Saturday, January 24, 2015

Heaven Tourism

Now certainly I will have Pentecostal believers accuse me of being unfair. The examples I cite are in the fringe elements of charismatics and Pentecostals. I got that a lot back when I wrote on the Strange Fire conference. Some may even vehemently insist their churches do not promote such nonsense. Great! I am definitely encouraged by those assertions.
The reality, however, is rather stark. Thousands of people purchase the books and flock to hear the testimonies of heaven tourists, and the main culprits who devour them are charismatic and Pentecostals. Why is that?
Rather than getting all defensive that someone pointed out that obvious problem among charismatics and Pentecostals, I would think a better response would be to consider why they gravitate to heaven tourism stories. I don’t typically see the problem among Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, or any of the Bible Fellowship style churches. If a Pentecostal or charismatic is seriously opposed to heaven tourism, they’d evaluate the reason why.
I suggest that is because Pentecostal and charismatic believers are doctrinally imbalanced when it comes to so-called supernatural manifestations. They are led to an experience driven theology that in turn causes them to be way more susceptible and undiscerning with these fantasies. It then becomes difficult to distinguish between a flim-flam hustler and a sincere, but confused person who exaggerates odd dreams he had after having a dangerous surgery, as traveling to heaven.

I agree with Fred that there's undoubtedly lots of smoke and mirrors in the charismatic movement. However, he tries to superimpose a preconceived theory on the phenomenon, and from what I can tell, his theory is a poor fit with the facts. Let's take four representative titles: 

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
W/Thomas Nelson

90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death
by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story
By Alex Malarkey, Kevin Malarkey
Tyndale House Publishers

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
by Eben Alexander
Simon and Schuster

i) Consider the publishers: One is secular publisher. The other three are evangelical. To my knowledge, not one is a charismatic publishing house.

ii) Consider the authors. Don Piper is a Southern Baptist pastor. Todd Burpo is a Wesleyan-Arminian pastor. Kevin Malarkey says he attends a nondenominational evangelical church. And I don't believe Eben Alexander is even a professing Christian. To my knowledge, not one of them is charismatic.

Likewise, look at all the Baptist churches Don Piper is invited to speak at. That's not a charismatic audience.

iii) Consider the consumer. LifeWay have been criticized for stocking this genre. However, LifeWay is a Southern Baptist book distributor.  

Isn't the Heaven Tourism genre retailed by evangelical bookstores generally? If so, where's the evidence that it's charismatics in particular who are buying these books? Isn't this really a problem for evangelicalism in general rather than the charismatic movement in particular? 

How would you even track the specific theological persuasion of consumers who purchase literature at LifeWay or Family Christian stores? Or purchase Christian literature online (e.g. 


  1. Yes; the "heaven tourism" trend is a problem for evangelicalism. It demonstrates how pentecostal/charismatic thinking has spilled its banks and flooded the wider evangelical landscape.

  2. ...or it's just an Evangelical version of Fatima.