I have tried to stay current the past couple of years by reading books that have become part of the mainstream. One particular genre of books has been the "I experienced heaven and am back to tell about it" books. I have read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper; 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese; and even took the time to review Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo. The newest book to gain notoriety is To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal, MD.
In this book, Neal tells the story of how she died in a kayak accident, spent time with angels and Jesus, went to some heavenly place, and then came back to life. As with all the other books, the part of her story about being in heaven was very short. Most of the book has to do with her spirituality before and after the event on the river and how she recovered from her injuries. After reading this book, I do not question that she went through a horrific tragedy. I do not question that she died. I do not question that there were angelic beings that welcomed her as she was dying. I do not question that she spent time in the field with an angelic being. I do not question that she was told that her job on earth was not finished. I do not question these parts of her story. The only thing I question is that what she experienced was from God. Let me explain.
This book is completely and utterly void of the gospel. It is void of the cross. It is void of man's sin. It is void of God's holiness. It is void of the substitutionary death of Jesus. In fact, the only place in the book that the cross of Jesus is even mentioned in when she is trying to explain how sometimes bad things happen to good people. She says that the crucifixion was a bad thing and Jesus was obviously a good person and this "bad" thing that happened is at the heart of the "good news" (103).
I would even go so far to say that she believes that all people will go where she went when she died. After reading the book, I strongly doubt that she believes in hell as opposed to heaven. At one point, while she was explaining the pain that is experienced when loved ones after someone dies, she says, "In our country, we no longer seem to have funerals; instead we have 'celebration of life.' But truly, the only person who ever celebrates is the one who died. Those who have died experience the joy of returning to the glory of God's world, while the people left behind are sad, lonely, and rarely feel joyful about the occasion" (151).
Did you see that? "Those who have died." And nowhere does she further articulate that the celebration after death only comes when someone has believed in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Nowhere! This is feel-good religion at its best. It is a book designed to make everyone, regardless of their view about Jesus, feel good about dying. And she very clearly shares that she was brought back to this earth because she had more work to do. While she was "dead" on the river bank, she was floating with these other spirit beings. She explains why she couldn't stay with them.
"We arrived at the entrance to the hall, and I could see many spirits bustling about inside. They all turned to look at us as we began to enter, and they communicated great compassion and love. Before we could go inside, however, an oppressive feeling of grief and sadness descended upon my spiritual companions and the atmosphere became heavy. They turned to me and explained that it was not my time to enter the hall; I had not completed my journey on earth, had more work to do, and must return to my body. I protested but was given several reasons for my return and told that I would soon be given more information. We shared our sorrow as they returned me to the river bank. I sat down in my body and gave these heavenly beings, these people who had come to guide, protect, and cheer for me, one last, longing glance before I lay down and was reunited with my body" (74).
This is going to be controversial and I know that some people will not like me saying this. But there is very little doubt in my mind that she was sent back here by the enemy to convince the thousands of people who will read this book that they will be okay when they die! We are told that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). So why do we struggle with the thought that what she experienced was from him and not God. Especially, when the book is void of the gospel; void of the death of Jesus; void of resurrection of Christ; and void of a calling for faith and repentance.
This book is dangerous. The enemy wants people to think they are okay in their casual, self-centered, religious ways. The truth is, you are not. Have you repented of your sins? Have you given yourself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Then what she writes about life after death being a peaceful, glorious place is not your fate. There are many other problems I had with this book (for instance, she believes that young children are aware of where they came from in heaven before they come to this earth--that is why they are more sensitive to the things of God). Just weird. But the main problem I have is that it tells everyone they are okay and they do not need to fear death. But apart from Christ, a person absolutely should fear death!
Towards the end of the book, she tries to answer the question of why God would allow her to go through all the experiences she has had. She says,
"I do not know all of the answers to these questions, but I do know that millions of people are in dire need of knowing God, receiving His love, experiencing His presence, and accepting the truth of His promises" (207).
I agree. I just don't think that any of that is going to really happen through this book. I think just the opposite is going to happen. People are going to feel more and more comfortable to live a semi-religious life apart from Christ. That, in turn, will be devastating!
I received a copy of To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal by Waterbook Press for review.