Too Little Too Late? Lifeway Stores Pull “Heavenly Visitation” Items

Posted on March 31, 2015 in Theology by

Alex MalarkeyIn case you didn’t know, Lifeway Christian Stores, the main retail outlet owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, has announced it will pull all “heaven visitation items” from their shelves. This is a great announcement, but one that comes with a bitter side.

If you are wondering what a “heaven visitation item” is, it is simply any book or DVD sharing the personal account of a visitation to heaven. Think: “Heaven is for Real,” or “The boy Who Came Back from Heaven.” These accounts are supposedly the tales of people who for one reason or another (trauma, accident) claim to have visited heaven but came back. They are sharing their accounts via books and movies under the guise of “heaven visitation.”

So why is it a good thing that Lifeway is pulling such items from their shelves? Well, for starters, the accounts given by most people who claim to have died and gone to heaven contradict accounts in the Bible. For this reason such claims cannot be trusted, and should not be given credit by Christians.

Let’s take for a moment the account given by Alex Malarkey. He is the teenager that claimed is his 2010 book “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” to have died during a medical emergency, visited heaven, then came back. The book was a big success and Malarkey and his family made a lot of money on the back of that account.

But, just recently Malarkey released a statement saying the whole thing was made up. Kind of ironic considering his last name. Or perhaps more apropos. Malarkey’s statement reads in part:

“I did not die. I did not go to heaven. 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.”

That is some excellent advice from young Alex.

It’s curious to me that people, particularly Christians, are eager to read (and accept) the accounts of people such as Alex Malarkey regarding Heaven; even when those accounts disagree with Scripture. Somehow the fantastical claims of boys outweigh the truth of the Bible. The accounts of Isaiah and John don’t seem to mean as much even though they are included IN THE BIBLE. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that thought.

Why are we so excited over the claim that someone went to Heaven and came back? Isn’t the evidence and testimony of Scripture enough? I think therein lies the problem.

I believe that these accounts are gaining such attention and traction in our society as a result of doubt as to whether there really is a Heaven. Let’s face it, the only people who know for sure whether or not there is a Heaven is people that die. No one living has ever seen Heaven. There’s not a weekly tour. There’s no reality show featuring Heaven. You can’t find it on Google Maps. So naturally, because we are a “I’ll believe it when I see it” culture, we gravitate towards someone who claims to have been there.

The truth is, we want to believe in Heaven. We want to know for sure if there is an afterlife and believe that everything we’ve heard about Heaven is real. But without seeing with our own eyes, we tend to doubt. Kind of sounds like Thomas when they told him Jesus had raised from the dead (John 20:24-29). Nothing much has changed in human nature in 200 years, we still want “a sign” before we are ready to believe.

But, as Alex Malarkey warned, people should “read the Bible, which is enough.” It’s not called faith for no reason. Jesus made it clear that people who believe without seeing are “blessed.” Which leads me to the bitter side of this announcement by Lifeway.

I can only imagine the egg on the face of Lifeway execs when Alex Malarkey released his confession that he made the whole thing up. Here they had sold his books all over the world only to find out they aren’t true. What I want to know is why they were selling them in the first place?

It’s no secret that details from books like “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” and “Heaven is for Real” disagree with Scripture. Anyone that does a cursory search online will find plenty of articles detailing the many contradictory statements made by Malarkey and Burpo (author of “Heaven is for Real”). If you need some analysis of these books and why they are biblically unsound I suggest starting here.

Here is an excerpt from Malarkey’s book (which was sold under the guise of being a “true story”) that shows the deep theological contradictions with the Bible:

“The devil’s mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I’ve never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don’t know about the color of the skin or robes—it’s all just too scary to concentrate on these things!” 

Don’t recall that description in the Bible. As I remember it, the Bible says Satan is beautiful, an “angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14)

I’m just going to rip this band-aid off and say what needs to be said. The only reason to sell books like this is to make money.

There, I said it. I’m not the only one thinking or saying it. But it has to be said more often it seems as more of these accounts come out. Lifeway made a statement recently that “heavenly visitation” items are not part of their new direction:

“Last summer, as we began developing LifeWay’s new structure and direction—what we’ve now identified as One LifeWay—the role of heaven visitation resources was included in our considerations. We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer.”

What that statement does not convey is the fact that at last year’s annual meeting of the SBC a resolution was passed making the Bible the all-sufficient authority on Heaven. Hard to believe such a resolution was even needed, but apparently it was. The lifeway statement also does not communicate that both Lifeway and President Thom Rainer have been under fire for carrying “heaven visitation” items in the first place. Now that Malarkey has confessed to making his story up, Lifeways is giving in and pulling the items.

What Lifeway has communicated to people is that it can’t be trusted. By willingly stocking “heavenly visitation” books and DVD (along with other highly questionable books from highly questionable authors), Lifeway has made it clear that the foremost mission of the store is to make money. There is no other reason to stock such items.

Consider one of the most cited arguments for stocking these items: “it might lead someone to Jesus.” The lack of biblical wisdom and, quite frankly, logic, makes this an entirely unacceptable argument. Let me rephrase the argument: “I’m going to watch porn with my neighbor so I can share Jesus with him.” No one would dare admit that such an idea is good or biblical. And yet, by stocking books and DVD’s that contradict Scripture, Lifeway is making such a claim. How is it helpful to use resources that contradict the Bible to share Jesus? Do we think Jesus is happy with such tactics?

What this leaves me with is the conclusion that money is the ultimate motive. I have no doubt that in the meeting to decide whether or not to carry these items there was a discussion of the “profitability” of the items. Once it was determined that such items would be profitable, they were stocked. Such decisions carry the message that money matter more than being biblically sound.

This announcement by Lifeway is long overdue. Indications are that Thom Rainer knew Malarkey’s story was false long ago but refused to pull the books from the shelves. Now that Malarkey has confessed to fabricating the whole story Rainer and Lifeway are left with egg on their face and empty shelves. That reality is sad to me. To think that Lifeway has profited from selling false stories. It’s not false just because Malarkey confessed to making it up, it’s false because his story contradicted Scripture.

Culture is increasingly denying the veracity of the Bible. There is constant effort to discredit the Bible and push Christians to accept extra-biblical sources for their convictions and faith. By stocking blatantly contradictory resources, Lifeway has been part of the problem, not part of the solution.

From this moment on Lifeway should adopt a policy refusing to stock any item that clearly contradicts Scripture. They could call it “The Malarkey Policy.” Fitting, don’t you think?

In case you didn’t know, Lifeway Christian Stores, the main retail outlet owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, has announced it will pull all “heaven visitation items” from their shelves. This is a great announcement, but one that comes with a bitter side.

If you are wondering what a “heaven visitation item” is, it is simply any book or DVD sharing the personal account of a visitation to heaven. Think: “Heaven is for Real,” or “The boy Who Came Back from Heaven.” These accounts are supposedly the tales of people who for one reason or another (trauma, accident) claim to have visited heaven but came back. They are sharing their accounts via books and movies under the guise of “heaven visitation.”

So why is it a good thing that Lifeway is pulling such items from their shelves? Well, for starters, the accounts given by most people who claim to have died and gone to heaven contradict accounts in the Bible. For this reason such claims cannot be trusted, and should not be given credit by Christians.

Let’s take for a moment the account given by Alex Malarkey. He is the teenager that claimed is his 2010 book “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” to have died during a medical emergency, visited heaven, then came back. The book was a big success and Malarkey and his family made a lot of money on the back of that account.

But, just recently Malarkey released a statement saying the whole thing was made up. Kind of ironic considering his last name. Or perhaps more apropos. Malarkey’s statement reads in part:

“I did not die. I did not go to heaven. 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.”

That is some excellent advice from young Alex.

It’s curious to me that people, particularly Christians, are eager to read (and accept) the accounts of people such as Alex Malarkey regarding Heaven; even when those accounts disagree with Scripture. Somehow the fantastical claims of boys outweigh the truth of the Bible. The accounts of Isaiah and John don’t seem to mean as much even though they are included IN THE BIBLE. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that thought.

Why are we so excited over the claim that someone went to Heaven and came back? Isn’t the evidence and testimony of Scripture enough? I think therein lies the problem.

I believe that these accounts are gaining such attention and traction in our society as a result of doubt as to whether there really is a Heaven. Let’s face it, the only people who know for sure whether or not there is a Heaven is people that die. No one living has ever seen Heaven. There’s not a weekly tour. There’s no reality show featuring Heaven. You can’t find it on Google Maps. So naturally, because we are a “I’ll believe it when I see it” culture, we gravitate towards someone who claims to have been there.

The truth is, we want to believe in Heaven. We want to know for sure if there is an afterlife and believe that everything we’ve heard about Heaven is real. But without seeing with our own eyes, we tend to doubt. Kind of sounds like Thomas when they told him Jesus had raised from the dead (John 20:24-29). Nothing much has changed in human nature in 200 years, we still want “a sign” before we are ready to believe.

But, as Alex Malarkey warned, people should “read the Bible, which is enough.” It’s not called faith for no reason. Jesus made it clear that people who believe without seeing are “blessed.” Which leads me to the bitter side of this announcement by Lifeway.

I can only imagine the egg on the face of Lifeway execs when Alex Malarkey released his confession that he made the whole thing up. Here they had sold his books all over the world only to find out they aren’t true. What I want to know is why they were selling them in the first place?

It’s no secret that details from books like “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” and “Heaven is for Real” disagree with Scripture. Anyone that does a cursory search online will find plenty of articles detailing the many contradictory statements made by Malarkey and Burpo (author of “Heaven is for Real”). If you need some analysis of these books and why they are biblically unsound I suggest starting here.

Here is an excerpt from Malarkey’s book (which was sold under the guise of being a “true story”) that shows the deep theological contradictions with the Bible:

“The devil’s mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I’ve never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don’t know about the color of the skin or robes—it’s all just too scary to concentrate on these things!” 

Don’t recall that description in the Bible. As I remember it, the Bible says Satan is beautiful, an “angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14)

I’m just going to rip this band-aid off and say what needs to be said. The only reason to sell books like this is to make money.

There, I said it. I’m not the only one thinking or saying it. But it has to be said more often it seems as more of these accounts come out. Lifeway made a statement recently that “heavenly visitation” items are not part of their new direction:

“Last summer, as we began developing LifeWay’s new structure and direction—what we’ve now identified as One LifeWay—the role of heaven visitation resources was included in our considerations. We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer.”

What that statement does not convey is the fact that at last year’s annual meeting of the SBC a resolution was passed making the Bible the all-sufficient authority on Heaven. Hard to believe such a resolution was even needed, but apparently it was. The lifeway statement also does not communicate that both Lifeway and President Thom Rainer have been under fire for carrying “heaven visitation” items in the first place. Now that Malarkey has confessed to making his story up, Lifeways is giving in and pulling the items.

What Lifeway has communicated to people is that it can’t be trusted. By willingly stocking “heavenly visitation” books and DVD (along with other highly questionable books from highly questionable authors), Lifeway has made it clear that the foremost mission of the store is to make money. There is no other reason to stock such items.

Consider one of the most cited arguments for stocking these items: “it might lead someone to Jesus.” The lack of biblical wisdom and, quite frankly, logic, makes this an entirely unacceptable argument. Let me rephrase the argument: “I’m going to watch porn with my neighbor so I can share Jesus with him.” No one would dare admit that such an idea is good or biblical. And yet, by stocking books and DVD’s that contradict Scripture, Lifeway is making such a claim. How is it helpful to use resources that contradict the Bible to share Jesus? Do we think Jesus is happy with such tactics?

What this leaves me with is the conclusion that money is the ultimate motive. I have no doubt that in the meeting to decide whether or not to carry these items there was a discussion of the “profitability” of the items. Once it was determined that such items would be profitable, they were stocked. Such decisions carry the message that money matter more than being biblically sound.

This announcement by Lifeway is long overdue. Indications are that Thom Rainer knew Malarkey’s story was false long ago but refused to pull the books from the shelves. Now that Malarkey has confessed to fabricating the whole story Rainer and Lifeway are left with egg on their face and empty shelves. That reality is sad to me. To think that Lifeway has profited from selling false stories. It’s not false just because Malarkey confessed to making it up, it’s false because his story contradicted Scripture.

Culture is increasingly denying the veracity of the Bible. There is constant effort to discredit the Bible and push Christians to accept extra-biblical sources for their convictions and faith. By stocking blatantly contradictory resources, Lifeway has been part of the problem, not part of the solution.

From this moment on Lifeway should adopt a policy refusing to stock any item that clearly contradicts Scripture. They could call it “The Malarkey Policy.” Fitting, don’t you think?

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