NASHVILLE (BP) — LifeWay Christian Resources has stopped selling all "experiential testimonies about heaven" following consideration of a 2014 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on "the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife."
LifeWay told Baptist Press about its decision to halt sales of heaven visitation resources today (March 24) in response to an inquiry about the book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which is being made into a movie slated for release this fall. The book recounts Piper's supposed experience of heaven following a severe auto accident and has sold 6.5 million copies in 46 languages.
"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," LifeWay spokesman Marty King told Baptist Press in written comments.
"Now that we've begun implementing the new direction, the remaining heaven visitation items have been removed from our stores and website and will not be replenished. We have more work to do aligning the LifeWay Retail Division with LifeWay's vision and core values so we covet your prayers as we continue to provide trustworthy Biblical Solutions for Life," King said.
Though LifeWay "was not mentioned in the SBC resolution affirming the sufficiency of biblical revelation and affirming the truth about heaven and hell," King told BP in an interview, "the resolution was approved overwhelmingly and was considered during our process."
The resolution, adopted by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June, warned Christians not to allow "the numerous books and movies purporting to explain or describe the afterlife experience" to "become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife."
The resolution did not list specific book or movie titles, but it seemed to describe works like 90 Minutes in Heaven, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey, and Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo (along with its companion movie released last year by Sony Pictures).
The resolution affirmed "the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one's understanding of the truth about heaven and hell."
In January, LifeWay announced it would stop sellingThe Boy Who Came Back from Heaven after coauthor Alex Malarkey admitted that he lied about having a vision of heaven as a 6-year-old. At the time, King said LifeWay was "committed to becoming even more proactive in the next few months in evaluating the resources we carry."
Giving Films announced the completion of filming for 90 Minutes in Heaven March 12. The movie stars Hayden Christensen of Star Wars and Kate Bosworth of Superman Returns. The film also features veteran actor and former US Senator Fred Thompson as well as singers Michael W. Smith and Dwight Yoakam, according to a news release from Giving Films.
"I'm an ordinary man with an extraordinary story," Piper said according to the news release. "I want people to see hope in their challenges, to see that pain can come with purpose."
Malarkey’s retraction doesn’t seem to have affected the sales of otherworldly experiences. Heaven is For Real, which has shown up on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's bestseller list every month since it was published in the fall of 2010 (including a 10-month stretch as No. 1 in 2011), still made the list in February (at No. 17).
Publishers Weekly (PW) noted that such books have been "megasellers" for evangelical publishers, and reported that both 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is for Real "remain popular even after now-16-year-old Alex Malarkey recanted the experiences he detailed" in The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.
Several Christian publishers told PW that they would continue to print books in the genre. “This is a good category for us, and we’re going to continue to publish credible stories,” David Lewis, Baker Publishing Group’s vice president for sales and marketing, told PW. “As unfortunate as [Malarkey’s admission] is for Tyndale, it has had no effect on sales of heaven books that we can see, nor on our decisions to publish them.”
Indeed, Thomas Nelson released a father’s visions of heaven in The Hope of Heaven: God’s Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father earlier this month. Meanwhile, Tyndale published Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real?, which explores the discrepancies in popular stories of visits to the afterlife.