In Setting the Record Straight, Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, gives his perspective on the unfolding Boy-Back-From-Heaven scandal. Particularly noteworthy is Johnson’s testimony that, even as far back as two years ago, Alex Malarkey – subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven – had along with his mother been trying to have the book withdrawn:
Shortly after “The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine” was posted on our blog two years ago, Alex’s mom, Beth Malarkey, contacted me to acknowledge that John MacArthur’s analysis is correct: “These modern testimonies … are simply untrue.” She and Alex had already been doing everything they could to get the word out that The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven told a largely imaginary story, and that most of the details had been greatly embellished and exaggerated in the writing. Publicity about the book had incited a cult of afterlife enthusiasts and hangers-on who wanted to canonize Alex and idolize him as a mystical seer with an open connection to heaven. Alex was uncomfortable with the feeling of moral and spiritual responsibility his sudden fame had thrust on him. Still a child, he nevertheless understood that the truth was more important than his own reputation.
Johnson relates that publisher Tyndale House would not withdraw the book:
The publisher refused to pull or alter the book. Alex’s father, thrilled with the book’s best-seller status, stood with the publisher. Even a pastor from whom Alex sought counsel said he thought the book was “blessing” people. He advised Alex to be quiet and let it ride.
With reference to Alex’s recent repudiation of the book’s claims, Johnson describes how people obstinately refused to hear the truth:
When Alex has tried to make similar statements on Facebook or in other online forums, he has been routinely shouted down, his comments deleted, and his fragile voice silenced. We want to give his testimony maximum exposure, because Alex is right: The truth is more important than how anyone feels about it.
Johnson is in no doubt both as to the danger of books such as these and to the reason why they continue to be culpably sold:
One of the top online reviews of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven says: “I can tend to be a little skeptical of otherworldly experiences, but when I hear it from the words of a child, I am much more open to the idea. A child is not going to be capable of making up these kinds of images and keeping his story straight for month after month after month.”
That, sadly, is what lots of readers think. What they don’t realize is that there is a massive industry behind books like these, heavily populated with decision makers who care more for filthy lucre than for truth. Employed in that industry are some mercenaries who have no scruples whatsoever about making up tales like these, polishing and embellishing them, and buttressing them with details designed to enhance the illusion of believability. It’s the very worst kind of pragmatism gone to seed. What’s “good” is defined by what sells. Scripture calls it “the teaching of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14).
The knowing production and sale of books containing false doctrine and based upon fabricated stories is a stain upon the Church and an impediment to the proclamation of the Gospel. It is long past time for Christians everywhere to hold those responsible to account. Likewise, Christians who purchase such materials ought to repent of their lack of discernment, for publishers and retailers will not sell materials for which there are no buyers. Nevertheless, Christ died even for sins as serious as these, and forgiveness may be found in Him.
Update: Phil Johnson has also published a June 2014 letter he wrote to Tyndale House.
Photo credit: Liane Metzler.