Continuing on today in Scot McKnight's nifty little book 'The Heaven Promise'... This starts section 4 on Ten Questions About Heaven. Chapter 16 is "What About Near-Death Experiences: An Old Theme Suddenly New."
Scot notes several books/movies and tales as shared by others, as well as several biblical examples. He says, "After studying these stories, I believe they are glimpses of the afterlife. But I also believe we need to be wary of making the claim that they reveal what Heaven will be like."
He shares some info from Mally Cox-Chapman, an expert in NDEs (near-death experiences). Apparently some 8 million Americans have reported such experiences. Cox-Chapman believes the most common elements of NDEs are:
- Feelings of peace and quiet
- Feeling oneself out of the body
- Going through a dark tunnel
- Meeting others, including one or more beings of light
- A life review
- Coming to a border or limit
- Coming back
- Seeing life differently
- Having new views of death
First, the experiencers become believers in some kind of life after death: "If experiencers were atheists before, they are believers (in the afterlife) afterward."
Second, they become more universalistic in their faith. As she puts it, "If they had a firm commitment to one particular religion before, they believe any religious path leads to God afterward."
Third, they believe in the afterlife. "They say they absolutely believe that their souls will persist beyond physical death."
Fourth, Cox-Chapman believes on the basis of her study that "we will be provided with the Heaven that is right for each of us."
In noting that most NDEs do not match up to what Jesus or Paul or the Bible teach, Scot says, "We have to wonder if NDEs are little more than a case of people projecting onto eternity what they want for themselves. Or maybe the stories provide little more than a glimpse of the afterlife."
"It's obvious that NDEs vary wildly... What we need is a history of these experiences, since this history makes it clear that the reports are interpretations, and the interpretations reflect the beliefs of the one undergoing the experience. An NDE expresses what the person already believes. I'm not denying the experience or its impact. But the interpretation of that experience flows out of what one already things."
In the end Scot says, "All this to say: every religious, ethnic, and cultural group has stories to tell. The overlaps between those who have NDEs are worthy of serious study, but the differences among the various stories over the course of history are so dramatic it makes me skeptical that they are reporting what Heaven or the afterlife is like... The absence of the major biblical themes make me doubly wary that near-death experiences reveal anything about Heaven."
So, there ya go.