the demons seemed to derive sadistic joy from the pain and horror they were inflicting upon their helpless victim. He pleaded for mercy but none was given. Says Weise “Death penetrated me, but eluded me.”
Weise managed to crawl outside of his cell through an open door where he “heard the screams of an untold multitude of people crying in torment.” He saw “a gigantic raging inferno approximately one mile in diameter” and “many people reaching out of the pit of fire, desperately trying to claw their way out. But there was no escape.” The pit was rimmed with various demons and any attempt by the condemned to escape was futile; “Human strength was no match for the demons.” Weise later found himself in a cave the walls of which were “covered with thousands of hideous creatures. These demonic creatures were all sizes and shapes. …There were also gigantic rats and huge spiders at least three feet wide and two or three feet high. I also saw snakes and worms, ranging from small to enormously large. I was petrified and could not believe my eyes.” Finally, after 23 minutes of unspeakable horror, Weise says he began to ascend when a burst of brilliant light invaded the tunnel and though he could not see His face, he knew Who it was. “Jesus,” said Weise. Jesus replied, “I AM.” The horror was over.
The description Weise gives of Hell is exceedingly graphic and disturbing. Many of his descriptions such as the heat and thirst, the palpable darkness, the pain, the hopelessness, and lack of mercy do indeed have ample biblical support. I would, however, point out at least two significant biblical problems with his story. One is that in Weise’s Hell it seems that the torture and punishment are inflicted upon the lost not by God’s pouring out His wrath but rather by the demons and fire. Mary Baxter’s A Divine Revelation of Hell also describes hell as being run by Satan and his angels. This description fails biblically on two counts. One is that contrary to popular perception, Hell is not Satan’s playground. Hell is not to Satan as the briar patch is to Brer Rabbit; a place where he longs to go and roam about freely. Satan and the demonic hordes do not want to go to Hell any more than do we. In Matthew 8:28-34 the demons begged Christ to send them into a herd of pigs rather than to what they knew would be their eventual eternal destiny – Hell. Even a brief delay in their sure judgment was welcome. Hell was the last place they wanted to go. Revelation 20:7-10 teaches that Satan will be “thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” and “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Two, it has become commonplace in the evangelical world to describe Hell merely as a place of being eternally separated from God. Says Weise, “The fact that I knew God was kept from my mind.” On TBN he stated, “If you want nothing to do with God, there is a place prepared that has nothing to do with Him (Hell).” It is rare today to hear a preacher expound upon the horrors of Hell. Rather, in an effort to soften truth so as to not offend the sensibilities of “seekers,” Hell, if mentioned at all, is portrayed as being the eternal absence of God’s presence. To his credit, Weise does not soften the description of Hell – far from it. One would be hard pressed to find a more vivid and disturbing picture of Hell than the one Weise provides. However, he still falls into the same theological error, even if he does so from a completely different direction. The worst thing about Hell is not the eternal absence of God – it is the eternal presence of God. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 5:9 that “we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (emphasis mine).” God is omnipresent and Hell is His eternal presence in the mode of judgment. Salvation is as much being saved from God as it is being saved to God.
A second theological problem with Weise’s story is his claim that as a professing believer he was taken by Christ to the very place from which Christ died to save him. Weise was very clear to state in his book that this was no dream. He writes, “I landed in what appeared to be a prison cell. …I was completely naked… . This was not a dream – I was actually in this strange place.” We must categorically reject that Jesus would take a believer to hell. There is neither biblical support nor logical reason for such a thing to ever happen or even be possible to happen. This is an affront not only to the Gospel message but also to the character of Christ Himself. Since the publication of the book in 2006, blogs and reviews have discussed this theological difficulty and, apparently, Weise has taken notice because his story, like Piper’s, has changed over the years.
On May 27, 2011, on the same TBN program on which Piper appeared, Weise attempts to extricate himself from the theological dilemma: “This was not a near death experience, this was an out-of-body experience that comes under the classification of a vision in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-2, Paul when he was caught up into heaven in a vision and he said whether in the body or out of the body he didn’t know. The Lord just happened to show me that I left my body. That’s the only way a Christian can see hell – in a vision.” Weise seems to make a distinction without a great deal of difference. Even if he now claims it was a vision, he maintains that it was very real, very physical. He experienced real pain, real thirst, real hopelessness and, real abandonment. As Christians, we can and should expect trials, tribulations, persecutions, pain and suffering in this life. However, one thing that the Bible gives us complete assurance that we will never experience is abandonment. Jesus promised us that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and as one of His own there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35) – not for eternity, not even for 23 minutes.
Thus far we have examined specific, current, and popular accounts of people claiming to have been to Heaven and to Hell. With these specific accounts still in view, we will now look at some of the broader challenges, both logical and theological, confronting anyone claiming to have made such journeys.
There is a logical problem with these accounts that is so glaring, it is hard to understand why more people do not take note of it; namely, these various accounts often contradict one another. The three individuals examined in this article only scratch the surface of those claiming to have been to the other side. Mary Baxter (who claimed she went to both Heaven and Hell), Betty Malz, Roberts Liardon, Jesse Duplantis, Kenneth Hagin, Richard Eby, Todd Bentley, etc. also would have you believe they were given a sneak peek into the afterlife. It takes only a cursory reading of these stories to realize that they all contradict one another – and often even contradict themselves! Colton Burpo reports that everyone in heaven, even God Himself, had wings. Piper saw many people in heaven but they apparently did not have wings. Some report that heaven is completely urban whereas Duplantis says he saw homes out in the country. Some saw God on His throne, others did not see Him at all, and some, like Don Piper, can’t seem to remember whether they saw Him or not. Colton claims that those in Heaven show no signs of age, yet Piper claims that his grandfather, Joe Kulbeth, still had his “shock of white hair.”
Some heavenly tourists say that Jesus has brown hair, others say it is blond. Some report Jesus as having a purple sash about his waist, others say it is blue. Benny Hinn claims to see Jesus often and can even describe what He is wearing from day to day. Some, like Colton Burpo, say Jesus’ eyes are blue, others say they are brown. One thing that all of the supposed accounts of Heaven have in common is a minimized description of the glory of Christ. Rather than a description like that in Revelation 1:14: “His chest was girded with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire,” these accounts describe Jesus as being rather ordinary and non-glorious. God would never be the source of a vision which downplays the glory of His Son.
The list of contradictions is almost endless. The obvious point is that these accounts cannot all be true. In all likelihood, none of them are.
Now let’s turn to the theological issues with all of these accounts. Though with varying degrees of specificity, all who have been to the hereafter and have returned describe people as having physical bodies. They report that the heavenly residents are perfect in every way showing no signs of sickness, disease, arthritis, handicaps, etc. They describe these glorified bodies as beautiful in appearance and perfect in function. There is only one problem with this: the redeemed in Heaven do not yet have their glorified bodies. This statement will likely surprise many readers and, unfortunately, the theological nuances are too involved to fully address here. It is, however, sufficient to note that the Bible teaches that those presently in Heaven are not yet in possession of their permanent, glorified bodies. In fact, Heaven itself is not yet in its perfected, eternal state. Those events will not transpire until the timing of Revelation 21. At present, Heaven is in its “intermediate” state, if you will, and the redeemed there are also in an intermediate state. In Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4, John saw the “souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God” and the “souls of those who had been beheaded” respectively. Those that John saw were not in possession of physical bodies but rather were in a non-corporeal state. The redeemed will be given glorified bodies at the rapture or Christ’s return to earth (Parousia). Therefore, the reports of people in the intermediate Heaven as possessing glorified bodies must be rejected.
The second theological problem is one which plagues all the books in the “I’ve been to Heaven and/or Hell” genre; they are all an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. Even if an account does not directly contradict the Bible per se (and most do), these accounts propose to add to biblical revelation. In these accounts, for example, we learn that hell is 3,700 miles below the surface of the earth, that it is inhabited by ghastly creatures and giant spiders, the pit of fire is shaped like a giant human or maybe it’s one mile in diameter (depending on whose account you read) and is ruled by demons – none of which can be found in the Bible. Likewise, Heaven apparently has suburbs, the flowers turn themselves to watch you as you pass by, the fruit is copper colored, individual homes are furnished with ball and claw Queen Anne furniture, people have wings or they don’t (again, depending on the particular account), and the souls of babies fly around God on His throne. None of this is biblically supported.
All of this information is unbiblical at worst and extra-biblical at best. This leads us to the issue of new divine revelation knowledge. Is God giving certain individuals new revelation and speaking to them apart from and in addition to the Bible? If any of these accounts are even partly true, then the inescapable conclusion is “yes.”
The implications of new revelation are huge. If it is necessary for us to know this information, why has God delayed nearly 2,000 years in giving it to us? Did the saints of previous generations have inadequate revelation of Heaven? Did they not have a sufficient supply of God’s truth? If they did, then these and all other accounts of visiting the other side are entirely unnecessary and of no profit to the church.
Whatever God reveals and says to these individuals (most of these individuals quote God directly) should carry with it the very same authority as any verse of Scripture since God cannot speak less authoritatively on one occasion than He does on another. In other words, God cannot speak to us in the Bible and “really, really mean it” but when He speaks to individuals outside of the Bible whether in a dream, vision, audible voice, or trip to Heaven still mean it, but somehow mean it less so than He did in the Bible. It is illogical. It is an untenable position. If God is speaking, then God is speaking. If God is indeed speaking to people outside of Scripture then these communications would add to the Bible. Carried to its logical conclusion we are left with an open canon of Scripture. If the canon of Scripture is still open, then anything goes. Consider how many false religions have begun by an individual claiming to have received new revelation from God. Almost every false religion was begun by an individual saying, ‘God has spoken to me. Let me tell you what He has to say.’ Most notable: Mormonism and Islam. Both Joseph Smith and Mohammed, respectively, reported that an entity claiming to speak for God appeared to them and gave them new divine revelation knowledge. Interestingly, both of these men initially believed the entity to be malevolent, but, over time, became convinced that it was from God. From these eerily similar encounters in which extra-biblical revelation was given, two huge false religions were born. The canon of Scripture is complete and it is closed – for good reason.
All who claim to have been to Heaven or Hell report that God the Father or God the Son brought them there for the purpose of allowing them to go back to earth and let people know that these places are real. For example, Weise quotes Jesus as saying, “Go and tell them about this place. It is not my desire that any should go there.”
Duplantis quotes Jesus as saying, “Go tell My people I’m coming.”
Replied Duplantis, “They know that.”
Jesus answered, “No they don’t know that. Go tell My people I’m coming! I brought you here to tell them I’m coming!”
Duplantis is wrong. God’s people do, in fact, “know that” because the Bible states it clearly. We do not need anyone to go to Heaven or Hell to tell us these places are real. Scripture reveals this information for us. If such excursions are necessary to give us this information (or at least impress upon us the urgency of it) then the inescapable conclusion is that the Bible is insufficient in and of itself to do so.
Most of these individuals would at least give verbal ascent to the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, but they clearly do not believe in its sufficiency. If they had such a high view of Scripture they would quickly see that these trips are completely unnecessary. Recall Abraham’s words to the rich man in the lake of fire upon the latter’s request to send the deceased Lazarus back to earth to warn his five brothers to repent while they still had time: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets (the Bible), they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:19-31).” There is an inherent power in the Word of God that no miracle, no sign, no alleged visit to Heaven or Hell can boast. If people will not believe the Bible, then neither will they be persuaded by stories such as these.
Third, there is clearly a difference between the response of those inspired writers who were allowed to glimpse Heaven and those in our modern day who make the same claims. The New Testament records only three men who were allowed to see Heaven: Stephen just before he was stoned, John, and Paul. Interestingly all three of these men were very much alive when they were given glimpses into Heaven contrary to some, but not all, of our modern cases. Stephen’s glimpse was very brief and offers little detail other than seeing Jesus at the right hand of God. John’s account is by far the most detailed we have, was revealed to him personally by Christ Himself. That leaves us with the Apostle Paul. What do we know, though, of what he saw and heard in Heaven? Absolutely nothing. Paul writes, “I know a man in Christ who…was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” We have no idea what he saw or what he heard. Why? Because what he saw was “inexpressible” and he was “not permitted” to speak it.
Ponder this for a moment. Here we have the man who wrote roughly one-third of the New Testament. Not only did he not give us any details of his rapturous visit to Heaven, but he did not even want to mention the experience at all. He did so only reluctantly because his apostleship was being questioned by some in Corinth; hence his reference to himself in the third person, “I know a man.” Paul was so humbled by his experience he would not even refer to himself in the first person. Even with that degree of humility, God still gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to humble him even further. Contrast Paul’s humility with the attitude of those making such claims today. In contrast to Paul who gave no details and only reluctantly mentioned it at all, people today who claim to have been to Heaven write books about it and go on national and global speaking tours. Some of these books sell millions and millions of copies. Spin-off books and courses complete with instructional DVDs often follow. Movies are even being made. Paul wouldn’t even speak of his vision while some today use their “revelations” to catapult them into stardom, celebrity status, and the New York Times Best Seller list. The contrast is stark, is it not?
Finally, it is worth observing what is mysteriously absent from most of these accounts: the Gospel. It is striking that so many of these people who claim to have been to Heaven and to have not only seen Jesus but spoken to Him do not mention the Gospel. For example, in Heaven is for Real, the closes thing to the Gospel is when Colton quotes Jesus as saying, “I had to die on the cross so that people on earth could come to see my Dad.” Granted, this is coming from a child, but the author of the book and father of the child, Todd Burpo, is a pastor. If this experience helped make Heaven “real” for them, why is the Gospel never presented so the millions of readers can know how to get there?
The same can be said of Don Piper, another pastor. He supposedly spent 90 minutes in Heaven and yet, save for a few clichés like “accepting Jesus” and “turning to Christ,” one will search his book in vain for the Gospel message. It’s just not there. There is no mention of the seriousness of sin or its eternal consequences. There is no mention of the wrath of God. There is no mention of the Deity of Jesus, the meaning of His sacrificial and substitutionary death, or His resurrection. There is no mention of repentance from sin and placing faith in His finished work. There is, in short, no Gospel.
To be fair, Bill Weise is different. Weise does give an excellent, complete, detailed and non-compromising Gospel presentation. I watched him do so on TBN and he did so very, very well. There was no fault to be found. However, what of Burpo and especially Piper? For the reasons already presented I do not believe that such visits to Heaven and Hell are even possible, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that something like that really happened to me. Let’s assume I had truly seen the majesties of Heaven and the glory of God, I would expect that I would be absolutely consumed with telling people about the Gospel. My preaching would not be characterized by waxing eloquent about how “good you’re gonna look in Heaven” but rather pleading with people to repent and escape the coming judgment. I would expect I would have the attitude of Peter and John who, when in response to warnings not to teach in the name of Jesus replied, “we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” I would expect I would share Paul’s desire to preach nothing but “Christ crucified.” It is difficult to understand how the Gospel would not be central to any believer’s preaching or writing, but especially so for one claiming to have actually seen what for the rest of us is accepted by faith alone.
Based on the authority of the complete and sufficient Word of God we are forced to reject all of these claims as valid.
This raises an obvious question which I have not yet addressed: are they lying? This is where my assessment must leave the objectivity of Scripture and delve into the subjective realm of people’s thoughts and intentions.
Some of these people I do believe are complete frauds. Some I have studied for years and believe they are motivated by money and fame and have been very successful in acquiring both. Others, however, I am not so sure.
In watching many interviews of Todd Burpo it is obvious that he loves his son dearly. He certainly seems like a nice guy. The story he tells tugs at one’s heart strings to be sure. Don Piper undoubtedly had a devastating wreck and suffered excruciating pain. However, his claim of seeing God on His throne when he had previously denied this, and denied it quite thoroughly, is difficult to understand. Bill Weise certainly presents the Gospel well and definitely warns people of coming judgment. I think it would be neither right nor fair to make such a serious charge of lying against any of these men. That having been said, neither is it possible to be completely confident of their truthfulness. I think it is entirely possible that some of these stories began with a vivid dream which, at the time, seemed quite real. Dreams often do seem very real. I would imagine that the dream was told to one or two people who then told it to others who in turn told it to others and on and on. Likely the reports grew and became more and more elaborate. A radio interview here, a newspaper report there, the story snowballs and before long it takes on a life of its own. To keep up with the hype and publicity the individuals must keep up the story and may even begin to believe it themselves to a degree. Publicity and the praise of men is an intoxicating elixir and it poses a threat to every preacher no matter how humble - this writer included.
However, our final authority is the Word of God. No matter how real an experience may seem to us, if it does not plumb with the Word of God then it is an illegitimate experience. Those who promote an illegitimate experience exceeded biblical parameters. They have begun to divorce themselves and those who listen to them from sole reliance upon the Scriptures.
Anything that is not of the truth is a lie. Whether the person telling the lie has malicious motives or not is irrelevant to the nature of the information being given. Colton Burpo may have the purest of motives in telling us that God has wings, but when his statement contradicts Scripture, it is not just a fresh perspective, it is a lie. Contradicting Scripture is the work of Satan, not God. Whether Burpo, Piper or Weise intend to lie, contradict Scripture, or promote error, their reports end up doing that very thing.
The question about the sincerity or lack thereof of any of these individuals may be an interesting one to ponder, but, in the final analysis it does not matter. Whether someone is sincere in his promotion of error does not make the error any less harmful to those who believe it. Error is still error. Millions of unsuspecting people are slowly but surely being pulled away from the authority and sufficieny of Scripture and are instead turning to other sources of “truth” for their spiritual knowledge and nourishment. The dangers of this cannot be overstated.
These accounts are extra-biblical and often unbiblical. They divert attention away from the true power of God, the Gospel (Romans 1:16), and emphasize subjective experiences. They may be motivational in a superficial sense but they are not capable of convicting people of their sin and need of the Savior. In the words of hymn writer John Keith, “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He hath said? To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” What more can He say to us, dear friends, than what He has already said in His Word?
 Job 14:4. All Scripture cited in this article is taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
 Abbreviation for a phenomenon known as Near Death Experiences. Many who have been near physical death report seeing visions of Heaven and sometimes Hell. Much in both scientific and theological literature has been written of this phenomenon that is claimed by both Christians and non-Christians.
 According to medical reports Colton’s heart never stopped.
 Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHBmoJiIfUE Accessed 08/26/11. Of note is that Colton reports Jesus’ nail prints were in His palms. However, most evidence both archeological and medical indicates that victims of crucifixion were nailed through the wrists given that the palms would not have supported the weight of the body.
 Burpo, Todd, and Lynn Vincent. Heaven is for Real. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010. Pgs. 135-139.
 Source: www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-09-04/paperback-nonfiction/list.html Accessed 08/29/11.
 See Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6.
 Passages such as Ruth 2:12, Psalms 36:7-9; 57:1; 63:7; 91:4 and Matthew 23:27 which speak of God as offering shelter and protection under His “wings” are to be understood in a metaphorical sense. The shelter and protection are real, but the wings are metaphorical. Israel is the apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8) but is not literally a fruit. Jesus is the door (John 10:7, 9) but is not literally a piece of wood with hinges.
 This is, essentially, the Word of Faith doctrine known as the Spiritual Death of Jesus (SDJ) doctrine. A careful reading of Psalm 22, the passage which Jesus cites while on the cross, in its entire context lends support that the Father did not abandon the Son on the cross. See verses 19 and 24.
 Piper is associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
 Piper, Don. 90 Minutes in Heaven. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2004. 42.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 26.
 Ibid., 34.
 Ibid., 33.
 Source: https://christian-quotes.ochristian.com/John-Bunyan-Quotes/page-5.shtml Accessed 08/30/11.
 Ibid, 31.
 Revelation 5:11-12. Emphasis this writer’s.
 Piper. TBNs Praise the Lord program. 05/27/11.
 Piper, 25.
 Piper. TBN Praise the Lord program. 05/27/11.
 I have this in single quotes because I do not know these were his exact words but, if not, they are very close. Piper reiterated this claim when on May 27, 2011, during TBN’s “Praise the Lord” program, he stated: “I began to look up through the gate and I could see this kind of pinnacle in the middle of the city. It’s kind of a hill high and lifted up. There’s a river flowing down the side of this, well, it’s the River of Life and it’s coming down the side of this mountain, or hill if you will, and at the top of that is the brightest light I’ve ever seen and I know Who that is, it’s the Lord high and lifted up.”
 “Cec” is short for Cecil. Cecil Murphey is listed as co-author of 90 Minutes in Heaven.
 For the sake of accuracy, I recorded the audio of this conversation.
 Weise, Bill. 23 Minutes in Hell. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2006. xiii.
 Ibid., 3-7.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 8, 10, 29.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 30.
 Baxter, Mary. A Divine Revelation of Hell. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997. The perception of hell as being ruled by Satan and his fallen angels can likely be traced back to The Divine Comedy written by the Italian Dante Alighieri in the early 1300s. This epic poem depicts hell as being a place where demons and Satan rule over and torture the condemned. It is considered to be one of the greatest works of literature of all time.
 Ibid., 9. Emphasis in the original.
 Weise. TBN Praise the Lord program. 05/27/11.
 Weise, xiii.
 Weise. TBN Praise the Lord program. 05/27/11.
 Jesse Duplantis is a prominent Word-Faith preacher whose weekly television program is broadcast globally. Duplantis claims that he was sucked out of his hotel room in Magnolia, AR in 1988 and found himself on a cable car travelling through space at a phenomenal rate of speed. When the cable car stopped, the doors opened and Jesse stepped out into Heaven. His account is entitled Close Encounters of the God Kind and is available in both DVD and book form.
 See 1 Thessalonians 4; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2. Which option is preferred depends upon one’s eschatological position.
 Weise, 34.
 Duplantis, Jesse. Close Encounters of the God Kind. DVD on file.
 Acts 7:54-60, the book of Revelation, and 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 respectively.
 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.
 Source: https://www.donpiperministries.com/newsletter_and_schedule.asp Accessed 09/05/11.
 Burpo, 111.
 Acts 4:20 and 1 Corinthians 1:23 respectively. Emphasis mine.