March 31, 2015

Review: Visits to Heaven and Back—Are They Real? by Mark Hitchcock

Hitchcock, Mark. Visits to Heaven and Back—Are They Real? (Tyndale, 2015), 240 pp.

In recent years, there has been an unfortunate trend in Christian publishing. Interest in books purporting to give firsthand accounts of the afterlife has been steadily increasing. In Visits to Heaven and Back, author Mark Hitchcock offers a much-needed corrective to this recent trend.

In ten short chapters, Hitchcock systematically critiques these "tales of heavenly tourism." He begins by explaining the appeal of the genre and then detailing it's recent rise in popularity (pp. 1-8). From there, he states his concerns. "My worry," he says, "is that people want the message of these books to be true so badly that they are willing to consume these stories . . . with little or no discernment" (p. 9). This is particularly troubling because these books seem to present Heaven as readers want it to be rather than as how Scripture describes it (p. 12).

Hitchcock first tackles NDEs (near-death experiences) in general before taking on each of the major bestsellers in the genre. He concludes that, though some NDEs are real, these popular chronicles of journeys to Heaven and back are not. They can't be because they contradict Scripture (pp. 26-27). In chapters 3-6, Hitchcock critiques all the genre's major bestsellers from Betty Eadie's Embraced by the Light (1992) all the way up to the recent Heaven Is for Real (2010).

In chapter seven, he moves on from individual books and offers several arguments against the genre as a whole. Chapter eight focuses on the related sub-genre of Hell-and-back books. In chapter nine, Hitchcock offers a summary of the Bible's teachings on Heaven before concluding with a brief gospel presentation in chapter ten. The book also includes three helpful appendices (answers to common questions, recommended reading, and Scripture passages about Heaven).

The problems with the heaven-and-back books, according to Hitchcock, are many. They go beyond the teachings of Scripture, claiming to be new revelation (pp. 39, 49, 79, 124-129). They exalt man rather than God (pp. 38, 54). They downplay or deny the exclusivity of Christ (pp. 85-89). They undermine the sufficiency of God's Word (pp. 112-115). They contradict Scripture as well as one another (pp. 130-131). If Hitchcock's criticisms are on point, (and I believe they are), then Christians ought to reject every last one of these tales of Heaven tourism. We have no biblical obligation to believe these stories (p. 114) and many biblical reasons to reject them.

While the book is essentially a polemic, Hitchcock's tone remains gracious (but firm) throughout. Visits to Heaven and Back is a welcome rebuke to the recent Heaven tourism fad. It manages to cover all the necessary ground and does so in a very succinct and readable fashion. Highly Recommended.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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