Popular books and movies that focus on peoples’ harrowing claims of nearly dying and visiting heaven are in no short supply, though some experts, like New Testament scholar Dr. Scot McKnight, are warning that Christians should approach these stories with caution.
McKnight, author of the forthcoming book, “The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come,” recently told The Church Boys podcast that many of these experiences fail to mention Jesus — something that he said “greatly concerns” him, especially when it comes to understandings and explorations of Christian theology.
“I believe that we should construct our understanding of heaven, as Christians, on the basis of what we learn in the Bible, not on the basis of what people who have near-death experiences or out-of-body experiences — or even mystical experiences — have to tell us,” he said.
Unlike some critics who accuse individuals who claim that they have died and visited heaven of blatantly lying, McKnight has a different theory, positing that these individuals experience a “mass projection in their mind” that consists of details surrounding what they already believe heaven will be like. This, he said, accounts for why so many of these stories share conflicting details.
Listen to McKnight describe these theories — and cautions — below:
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“I don’t believe any of them are telling us what’s in the afterlife … I think all these people are in pre-death mode,” he said. “[They see] what they already believe heaven will be like, and it is a genuinely powerful experience for these people.”
McKnight, who teaches New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, said that throughout the ages people have reported experiencing near-death scenarios that included purported experiences in the afterlife.
But what they saw was widely influenced by the philosophy or religion that they had espoused during their lives, he said.
“They’re experiencing pre-death experiences that are connected to their own brains, rather than to a reality beyond death,” he said. “They are experiencing something that is already existing in their own brains.”
McKnight did say that there are times in which some people do recall details that “confirm the Bible.”
While he said that his goal isn’t to dispute these individuals’ experiences, McKnight believes that theology must be firmly based on the Bible and not these visions or experiences.
Of the many stories that have been popularized in books and movies, he said that Pastor Don Piper’s personal story of nearly dying after a horrific car wreck and experiencing heaven is “one of the best and, as a story, one of the most conforming to the image of what the Bible says.”
McKnight believes that heaven is a promise from God that he will one day “make all things right” and that he will defeat evil with the creation of a new heaven and a new Earth.
Listen to Piper describe his story on The Church Boys below:
“Separating fact from fiction, McKnight helps the reader examine the witness of God’s Word in order to discover what awaits us on the other side of the grave,” reads the description of McKnight’s new book about heaven. “Heaven isn’t the construction of a fairytale or some mythical narrative. It’s very real; it’s very good; and it’s very much the fulfillment of God’s promise to us.”
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