Phil Johnson has an article on the recent rash of supposedly eyewitness accounts of heaven. He says it’s nothing new:
Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie’s Embraced by the Light was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.
Johnson points to an upcoming book by John MacArthur on heaven and these books. He argues that the Bible forbids the possibility that anyone can return from beyond the grave. “All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people,” MacArthur writes. “And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.” Moreover, the biblical accounts focus on God’s overwhelming glory, not all the fun junk we might do in heaven.
In his excellent book Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus, Jared Wilson touches on this in a paragraph near the end.
Can I tell you one of the problems with books like Heaven Is for Real? Aside from the obvious honesty issues, they very often demote Jesus to a Character in heaven like one of the costumed players at Disney World. He is Santa Claus, an attraction of some kind. He is a featured player in heaven in these stories. But in the Scriptures there is no heaven without Jesus. Should we have a heaven without Jesus, it would be no heaven at all. He is all or he is nothing.
The photos are of the Tianmen Mountains and its Heaven’s Gate entrance. There’s a natural awe about this place, and I can’t blame anyone for feeling closer to heaven, or whatever they imagine of the spiritual world, in this environment. Now, imagine this is part of heaven. I wouldn’t think anything about the mountain would have to change, but our experience would be remarkably different. We would be in awe of the mountains, the caves, the air and mist, but they would draw our thoughts to God. It would be like the man who can enjoy a great meal or fun experience but keeps saying it would be so much better if his wife or girlfriend were there to experience it with him. He repeats, “Stacy would love this,” so often you want to send him for coffee and leave him behind. In a similar way, there will be many mansions in heaven (John 14:2-3), but we won’t spend time enjoying ourselves, occasionally wondering what Jesus is doing or who he’s with. We will be with him always through the Holy Spirit, even as we are now but far more intensely.
At least, that’s the way I think of heaven. I haven’t actually been there.