Controversy continues in the wake of this week's announcement by a young author that his popular book about his journey to heaven and his return was made up to gain attention.
The now-16-year-year-old co-author of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven — one of the popular "heavenly tourism" books, depicting his near-death "experience" in heaven as a six-year-old — has recanted his story. In addition, he has rebuked the Christian retailers who have made big profits off of similar accounts that have been criticized for years by Christian leaders and scholars alike for their blatant inconsistencies with the Bible. Other highly successful books sold by Christian retailers under similar scrutiny are Heaven Is for Real and 90 Minutes in Heaven.
Alex Malarkey, a teenager now, co-authored The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World. He recently wrote a letter to LifeWay Christian Retailers and other Christian book distributors (1) retracting the account of heaven he said he experienced as a six-year-old after suffering a nearly fatal car accident; and (2) exhorting them not to continue to make profits off of a book he says they should know characterizes heaven and other aspects of the Bible in a way that contradicts or misrepresents Scripture.
Following is Malarkey's letter to LifeWay and other retailers, which he shared with Pulpit & Pen to get the word out:
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.
Wanting to help set the record straight, Pulpit & Pen has joined hands with Malarkey, whose convictions as a dedicated Christian have propelled him to take action.
"It's in this context — the context of LifeWay selling this book and making money off of it for years — that Alex Malarkey, the co-author of the book, has reached out to us," Pulpit & Pen declared. "Alex is well aware of the #the15 [trending social media topic] and supports the mission of those who are tired of being marginalized and written-off by those considered to be Christian leaders for bringing up legitimate concerns."
Pressure on businesses profiting from the book has increased of late to bring the inaccurate accounts of Christianity to light.
"We saw some seeds of this a bit over a month ago when Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources and one who has become the object of much exhorting and beseeching about these issues, was contacted by Alex Malarkey's mother, Beth," Pulpit & Pen recounted. "Alex's mother communicated to Rainer that her son Alex was against the book that purported to be his story."
Literally hot off the press
Even though Malarkey's mother has reportedly been pleading to have the book removed since June 2013, it has been her son's recent letter that has pushed promoters of the book into action.
One of the latest responses to the push was posted Thursday by Patheos' Warren Throckmorton, who asked LifeWay for a response to Malarkey's letter.
"Martin King, director of communications at LifeWay, issued a statement saying the stores are pulling the book," Patheos' Throckmorton posted.
Throckmorton relayed King's announcement.
"LifeWay was informed this week that Alex Malarkey has retracted his testimony about visiting heaven as told in the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven," King stated. "Therefore, we are returning to the publisher the few copies we have in our Stores."
Another response to Malarkey's open letter was confirmed by The Washington Post, which announced that the publisher, Tyndale House, will also stop selling the book.
Pulpit & Pen is also reporting that it has emails suggesting that LifeWay's president, Ranier, "knew of Heaven scam" but "chose not to act."
The first ripples
Pulpit & Pen points out that a little progress was made with LifeWay before Alex let his voice be heard.
"[D]ue to the pressure and pleas from the Pulpit & Pen and others, that three of the books that we have taken aim at and labelled 'the worst books LifeWay sells' have been pulled from their online store," Pulpit & Pen stated. "We're going for a fourth … not because we're upset and just want to cause a scene, but out of love and care for our neighbors who might read this. Sadly, messengers to the SBC in 2014 passed a resolution against such books, but Rainer continues to proudly display heavenly tourism on the shelves at the SBC-owned LifeWay bookstores."
And Malarkey was not alone in his rebuke.
"Christian publishers and retailers should have known better," Pulpit & Pen continued. "They should have had the spiritual discernment, wisdom, compassion and intestinal fortitude to not sell a book which contains, along with all books like it, deep theological problems. It also doesn't help that in what is purported to be a 'TRUE STORY' that there are vivid descriptions like, '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.'"
What the critics are talking about
The publisher's description of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, is as follows:
"In 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered an horrific car accident. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex – and medically speaking, it was unlikely that he could survive. 'I think Alex has gone to be with Jesus,' a friend told the stricken dad. But two months later, Alex awoke from a coma with an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious. Of the angels that took him through the gates of heaven itself. Of the unearthly music that sounded just 'terrible' to a six-year-old. And, most amazing of all … Of meeting and talking to Jesus. The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven is the true story of an ordinary boy's most extraordinary journey. As you see heaven and earth through Alex's eyes, you'll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father's love."
Speaking for the many Christian critics who have been up-in-arms over the "heaven tourism" books for years, Pulpit & Pen released the following message: "The Bible is enough. The Bible is sufficient. Christ is enough. Christ is sufficient. We don't need Christian bookstores to tell us otherwise."