Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife

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Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife
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Having earlier published a theological treatise—Heaven and the Afterlife—James Garlow and Keith Wall have compiled and organized anecdotal evidence for their position in their most readable Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife (Bethany House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, c. 2010).  They present more than 30 first-person accounts by specific, identifiable individuals, describing visions of heaven and hell, and encounters with angels and ghosts.  Many of the persons survived a near-death experience, but some of them simply slipped into a deeper realm of reality and recall details concerning it.  The book is, they declare, “an eclectic collection, offering an intriguing look into the lives of ordinary people who have had extraordinary spiritual encounters” (p. 14).

Garlow makes clear that this subject challenges him, since he is by nature and academic training rather skeptical of such accounts.  Having never personally survived a near-death experience or seen visions of supernatural realities, he strongly identifies with the apostle Thomas and finds great comfort in the biblical passage declaring “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”  Thus he and his co-author “used reasonable and consistent vetting techniques.  To accept stories as valid, one of us either needed to know the people personally—with firsthand knowledge of their integrity and credibility—or we had to know someone with a high degree of reliability who could vouch for the person being profiled” (p. 19).

Taking all the testimonies together, Garlow and Wall find three distinct themes.  First:  “The division or distance between the physical world and the spiritual world is incredibly thin—like tissue paper.  It’s probably more accurate to say there really is no distance.  Beings with bodies and beings without occupy the same space, just on different planes.”  Second:  “The more we learn about life beyond the here and now, the less likely we are to be unnecessarily fearful.”  Third:  “The mystery and magnificence of God make life (this one and the one to come) an amazing adventure” (p. 15).

Typical of the book’s presentation is the story of little Kennedy Buettner, whose father is “a Tuscaloosa physician and the University of Alabama football team doctor” (p. 35).  Kennedy somehow slipped away from a crowd and fell into a backyard swimming pool, where he lay on the bottom for more than 12 minutes.  When found, his skin was blue, his body bloated, and his pupils dilated.  His father frantically sought to revive him, but he “began to thrash around and exhibit behavior that doctors call ‘abnormal posturing,’ a kind of muscle seizure that indicates severe brain damage—and usually precedes death” (pp. 37-38).  In time the paramedics arrived and Kennedy was taken to a hospital.

Miraculously, he came back to life, telling about an angel who intervened to save him and describing his visit to heaven (where he saw Jesus and his recently deceased uncle) as well as earthly places he’d not seen before.  Precisely one week after the accident, Kennedy was back home playing baseball with his siblings!

Reading this highly readable book deepens our hope for life everlasting, providing experiential evidence for the biblical promises that have comforted Christians for two millennia.


Gerard Reed is a retired professor of history and philosophy, most recently Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He is the author of three books--The Liberating Law; C.S. Lewis and the Bright Shadow of Holiness; C.S. Lewis Explores Vice & Virtue--as well as a variety of articles and book reviews.




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