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Publishers are in seventh heaven with near-death memoirs

colton burpo
Colton Burpo, then almost 4 years old, "dies" during an emergency appendectomy, travels to heaven and reports back how "really, really big God is." Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, the Rev. Todd Burpo's 2010 tale of his son's round-trip to the Pearly Gates, has sold more than 7.5 million copies after 22 printings. RNS photo courtesy Amazon.com.
colton burpo

Colton Burpo, then almost 4 years old, “dies” during an emergency appendectomy, travels to heaven and reports back how “really, really big God is.” Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, the Rev. Todd Burpo’s 2010 tale of his son’s round-trip to the Pearly Gates, has sold more than 7.5 million copies after 22 printings. RNS photo courtesy Amazon.com.

(RNS) Do people really see a light at the end of a tunnel when they have a near-death experience? And could that be heaven up ahead?

That light is shining brighter than ever these days. Heaven is hot. Hotter even than that other place. Just ask any bookseller in America.

Folks have been going to heaven with amazing regularity lately. They look around — one even sat on Jesus’  lap — then come back to report on the trip. It’s a lucrative journey.

Three of these tales have ascended to heavenly heights on USA Today’s best-seller list recently, and more are on the way:

— Colton Burpo, then almost 4 years old, “dies” during an emergency appendectomy, travels to heaven and reports back how “really, really big God is.” “Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” the Rev. Todd Burpo’s 2010 tale of his son’s round trip to the Pearly Gates, has sold more than 7.5 million copies after 22 printings. It has been on USA Today’s best-seller list for 111 weeks and reached No. 1 eight times in 2011. It’s now No. 94.

eben Alexander

Eben Alexander, a Harvard neurosurgeon who was in a coma for seven days in 2008, encounters an “angelic being” who guides him into the “deepest realms of super-physical existence.” His “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife,” published last fall, peaked at No. 4 in December and is now No. 10. RNS photo courtesy Amazon.com. *Note: This image is not available to download.

— Eben Alexander, a Harvard neurosurgeon who was in a coma for seven days in 2008, encounters an “angelic being” who guides him into the “deepest realms of super-physical existence.” His “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife,” published last fall, peaked at No. 4 in December and is now No. 10.

— Mary Neal’s “To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story,” published in May, tells of the orthopedic surgeon’s celestial journey after a kayak accident in Chile in which she was pulled underwater for so long that even she thought she was dead. It has been in the top 150 for 33 weeks and reached as high as No. 14 in July.

Can you hear the publishing angels singing?

“Once word-of-mouth took over, there was no stopping” the “Heaven Is for Real” phenomenon, said Matt Baugher, senior vice president and publisher at Thomas Nelson, Burpo’s publisher. “That got people talking about heaven and their own experiences and opened up the door to other stories as well.”

Seems everyone is talking about the trend, and just how “real” it is.

Mary Neal's "To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, (RNS3-jan24) Angels, and Life Again: A True Story," published in May, tells of the orthopedic surgeon's celestial journey after a kayak accident in Chile in which she was pulled underwater for so long that even she thought she was dead. It has been in the top 150 for 33 weeks and reached as high as No. 14 in July.  RNS photo courtesy Amazon.com.  *Note: This image is not available to download.

Mary Neal’s “To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, (RNS3-jan24) Angels, and Life Again: A True Story,” published in May, tells of the orthopedic surgeon’s celestial journey after a kayak accident in Chile in which she was pulled underwater for so long that even she thought she was dead. It has been in the top 150 for 33 weeks and reached as high as No. 14 in July. RNS photo courtesy Amazon.com. *Note: This image is not available to download.

Christianity Today editor Mark Galli gave the phenomenon a serious look in December as the magazine’s cover asked the question on everyone’s mind: “There and Back Again: What are we to make of all those stories of visits to heaven?”

Neal, who says she was not particularly religious before her journey, says even she didn’t have an answer to what happened at first.

“I didn’t seek out people to talk to,” she said. “I put everything on the back burner until the day that God threw me out of bed and said, ‘OK, now is the time you are going to write this.’ And from that point on, this has been an incredible lesson in obedience, because I said, ‘OK. I’m doing it.'”

Alexander confesses to a similar tug to tell.

“Once I realized the truth behind my journey, I knew I had to tell it,” he writes in his book’s prologue. “Doing so properly has become the chief task of my life.”

Alexander was a skeptic of such near-death experiences until he came out of his own coma in 2008 with a story to tell, which he shared with Oprah Winfrey at the end of last year. The trip, which he calls “a great and beautiful revelation,” changed his life.

“What’s most shocking is that I spent all these years not getting it,” he said. “I had all the clues about the reality of this kind of thing, but science is mute on this issue. … What I bring to the table now is that I can help people with the (dying) process. That death is not the end, it’s just a transition.”

Phyllis Tickle is, well, tickled pink by all this talk. The founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly, she is now a freelance authority on religion in America, author of numerous books — and energized by such discussions.

Not to be left behind, she even owns up to her own near-death experience 50 years ago. “But 50 years ago, you didn’t talk about such a thing,” she said. She acknowledges that now, at age 79, she may have missed her opportunity, although her doctor husband wasn’t buying any of it at the time. Still doesn’t.

“There’s got to be an element of hope here,” she said. “We want to hear from someone who has gone there, done that, seen it. That there is something beyond this life, which is miserable, even for those of us who are happy.”

More than hope, she believes buyers of these heaven-and-back books are just seeking “something reassuring.”

Carol Fitzgerald, president of the online Book Report Network, agrees.

“In uncertain times, which is what we’re experiencing now, people look for comfort,” Fitzgerald said. “The concept that people have seen ‘what’s next’ and shared what it’s like gives hope and a feeling that life on earth is part of a journey with a greater reward.”

(Craig Wilson writes for USA Today).

About the author

Craig Wilson

21 Comments

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  • It’s an odd cottage industry these quasi-memoirs are taking part in. I heard a great deal about “Heaven Is For Real” and planned to study it at my church, until I read it. Much of this is feel-good fluff. Of course heaven is real (and so is the resurrection and the Kingdom) – and praise be to God! But in the meantime we have work to do healing the afflicted and loving the poor, being the Body of Christ in the world. These books tend to totally sidestep that important task of bringing heaven to earth (see The Lord’s Prayer by Jesus).

  • I read Heaven is For Real and it isn’t deep theology. But it is hope-filled for people who are seeking, who have questions, or for people who simply have never thought much about God or faith. I’ve given it as gifts to several young adults and it’s sparked a lot of conversation and thought, which was my goal.

  • i have read a little bit of heaven is for real..Its amazing though that the family didnt leave it at that..they ( family have written other books) which leads me to think there is money making to be made here ..I skeptical about people who have to suddenly write a book knowing there is a huge market out there and of course money to be made. Personal testimonies are important and encouraging but we can look to the bible for many answers on life after death.
    i know of people who have had supernatural experiences and are happy to testify free of charge on the internet or talk about it in person. we should test the spirit, and its alarms me how anti biblical alot of these so called experiences are when you really want to look at it scriptural

  • The kingdom of Heaven is within, the more we know about that the more we will realize what Jesus was trying to let us know. Thanks for your coment/

  • I just finished ‘To Heaven and Back’. I was a little under-awed only because the book doesn’t live up to it’s hype. It’s still interesting, but I was also aware of a slight political undertone that I found contradictory to Neal’s message. She speaks about ‘conception’ in regards to the beginning of human life and of course about God; yet she’s a bit of a cheerleader for the Democrat party – the political party of death, pro-abortion and oh yeah, the party that denied God 3 x at their 2012 convention. I can’t and won’t recommend this book.

  • Then there are those of us who have had these experiences without death being any part of the equation . But if you try to impart the knowledge to others they just think you’re crazy. Which is why I won’t and don’t bother trying anymore .

  • I’ve read many of these near-death-experience books and they are almost always interesting and captivating. But I’m beginning to wonder if they may be a work of the evil one. My reasoning is that in most, but not all cases, the person having the experience was living a life far away from God, but this didn’t seem to make much difference when they met Jesus. In other words, contrary to Scripture, many of these people seemed to get a second chance “after” death. If these events are a scheme of the devil, his goal could be to make people believe that Jesus is all merciful with little or no justice – in other words, hell has little or no reality. Thus, continue to live as you are currrently living and don’t worry about any judgement after death. Anyway, just some thoughts to ponder.

  • You guys haven´t read Richard Sigmund´s My Time in Heaven… Marvellous, but I don´t want to say other books are not good as well. Our goal is to be to bring heaven to earth through our life with the trinitarian God while on earth. If His will shall be on earth there will be no wars, famine, greed, abuse of children, girls, porno etc. So let us start from ourselves, let us obey Lord out of love to Him…
    Vladimir, Slovakia

  • A powerful book not only on heaven but many other things.
    http://www.ingodslovebyjanethurlow.com/

    What is says about heaven

    From the Preface of In God’s Love by Janet Hurlow

    Q What does In God’s Love say about Heaven?

    A

    “You will be like a woman who has gone through the pain of bringing forth a child. You will hold your baby and not remember the suffering of childbirth. You will welcome the Spirit as you welcomed your child. You will be filled with happiness. You will be a zillion times happier than when you held your baby for the first time.” # 470

    “Mom and dad are at the gate to welcome you home. They throw their arms around you and hug you and kiss you with great tears of joy streaming down their faces. All the relatives greet you and are so grateful that got you home safe. Then you see your little brother and your little sister. They are so beautiful. They take you in and show you the great feast prepared in your honor. This is you. You are so young and beautiful. You are so full of energy and life. What happened to the old body? … You could not remember where you had been. Where you had been an old man didn’t matter. You wonder, “Where did the words “old man” come from?” It doesn’t matter. This day, as the sun rises in the horizon, a free man walks this road.” # 502

    Click here to see the whole passage. # 502

    “Very refreshing is the smell of roses and the song of birds to those who have been in prison for such a long while. God is freedom.” # 126

    “That will be the day of rejoicing. All pain will be gone. All thought of death will be over, and disease will be no more. So sweet will God’s Spirit be. He will bathe His children in His glory. Those who are coming to the feast, sign you name…Blessed day, when you come to the feast clothed in God’s love.” # 440

    “Blessings are upon those who are in God’s Spirit, those who have loved God with all of their heart, soul and mind and loved each other… These are the saints who will see God and live with Him in His place He has prepared for them. When the children of Earth see God, they will never desire anything else again…The Spirit of God will fill each soul with such peace and joy as mankind has never experienced before.” # 514

    “This is inscribed: Man is weak on Earth. Such beauty, man could not withstand until God prepares the eyes of the body and spirit for the King’s loveliness.” # 88

    “Here is the place of ecstasy. Your well being is cared for so well.” # 425

    “When you come to His Kingdom, you will never stop finding adventure.” # 433

    Click here to see the whole passage. # 433

    “These people who are in Heaven are real people with likes and dislikes and personalities. They sing and dance and laugh and cry. They make decisions and mistakes, but no one sins or disobeys God, for they have seen Him for who He is.” # 475

    “His Spirit never lets His children become bored or idle for entertainment. This is a delightful Spirit you have accepted. This Spirit understands all of your desires and dreams.” # 525

    InGodsLovebyJanetHurlow.com ©Copyright 2010 Janet Hurlow

  • Richard Sigmund’s book is totally awesome, some of my other favorites is Jesse Duplantis “Heaven – close encounter of the God kind” and anything by Kat Kerr. One needs to differentiate between true ‘3rd Heaven’ experiences and ‘2nd Heaven’ experiences. The 3rd Heaven is the place where God and Jesus reside and where believers go home to, a spiritual place without anything of darkness and sin. The 2nd Heaven is the spiritual plain the extends just from earth and thru out the universe, it is possible to be deceived here because Satan and the fallen angels use this realm to deceive and create false spiritual experiences. Thats why is seems there are contradictions in spiritual experiences people have.

  • I beg to differ. I don’t believe in Jesus, God, Heaven, or even an afterlife, at all. All of that sidesteps the important task of using rationality and accepting reality, to improve our lives. See organic chemistry and biology texts for a literally down to earth description of what happens to us when we die.

  • You are missing the point.. Clearly they “return” to their human flesh life. -That is their second chance. And, of course, God knew this..

  • I used to think this way, but have now changed my mind. I don’t think money has anything to do with it, unless you live your life choosing money over God. These people should be paid, since it allows them to continue writing more and getting the message out even further. I think this is more important. Why? Read the parable of the sower. What was said to the one who hid his talents?..

  • I would love to hear about ur experience without death. I believe we are meant to share about it .I have a website for you to write about it in my guestbook. No judgement..no strings. Not religious..I am spiritual..no organizations or churches involved. I am no licensed professional. I feel we should all be proud of our experiences and tell everyone the more people we tell the more intrigued they become to search the truth themselves. Religions block this thought as they lose control of the funds and politics once people change their thoughts about it. No fear.

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