Alex Malarkey, son of author Kevin Malarkey, issued a brief but brutal retraction of the events that took place in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, a book which has sold very well along with other books in the “heavenly tourism” genre. The publisher, Tyndale House, has agreed to take the book out of print, and Lifeway has begun returning the copies of the book back to the publisher (1). While this is a good step in the right direction, it’s the first step of many that needs to be taken in order to reverse an entire frame of mind, one that has had detrimental effects on apologists and their efforts within the Church. John MacArthur, in his book The Glory of Heaven, says this of the genre:
“For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.” (2)
It’s not a secret that, for the most part, apologists tend to not frequent the big Christian bookstores. When you walk into one and find the newest emotionally charged, mentally fluffy, and spiritually hollow trend being pushed in your face from every degree and angle, it is hugely discouraging. While apologists try to disciple and train Christians to love God with their minds and equip them to give a reason for the hope they have in Christ, Christian bookstores (perhaps unintentionally so) make it harder when they promote and sell books that undercut the value of our work. Why get to know the Word of God better when you can just digest a daily paragraph from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling? Why learn about the resurrection of Christ and cultivate faith in His work when you can read Heaven is for Real (or watch the recent film produced by prosperity teacher T.D. Jakes)? Why study theology, the history of the church, or the defense of the faith when you can get books from pastors and teachers who claim that those things are not necessary, perhaps even harmful, to your relationship with God? Christian bookstores may not intentionally want to see these detrimental effects come about, but they cannot have it both ways. They can’t sell the product without reaping the side effects, whether good or bad.