When I was about 6 ½ years old I saw bigfoot, I was sure of it. I was convinced of his existence, I had learned all about him when my older brother had taken me to the movies and instead of watching a cartoon that had been pre-approved by my parents we settled in to watch a movie about Sasquatches. And on top of that Leonard Nimoy had made it clear that Bigfoot was real in multiple episodes of “In Search Of”, and if he played Mr. Spock so convincingly, he had to be smart enough to know what he was talking about. Moreover I was fairly certain there were bigfeet roaming the North Side of Pittsburgh. A neighbor’s retaining wall had collapsed in the middle of the night earlier in the week, and the only logical explanation was clearly Sasquatch attack.
So when I was answering the call to come home from the playground, announced when the street lights came on (yes my parents let me out to play only admonishing me to come home when the streetlights came on, and I survived) and I ducked down the city steps and saw a largish (in retrospect maybe it was more mediumish) dark shape moving in brush, I drew the only logical conclusion, it had to be a bigfoot. So I ran home and excitedly reported the news to my mother who calmly told me that that shadow, our neighbors’ large black dog, had escaped again, and that was what I saw. Then she added that I had better wash up and start to get ready for bed. Thus ended my career as the world’s first inner-city crypto zoologist.
I hadn’t thought of that night in decades, but as I read my facebook and twitter feeds last week the memory came flooding back. Last week Alex Malarkey, the subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, posted an open letter to the book’s publisher, Tyndale House, Lifeway Stores and other Christian retailers recanting his story of going to heaven and returning after a serious car accident that left him paralyzed.
Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.
I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.
I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.
It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.
[Recanting isn’t exactly the right word, best evidence is that he never made the claims as presented in the book, and although his name is on the cover his father is the sole copyright holder and has shared none of the considerable proceeds from the books sales with Alex, his mother, or the rest of the family. Alex and his mother have been trying to get the word out and the book pulled for some time, and it was relatively common knowledge. Click here here or here for more information.]
Because The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is one of the big three of the uber-popular heaven tourism genre (along with Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo, which tells the tale of his son Colton “going to heaven” during an emergency appendectomy at age 4, and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, a full grown Southern Baptist Pastor who claims he visited heaven following a severe car accident) Alex’s open letter made international news. (When The Drudge Report, NPR and the U.K. Daily Mail pick up the same story, it is news.)
Naturally, and rightly, the news of Alex’s Open Letter cast doubt on the veracity of all of the heavenly tourism books (spoiler alert, they are all bunkum, but I’ll get to that later). In response to the growing waves of doubt, Colton Burpo, now a young teen, responded with a statement of his own.
Dear Friends –
I know there has been a lot of talk about the truth of other Heaven stories in the past few days. I just wanted to take a second and let everyone know that I stand by my story found in my book Heaven is for Real. I still remember my experience in Heaven. I want to keep telling people about my experience because it has given hope to so many people.
People may have their doubts about my story, but the thing is, I wasn’t coaxed into doing this. I wanted to tell people about my experience. In fact, I started sharing my story with my friends and people in our town way before there was a book called Heaven is for Real.
I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus.
He really, really loves you.
On social media I saw many of the same people who saluted Alex, hammering Colton. I saw links to his statement shared under the headline “Colton Burpo doubles down” or “More Lies from Burpo” and other even less winsome summaries. While I am just as disgusted as the next guy about the content of these books, and wonder how even one of them came to be published by a “Christian” publisher or to be sold by a “Christian” bookstore, I think the anger at Colton is misdirected.
Before any this found its way into print someone should have lovingly and gently told this little boy, made in the image of God, that he saw a dog and not a bigfoot.
I don’t dispute that Colton experienced some odd dream or vision, many people do when they are coming out of anesthesia, and I don’t doubt that he still remembers it, he has spent his whole life retelling it, but I know for a fact he didn’t go to heaven and that his father, who is a pastor, should have told him so instead of writing a book based on his child’s musings.
How can I be so sure that young Colton (and old enough to know better Don Piper) didn’t travel to heaven? Because the bible says that it is impossible. Hebrews 9:27 says it is appointed for man to die once and then comes the judgment.
Moreover, how Colton (and Don Piper and every other heavenly travelogue writer) described heaven is nothing like heaven is described in scripture. The two clearest glimpses into the throne room of heaven in the Bible are found in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4, and although both Isaiah and the Apostle John struggle to describe what they saw, what they describe is remarkable similar.
Consider Isaiah 6:2-4:
“Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
Now consider Revelation 4:2-8:
“ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
These two accounts are so similar that they are clearly attempts to describe the same indescribable scene. Todd Burpo should have lovingly and gently taken his young son to these passages, explained them to him, as best as you can to a four year old boy, and lovingly explained to him the difference between dreams (including those induced by powerful drugs), make believe, the truth of Scripture and lies. Either heaven is as revealed in Scripture, or it is as Colton Burpo (or Don Piper) described it, it can’t be both. Rather than taking this golden opportunity to explain the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man to his young child, Todd exploited him.
Colton Burpo, like Alex Malarkey, is a victim of spiritual abuse, at the hands of Christian publishers, Christian booksellers, and worst of all their fathers.
We should rejoice in the work of grace that the Lord has so evidently worked in the heart of Alex, and we should pray that the Lord would do a similar work in the heart of Colton. We should pray for the repentance of the publishers, retailers, denominations and churches that promote and profit (and have profited) from these books. We should pray for those who have been stalwarts in supporting Alex and his mother in their quest for truth. We should pray for the repentance of Alex and Colton’s fathers and all of the others who have been actively involved in this gross spiritual abuse in the name of profit. And we should remember that Colton is a victim in this, just as everyone else Todd has deceived.