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The Boy Who Came From Heaven Recants Story


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Alex Malarkey, the boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has now recanted his story. The Washington Post provides the update:

Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

The best-selling book, first published in 2010, describes what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir — with its assuring description of “Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World” — became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism,” which has been controversial among orthodox Christians.

Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”

Referring to the injuries that continue to make it difficult for him to express himself, Alex writes, “Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short…. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

Continue reading at Washington Post.

I guess we have to take this at face value. Alex and his mother have been reported as trying to get the truth about the story out there for some time. Still, there’s something about Alex’s final comment, the idea that people should only read the Bible, that suggests he’s been influenced by some ultra-conservative or fundamentalist individuals or group.

Should we get rid of all the books in the same genre? Right now there is a huge backlash online concerning “Heaven Tourism” books like Heaven is for Real and 90 Minutes in Heaven. Although we carried the Don Piper book in our store, I carried it in very small quantities until I was able to watch the hour-long video that goes with a curriculum of the same name. That changed my mind. And I think that Todd and Sonya Burpo have been very realistic about whatever it was that Colton experienced; there’s no denying that he was party to information after the experience that had never been shared with him, and that they, like Don Piper, were very reluctant to go public.

Michael Patton writes:

“Among conservative Christians who think critically about these matters are Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland, both of whom have written on the subject. In discussions with them, they seem to agree that while NDEs [Near Death Experiences] have debatable significance in giving us a glimpse of heaven, and little to no value in proving the Christian faith, they do have significant value in discrediting naturalism (the belief that there is no transcendence to nature) and scientism (the belief that science can explain all things). Why? Because, at the very least, NDEs give evidence that there is a conscious part of individuals that transcends the body and brain. NDEs give evidence of the soul.”

Read more at Parchment and Pen.

Got stock of the Malarkey book? Hopefully Tyndale will do the right thing. I’ve got 3 paperbacks, 2 pocket editions and a video (but see below for clarification) and it’s the potential loss on the DVD that bothers me most. But it’s not been a good year for Tyndale, either; they were also the home of Mark Driscoll’s Resurgent imprint.

I also need to clarify that the last link is to a blog called Parchment and Pen, and the upper story contains a link to Pulpit and Pen. The people at the latter are also part of the group called #the15 who are trying to hold LifeWay retail stores more accountable for the things they carry that are inconsistent with the store’s and the Southern Baptist Convention’s standards. Needless to say, they’re jumping all over this in the same way the mainstream press is jumping and punning all over Alex’s last name. For them, the timing couldn’t be better; however, this affects all of us who have retail stores.

Why do I have six units of product? I have a certain amount of skepticism about many of the titles my customers order — we sometimes deny orders on certain subjects ranging from what constitutes hate speech under Canadian law in some titles, to books that encourage rather severe corporal punishment of children — but frequent ordering means that titles find their way into core inventory. (That’s what happened here, we passed completely on pre-pub offers.) But I don’t think it would be right to look at that book in my store and say that we as owners, managers and staff lack discernment. Honestly, our “heaven tourism” books are all on a lower shelf. From Betty Malz to Aldo McPherson these stories have an appeal to a certain type of person, but then, I personally distance myself from most prophecy titles, yet there’s no denying that there are people saved and attending church today because of The Late Great Planet Earth and even the Left Behind series.

I’m not thrilled with everything our industry produces, but to toss everything except the Bible means to toss out a vast catalog of Christian literature that includes everything from the writings of the Early Church fathers to the great classics of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Furthermore, many of our spiritual heroes claimed a number of strange and mystical experiences, many of which we don’t talk about today.

To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to display ’em, and know when it’s time to take ’em down. This one is done.

  1. Mike
    January 16, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Oh c’mon…I think you understand that the boy did NOT mean to read “only the Bible” and nothing else! Straw man argument to say the least…

    • January 16, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Uh, no; I am going to stand by the statement. There’s something about his note’s text that suggests a disdain for the book industry and most of what they publish, and I’ve seen this before; I know such people, we’ve discussed this.

      • January 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm

        OK. Now take a look at what’s on the current bestseller list and let’s hear an explanation of why a lineup like that doesn’t DESERVE disdain: http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/fiction.php?id=0115

        Anyway, Alex did not say, “only the Bible.” That’s clear enough to a fair-minded reader. He was defending the historic Protestant principle of the sufficiency of Scripture. It’s typically signified by the phrase _Sola Scriptura_, which is Latin for “Scripture alone.” But anyone who knows what classic Protestantism has always stood for will tell you it doesn’t mean we should read nothing but the Bible; it means the Bible is the only authoritative and infallible source–and the rule by which all truth-claims should be judged. Our beliefs on matters like heaven, hell, and other spiritual matters are to be drawn from Scripture alone, not from people’s dreams, near-death experiences, and fiction like “Left Behind,” or “The Shack.”

      • January 16, 2015 at 11:38 pm

        I checked the link; can’t really comment on it as I’ve only read about eight Christian fiction titles ever. I have a manager who looks after the fiction section and tells me what to order. We carry only ten of the twenty fiction titles listed there; but Canada is truly a different market to the U.S. We’re looking at decreasing the space allocation or footprint of fiction in 2015.

        It is interesting however to note that we visited a large Seventh Day Adventist bookstore this summer and discovered they did not have a fiction section at all. There are days I wonder if they know something we don’t!!

    • January 16, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      I don’t want to argue this, just to say that in the context of the people we deal with in this country I would not be the only person to interpret “…They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth…” the way I interpreted it.

      I should also say that my own son is close to the borderline on this. He reads some Christian classics, and 20th century authors like Tozer, but doesn’t have much use for the industry, which is ironic given what his father does vocationally. The language of the quotation just sounded very much like some things we have heard coming from some ultra conservative or fundamentalist quarters. And I’m not saying it’s ultra-conservative or fundamentalist to believe the Bible, that accusation is a complete non-sequitur.

      I should also add that in hindsight, this article doesn’t need the Moreland quotation; it was just something related that I used in last week’s Christianity Today column that seemed to fit the theme. And let’s be fair, he does say the books, “…have debatable significance in giving us a glimpse of heaven, and little to no value in proving the Christian faith.”

      BTW, for the record, I have never read any of these books, nor seen the Heaven is For Real movie. I got 3 chapters into Left Behind and decided to leave the book behind. I did read The Shack only because I saw the positive effect it was having on some people; but I don’t believe it was written to be read by Christians at all. I do think that among the non-churched, non-Christians who read it, it did far more good than harm. Among the Christians who read it, it stirred up a hornet’s nest!

  2. January 16, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    A note to readers of Phil Johnson and others: You don’t know me. You’ve never been in my store. You don’t know how we struggle to put principle before profit. (In fact, we make no profit and are paid no salary, our store is a missionary outpost an hour east of Toronto, Canada; our total combined family income from all sources was $8,000 in 2012, in 2013 we ran a loss.) We truly wrestle with what to carry. It’s very difficult to try to steer customers away from certain types of books especially with all the hype many are given on Christian television and in Christian magazines.

    Perhaps it doesn’t exist where you live, but we’ve seen people adopt this “the Bible only” mentality. Be very clear on this, I believe in sola scriptura; the buck stops with what the Bible says. But the people who simply refuse to read any other writings are considered somewhat of a fringe here.

    My own journey of following Christ has been greatly enriched by the authors I have read. Heck, even Rob Bell gets it right once in awhile (though I’m not sure about Brian McLaren, but I’m sure someone will jump all over the mere mention of Bell). If God’s Word is a vast ocean of truth, the writings of others are what push me off the dock and into the water; on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis.

    The bookstore industry is flawed. We wish sometimes we had different products, things that don’t even exist. However, if you could spend a day in my store, and listen to the interactions we have with people — many of whom have absolutely no church connection, which is much more common here in Canada — you would not accuse me of being “spiritually tone deaf.” Or “pragmatic.” Or “infected.”

    The problem with always being angry, is that there’s no qualitative difference between Phil Johnson’s dismissal of me, and something I would expect from Fred Phelps.

  3. January 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    We are terribly sorry if this cuts into your $ales.

    • January 17, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      Again, you’ve got the wrong guy.
      The Christian blogosphere: People shouting across the fence at people they don’t know.

      • January 18, 2015 at 6:01 pm

        “shouting across the fence at people they don’t know” . . .comparing them to Fred Phelps and whatnot. I agree. That’s pretty appalling.

        And it’s usually a clue that the person making the comparison knows he has run out of any rational arguments.

    • January 18, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      One really has to really admire your willingness to not let something go. So here’s the $ales we’re talking about; are you ready? We sold TWO UNITS of this book in 2014. I’m guessing perhaps about SIX UNITS total in the previous years since release. It’s hard to sell a book when you have it tucked away on a lower shelf. We have removed the book from display. What else do you want me to do here? Are you looking for blood?

      Phil, I’ve been a reader of Team Pyro since around 2006. I’ve never come on your blog and made statements like you’re making here. Is this indicative of the type of interactions you have with people? I really hope not. But if you’re at peace with it… maybe you have a ministry of provocation.

      As I said, in our case we really do wrestle with what to carry. We really do roll our eyes when books like this one come out. As I said, we passed on the pre-publication offer for this title. I’d be happy if everyone read what we call “rich text” books (an HTML term we borrowed to describe titles that have substance and solid teaching.) I’d be happy if everything we sold was without controversy. I’d be happy if Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen had never written a book at all.

      But we’re in this to build relationship with our customers over the long-haul. Catholics, Adventists, Mormons, JWs, agnostics, atheists, seekers, skeptics, etc. I don’t have a receptionist who tells me Mrs. Jones is here to see me and then I have 60-seconds to think about it. The door just opens, and BANG! We’re into a discussion. This is front-line ministry. (And no, I don’t carry SDA, LDS, JW stuff, and my RC section is very qualified; very filtered.)

      I think the Romans 14 passage on “the brother of weaker faith” really applies here. The first verse says to give such a person “a warm welcome.” When someone wants to read Betty Malz’ account of her “trip to eternity,” what they do not need at that point is a lecture from me on why they should be reading Spurgeon instead. That just brings condemnation. But if they want Richard Foster or Henri Nouwen, I might just might get them to try David Platt on their next visit, as I earn their trust. (And provided I’m not spending all my time answering blog comments from critics within the body.)

      Yes, we’re stuck in a difficult situation. Even with our narrower book focus, there are bound to be compromises. Don’t condemn us, pray for us. Pray for us. Again, I simply can’t sell Spurgeon, or Calvin, or Augustine to young Christians. Not right away.

      I should also add that this is a blog for book industry workers in Canada. By posting this information here in the first place, I am advising other dealers — owners and managers — of the situation so they can pull the book (clear in last sentence of article) and make their own decisions about how they treat the rest of this genre.

      I really think Romans 14 has much to say to us here. This links to the full text:

      Comments generated at this blog are public and become the property of Thinking Out Loud blog network to be cited or used as the basis for other articles.

      • January 19, 2015 at 12:58 pm

        “statements like you’re making here”

        It’s still unclear to me what I said here (or elsewhere) that you considered in any way worthly of a comparison to Fred Phelps. Perhaps you could point it out by quoting my own words. If not, you don’t get to hurl insults like that and then complain that someone else is breaching the boundaries of civility and propriety.

        Here’s the issue: I disagree with your perspective. People may not do that very frequently in your comment-threads, but it’s not inherently cruel. If you used to read Pyromaniacs, you know I’ve been on the receiving end of LOTS of disagreement. I don’t think I ever defaulted to making comparisons to Fred Phelps. As I said, that seems like a pretty good clue you know you have lost the argument.

        That’s pretty much the evangelical parallel to Godwin’s Law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

      • January 19, 2015 at 2:01 pm

        You came on a blog that clearly states it was for book industry people. We were advising them that they needed to confront this situation and make a decision on this and similar products. Maybe it was a physical situation that forces Alex into an economy of words, but I felt his response was extreme, what the Brits call ‘over-the-top’ and reminiscent of a Bible-only mentality I’ve seen up close.

        Then you trashed me on Twitter, calling me spiritually tone deaf, infected, and pragmatic. But that’s okay. All that did was reveal your true colors.

        Your continued presence here reminds me of the situation where a blogger and pastor was bullying the late Braxton Caner. As an adult, I can take some online intimidation. I can imagine for a teenager, even an exchange like we’ve had here would be overwhelming.

        So to any readers here: This is what it looks like. This is who these people are. This is what they do. And the reason? Because they are always right and they always have to have the last word.

        It’s not about building relationships online, or encouraging people, or finding the common ground where we agree, it’s about winning an argument, because for people of a certain doctrinal stripe, it’s always about winning the argument, and making it very clear that the other person lost.

        There’s no grace, no love, and never a willingness to say, “Okay, maybe you’re different from the stereotype; maybe you’re a guy running a mission in a little backwater town who isn’t corrupted by everything the publishing industry does. Maybe you do really wrestle with what to carry and how to deal with customers who ask for bizarre things that are part of the world of Christian books.”

        But really, what does it profit a man to win every fight he ever picks and lose his own soul?

  4. Joe Hendricks
    January 18, 2015 at 8:43 am

    Oh my, this is a pretty simple context yet you have a particular bent. Or a chip on the shoulder when you hear such comment. He never said “read ONLY the Bible.” He said, “They should read the Bible, which is enough” in regards to the context that he was addressing. To suggest being influence from an ultra conservative group is reading into his sentence that is not there. In hermeneutics its called eisogesis. I hope you don’t do that with the Scripture.

    As a matter of fact, you don’t know whether he was influence or not. Yet you presupposed such a thinking into the boy. This is a simple fallacy yet you were pointing out another’s fallacy. Irony?

    Anyhow, that’s not the point of the boy’s point.

    • January 18, 2015 at 10:05 am

      I’m not going to argue this; yes, I am reading something into it based on the particular phrasing that was used, and a wealth of experience with this sort of thing. This isn’t news reporting; it’s a blog, and I stand by the right to make this particular conjecture. Regular readers here know they can expect a bit of opinion mixed in. Time will tell about Alex, provided he stays on our radar at all.

      Assuming I do with this quotation what I do with scripture is also eisogesis, isn’t it?

    • Ian
      January 21, 2015 at 4:54 am

      I would take issue with the statement “which is the only source of truth”. Now, I am not a conservative evangelical so I guess I would have an issue with this, but it is clearly an unbiblical position. Romans 1 teaches that truth can be found in the natural world. Perhaps the correct sentiment would be, from an evangelical point-of-view, “scripture is the final arbiter of truth” which is a very different position.

  5. unicorntreebooksboss
    January 21, 2015 at 5:16 am

    As one bookseller to another, I’d like to thank you for your blog in general and for this blog piece.

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