Travelling to heaven and back is where it's at today. Don Piper spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn't know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids' edition accounting for another half million. Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks. There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing—a genre that is selling like hotcakes, or Amish fiction, for that.
I'll grant that the cost of this type of journey is rather steep (you've got to die, though only for just a few minutes), but it's a sound investment when you factor in the sales figures. I can think of quite a few authors who would trade a few minutes of life for 50+ weeks on the bestseller lists and a few appearances on TBN.
The most recent heaven tourist is Mary C. Neal. Much like Todd Burpo, who is responsible for taking his son's adventures to print, Neal only decided to write about her experiences many years after the fact, after all those other "I went to heaven" books began to sell in the hundreds of thousands. But that's definitely just coincidence. She initially self-published her book To Heaven and Back, but once it started generating buzz (i.e. selling lots and lots of copies), Waterbrook Multnomah stooped down and scraped it off the bottom of a shoe somewhere, and promptly re-issued it. With the extra marketing nudge, it has now made its debut on the New York Times list of bestsellers. I gave it a skim—I just couldn't bear to read it all the way—and found that it is much the same as the others. In fact, it may be worse than the others in that it contains even less Christian theology, less gospel and far more New Age, sub-Christian nonsense. That a publisher of Christian books would even consider taking this to print is appalling.
I am not going to review To Heaven and Back. It's pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity. But I do want to address a question that often arises around this book and others in the genre: How do I respond to them? How do I respond to those who say they have been to heaven? When a Christian, or a person who claims to be a Christian, tells me that he has been to heaven, am I obliged to believe him or at least to give him the benefit of the doubt?