A summary report from the book, "Encouragement from 90 minutes in Heaven" by Don Piper.
This seems to be extracted from a larger book, '90 minutes in Heaven' which I haven't read and cannot comment on.
I find no significant problems with the book. It's actually an amazing story. Whatever you make of the supernatural experience he shares, this is one incredible miracle that a man so mangled is alive. He actually notes near the end that during his one-year hospital recovery he nearly lost his life.
Before reading the book I researched his web page. I was encouraged to find a very clearly presented gospel message. In his FAQ he also answers questions such as "Are there pets in Heaven" and "What do people wear in heaven" – He answers with a mix of his own experience and bible knowledge. Nothing heretical stood out to me.
The book, however, is not a theological treatise. It is a subjective account of an individual experience. Writing like this doesn't give much to discern on – there are very few theological propositions. Most of the supernatural experience is the encounter of overwhelming love and delight, which only increased. The descriptions were not counter anything of the Biblical Revelation of John, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew or others.
The propositions from the book include:
- Heaven really is real, and it is experienced immediately at death (see 2 Cor 5:8)
- Other souls are recognisable, and there is great joy at receiving more into Heaven (see Lk 16:9)
- Light, worship and holiness are the dominant experiences, even above reunions with friends (see Isa 6, Rev 4-5)
Don doesn't claim to have seen or met God. He supposes that once a person does, they would never be 'content' to come away/ return to earth. In fact a number of times, Don 'supposes' things, more than he declares things. That is a lot safer than making theological propositions.
The message of the book
The message of the book is quite clear: "Be encouraged, believing friends/family who you've lost to death are happy and well"
The author and the co-writer take a lot of time to show how much this testimony has greatly helped people who were very distraught over losing others. (I did start feeling like they were trying to sell the book to me at the end as they kept on saying this)
It's the kind of testimony that grieving people will find very encouraging.
The one proposition he did make which didn't sit comfortably with me, however, was the statement that there is no sadness in Heaven, and therefore they don't sing songs like 'the old rugged cross' or 'the nail scarred hand'. Jesus death is a sad thing,he writes, and so there is no memory of it (! I think that's what he said). This troubles me because Rev 5 presents the slain Lamb of Heaven, worshiped for his sacrifice. The scars of Christ were seen on his resurrected body by the disciples. And although the cross was a sad and traumatic event, it will remain forever the central glory of Christ and our eternal hope. I was disappointed by Don's summation here.
My theological reflection
I'm cautious to add my 2c to an account that claims divine revelation. I never make it my business to judge someone's experience. I accept that this is a personal and subjective story.
Although I don't find any explicit danger with the message, there is a subtle lack which I think was short-sighted. If Don Piper's web page has got such great gospel presentation, why not put it in his book? Especially as this book will be handed to many people who are grieving. I'm afraid that an unbeliever who reads this book will miss the almost negligible references to salvation and gain a false hope that they will be reunited with lost loved ones when they die.
There is also very little Scripture-Root in the book. There are little quotes now and then but I don't remember any strong directing to any scriptures. Perhaps in the fuller edition that material is included. But just reading this book, it's as if Don's testimony proves once and for all that everything's going to be OK. But the revelation of Jesus Christ at the cross – the greatest testimony that everything's going to be OK, is not referred to. And that is a gaping hole.
Mark read a great passage from 1 Pet, where Peter points to his experience with Jesus at the transfiguration, as a proof of his authoritative word; But then Peter says there is a more sure testimony of these things – the Prophetic Scripture. If only Don had done the same.
So I'm left hanging after reading the book – wishing that he'd not let his experience be the final word for our encouragement.
This book is not heresy. But neither is it one I'd counsel someone with.
I understand (only to a small degree because I haven't lost someone close to me) the preciousness of these testimonies to people who are grieving. Books like this are a friend to them. I think it's like the testimony of Brother Yun to people who are passionate for missions. Yet as far as developing my theology about missions, I don't make Brother Yun's experiences my guide. And neither do I develop any theology of Heaven from Don's experience.