There’s been a sudden eruption in purported afterlife accounts produced by major publishers, and they have been making millions. Some people wonder if all these accounts are true, and many have had their suspicions as they’ve noticed discrepancies between those stories and Scripture. It is rare to see someone, especially a young child, have the courage years later to admit that one such experience was actually something they fabricated. Yet that’s exactly what happened for the book, “The boy who came back from heaven—a true story,” published by Tyndale House. The boy in the story is named Alex, and he and his father Keven Malarkey are named as co-authors. Ironically, the word “malarkey” means “meaningless talk” or “nonsense,” which Alex admitted his fictitious account turned out to be. You can read all about it in a variety of news outlets (see further below for more info). Not only was there a book, but as is becoming more common these days, even a movie was made about this now debunked story. Here is how Alex broke the news:
An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.
Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.
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.
It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not attacking Alex. He is a victim in all of this and it appears he never received a penny, according to this mother who had for years been disclaiming this account and book (you can read her remarks here). Alex was injured in an accident that has left him paralyzed, and I feel truly sorry for him and his family for that, and for the embarrassment they are left with regarding this book.
This incident, however, accentuated one of the main goals I had in compiling afterlife experiences in my book “Orthodox Afterlife,” which was to validate my hypothesis: if Orthodoxy is true, and Christianity is true, then every Orthodox Christian afterlife experience must not only be consistent with each other, but all of it must also comport with Scripture and what the early Christians taught about what to expect after death. The idea is this: Scripture says what we can expect after death, and the early Christians expound on that foundation, so if we assess the afterlife experiences of people who claim to ascribe to those beliefs, we should expect that their experiences will conform accordingly; marked inconsistency among afterlife experiences or with foundational Christian teachings should bring those experiences and beliefs into question.
It is the inconsistency among so many of the afterlife books available today that had me so troubled during the last five years. I am not here intending to pass judgment or decide for you which, if any, books you should believe or disbelieve. But for me, whenever I walked into a bookstore and strolled through the Christian aisle, picking up book after book about the afterlife experience, as I cracked the pages open their accounts were not only inconsistent, but often contradicted each other. One story says that when you die you look almost the same as when you had passed, another story says you look like your much younger self. One person sees the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in heaven, and yet another says all they saw was an indistinct supreme being who said, “you can do nothing wrong.” One person just immediately found himself in heaven, and yet another describes a journey where he first found himself like a primitive “earth-worm” with no memory of life, then rode on a butterfly’s wing, and later found himself taken to see some divine being. Some see pets, and others don’t. Some mention seeing the mother of God in heaven, others don’t mention her whatsoever. And all of these stories are from self-acclaimed Christians.
And then there are the contradictions those experiences had with both Scripture and what the early Christians understood of the afterlife. I remember picking up “The boy who came back from heaven” and reading through it, and I was immediately taken aback by the Scriptural deficiencies that his mother and even Alex now admit were present. His mother wrote:
It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy who Came Back from Heaven to not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned. I could post facts and try to dispel many of the things contained within the pages of that book (have done a bit of that). I could continue to try to point out how Biblically off the book is (a few strategically placed scriptures does not make a book Biblically sound) and how it leads people away from the bible not to it (have done that as have others…. I could…..but it seems like many people want to believe what they are given despite the wrong that it may be doing or the wrong that was done in the making of it).
After compiling dozens of afterlife experiences, spanning 2,000 years of Christian history, and taken from all over the world, I am so relieved to have found astonishing similarity among all the accounts, and that everything aligns so well with Scripture and the early Fathers. I often tell people that what I’ve found is either a 2,000 year conspiracy to lie, or everyone is witnessing to the same truth. Don’t take my word for it, but see what one endorser of my book, Fr. Daniel Fanous had to say (and I must iterate my gratitude for his endorsement). Not just an Orthodox priest, he is also a published author of two books (“Taught by God” and “Person of the Christ”) and currently serves as the Dean and also a lecturer at the St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological College in Sydney, Australia. He writes about “Orthodox Afterlife” as follows:
There perhaps is no more important inquiry than that of the afterlife. By its very nature it is elusive, in the words of the Apostle, “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” And yet here in this refreshing study we find that a surprising and startling picture emerges: the afterlife or near-death “experiences” of numerous saintly figures and others are remarkably consistent in their depiction of ‘what comes next.’ What is more, these experiences are far from speculative—they suggest an underlying and almost overwhelming unity with both Scripture and the Church Fathers. Whether or not one chooses to believe these accounts, what they have to say of the afterlife is in the least fascinating.
If you are like me and are very critical of what you read, showing discernment as biblically required (cf. 1 John 4:1), the consistency within this compilation may help ease your suspicions. It is not my intention that this book cram ideas into your mind that you are required to believe. To the contrary, both the bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern U.S. (His Grace Bishop Youssef, who wrote a foreword to my book) and I make clear that it is up to the reader to determine what aligns with Scripture and what does not, and that such a determination is what fundamentally controls whether the afterlife experiences can be trusted or not. His Grace actually spoke with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III (the 117th Pope of the Coptic Church of Alexandria) about this notion and it was clear that this approach was fundamental in the way we must assess any purported account of the afterlife. Yet, after raising that caveat in his foreword (which again I am so undeserving and appreciative to have received), His Grace kindly wrote:
Let me assure you, however, that the author has exerted tremendous effort to ensure the contents of this book are in alignment with biblical teaching and the doctrinal traditions of the Church of God.
I pray that the book deepens your spiritual path and ignites an earnest desire to say as St. Paul did, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
To learn more, visit OrthodoxAfterlife.com
There you will find, among other things, a Free Giveaway, Sample Pages, and the ability to Pre-order. Note, if you are waiting for an eBook, by God’s grace that will also be available at the time of the book’s release next month, God willing.
Pray for me.
SOURCES / FURTHER RESOURCES:
Puplit & Pen (where it appears this was news was first announced)—“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers
Washington Post—“Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” actually didn’t; books recalled