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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Review on Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near Death Experiences

I was asked to be part of virtual “book tour.” Mine is the last of a series of blogs which review the book “Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences” by John W. Price an Episcopal priest, former hospital chaplain and a member of The Near Death Experience Research Foundation. (it is abreviated as NDEs below)

Since reading Raymond Moody’s book in the 1970’s I have been very interested in this subject. I have also hoped to see a serious Christian theological assessment of the phenomenon. While this book is not it, that does not mean I did not find it useful. I would recommend it. And in fairness, Price’s experiences with theologians (skepticism bordering on disdain) is an indication of why we do not have a deeper theological work before us.

Unfortunately, the title is misleading. I did not find it to make a Christian case. However, he does succeed in his stated goal (in a private e-mail to me). He said there: My first reason for writing the book was to get clergy to take NDE’s seriously in order to help returnees sort it all out and share their precious insights with the world. I think Price makes a very strong case that something happens after death; something that ministers should take seriously. There is value in that.

The problem is that (p97) included in a list of things that really do not matter in judgment are baptism, being a Christian and being active in church. I am hard pressed to see how these three can be optional in any “Christian Case” for anything. While “love and forgiveness” are without question vital components of the faith, it seems that what is being advocated here is closer to a generic spirituality. The Bible, especially prophetic literature, is full of the demands for justice. Apparently, in the experiences people related God is loving and merciful and much more centered on personal relationships. Justice demands are not important. Jesus’ teaching on sexual morality, wealth and His claim to be “The Way” to the Father is not either. One is tempted to say this is very good news. If you are basically a nice person then most of the demands and disciplines of Jesus following are not important, including Jesus following!

The statement (p157) “I find that there are only two religions in the world: a religion of love and a religion of fear” which “cuts across all religions” ignores that “Fear of the Lord” is certainly as much a Biblical mandate as “Love the Lord.” In my daily readings I find love, while always central, is one of many elements constitutive of the faithful life. None of those others appear to matter in the final judgment.

 I think Price provides a very fine general introduction to NDE’s rather than a theological argument. Price indicates he is a “seeing is believing” kind of person who wants proof. He is satisfied, based on what he has seen (dozens of survivors of NDE), that these experiences are true. He makes a reasonable argument that "they are real." If this were to be more than another pop book on NDE I think it needs to analyze from a deeper theological viewpoint. The question, “are the experiences real?” is important, but only as a beginning. There are others questions as well. What about the reliability of eye witness testimony? How does one discern the source of such spiritual experiences? If love and kindness are all that matter; what do we do with sacraments, Scripture, the church and the myriad practices of Biblical faith? Should we preach Jesus as Lord and Savior if He is optional? What are the implications of the "fact" people regularly die “before their time” and have to be sent back? Is the universe so ineptly run? It is not enough to advocate for more love without facing these (and other) implications of the book.

In the end, I have come to my own answers on these questions. I believe NDEs are real, but I do not think they are definitive. I am not sure that they are all God-given. I do believe that they must be dealt with seriously within the context of a more robust (and orthodox) Christian understanding. I think NDEs are best understood as a special case of what is called “visions and revelations,” that is, spiritual experiences which provide insight into the other side of reality. I am still waiting for the book which makes a Christian Case for NDE.

So I recommend this book with the cautionary reminder that NDE is not revelation. It should be treated like all experience, seriously but with an open mind. But in the end, everything must be interpreted in light of the authority of Scripture and the teachings of the Church, with Jesus as the Center of Divine Revelation and the source of salvation. Fr. Price's sweet book strongly advocates for a position, the centrality of love in God's judgment, but it fails to address too much to call it a Christian Case for NDE.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful review of this book for the tour.

  2. I am impressed by the quality of information on this website. There are a lot of good thoughtful review here.

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