The number of Americans who have had a near death experience is greater than the number of those who attend a major league baseball game in one year.
For John W. Price, author of Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case For Near-Death Experiences, this is nothing short of astonishing; not just because of what it positively affirms (life after death), but because of what it negatively reveals – that people are embarrassed to admit their encounters.
This is Price’s mission: to “shout from the rooftops” just how common an experience this is for everyone, the world over. As an Episcopal Priest these experiences confirm the gospel Price preaches, so to draw attention to them is to draw attention to the gospel itself, the hope it represents, and the comfort it brings, especially in a world full of pain, sorrow, and skepticism.
Along the way, Price hopes to convert a few pastors as well. Too many ministers, it seems, are not only embarrassed about these kinds of testimonies in their congregations, many don’t even believe they’re real.
Price goes about his in a straightforward way: telling the stories of near-death experience in an easy and readable fashion, largely following the timeline of his own road of discovery. We get to experience his sense of wonder and excitement as he comes to conclusions about the implications of his convictions for his practice of faith, and ministry. In the midst of these stories, Price does a better than average job of building a broad case for the biblical literature’s evolution of life after death, and winds up making a convincing case that the early church stood firmly on the hope of resurrection.
The book is disarmingly charming in its simple and unadorned approach. Price never seems to overreach in style or content. And yet, I found myself again and again asking the question: “Do we really need this book?”
First, I’m not sure that belief in heaven in at a point of crisis. I’m utterly convinced that Christianity is waning, and will continue to, but few people I know – including many who possess no formal faith – wouldn’t be troubled by the idea of a literal afterlife.
I was also struck by Price’s insistence that near-death experiences particularly affirm the Christian gospel. Obviously, there are some religious beliefs that wouldn’t hold to a literal heaven, but, as Price himself points out, these experiences are nearly universal across cultures and religions. After reading the book, I still fail to see how these experiences – if true – particularly commend Christianity over and above other faiths.
Lastly, I was put-off a bit by Price’s tone towards Christians who don’t believe in a literal afterlife. It’s one thing to hold to such a belief (or lack thereof), but it’s quite another to posit your belief as an unassailable certainty and an essential element of the Christian faith.
And make no mistake: however gentle his writing style, Price is certain – not only of the existence of a literal heaven, but even of fairly esoteric details concerning the nature of death and heaven (see the chapters “How death works” and “How heaven works”). Price bases his assertions on the anecdotes of people’s stories. Now, I’m a strong proponent of religion as a source of knowledge, but the knowledge religion transacts in isn’t quantitative, it’s qualitative. Religion has no mechanism for determining the details of phenomena such as, whether we can “walk” in spiritual bodies after death. Yet, this is the kind of claim Price makes.
In my opinion, these chapters – and this tone of certainty in general – damages the credibility of Price’s claims. Still, for those interested in the subject, it’s an interesting enough – and breezy enough – read to recommend it.
(I was provided with a copy of this book in return for the review I’ve written. I was in no way required to write either a positive or negative review of the book.)