LifeWay, Heaven is For Real, and Revelation

Recently co-author of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven Alan Malarky recanted his story of his “trip to heaven”, and in doing so called-out LifeWay (along with other Christian bookstores) for selling this book and other books like it. His recantation is a wake-up call and reminder of a big problem in a big denomination.

Picture of LifeWay in Nashville from USA Today, from their article about yet another controversy including LifeWay, the sale of the NIV version of the Bible.

If you are familiar with LifeWay, it is a Christian bookstore chain and publisher within the Southern Baptist Convention. For the most part, the resources that LifeWay puts out are Biblical. Authors like John Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, David Platt, Matt Chandler and R.C. Sproul are featured throughout every store. Unfortunately, authors like T.D. Jakes and Sarah Young can be also seen at some locations.

LifeWay has done a great job in screening many authors out of its stores. Authors like Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar will not be seen on the shelves of these stores, so you may rest somewhat easy. However, LifeWay has a big problem when it comes to allowing a certain kind of book on its shelves.

A recent trend, among many, in evangelicalism is the trend of these ‘heaven and back’ books, or as some like to call it, Heaven Tourism. This is when someone claims to, usually in a moment of being declared clinically dead, have an experience of visiting heaven and back. Whether or not these stories are true or not is the issue here (though it is one to be discussed). The issue is the presentation of this material, and the illegitimacy of each resource.

This material is unfortunately presented as being level with or close to the revelation in the Scriptures.

Cards on the table, I am a continuationist. This means that I do not object to the use, or legitimacy, of spiritual gifts, including direct revelation. However, it is a very dangerous thing when not held up to the Scriptures.

The Scriptures, or the Bible in it’s 66 complete books, are supreme authority. No contest, not something we can argue about. That is the starting point of Christianity, and where you stray from that, you leave orthodoxy. All spiritual gifts, especially revelation, must be filtered through this lens and must be submitted under the authority of Scripture.

The main problem is not in LifeWay putting out resources about extra-Biblical revelation (though it is one), but in putting out resources in which this revelation is contrary to Scripture.

Pastor of one of the largest SBC churches, The Village Church, Matt Chandler. Photo provided by The Gospel Coaltion in an interview with him by Justin Taylor.
Pastor of one of the largest SBC churches, The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Matt Chandler.

Also, the problem is not in the Southern Baptist Convention’s beliefs. The SBC, though wide in variety and flavor, is Biblical in doctrine, affirming the Trinity, inerrancy and authority of Scripture, Christ’s sacrifice as the only sufficient sacrifice for sin, man’s depravity, etc. The SBC hosts some of today’s most influential and Biblically-accurate pastors and speakers, such as David Platt, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Matt Chandler.

The problem lies possibly within LifeWay executive leadership, though many of them are very solid doctrinally. Or maybe it is in distribution, or in the trustees. Wherever the problem lie, it needs to be fixed, as new non-discerning believers don’t know where to turn. Mardel and Barnes & Noble are already bad enough.

Whatever this is, don’t let it be a stumbling block in being involved with an SBC-affiliated congregation, but a reminder that each and every one of us are broken vessels slowly being transformed into the image of Christ, easy to judge and hard to press into the Lord.


Recommended Resources:

‘Boy who came back from heaven’ recants story…
We Don’t Have to Read the Book or See the Movie…” by Nancy Guthrie
Heaven is For Real” by David Platt
How Real Is the Book ‘Heaven Is for Real’?” by John Piper


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