The topic simply refuses to go away! During the last few years the amount of people undergoing so-called NDEs (Near Death Experiences) has mushroomed. Is it not time for a better evangelical Christian response?

The Experience

What are NDEs? These are experiences of people who have briefly 'died' but then been brought back to consciousness by skilled doctors and medics. It should not surprise us that with ever-improving medical techniques more and more people are being brought back from the point of death (and even beyond).

Many such people (although by no means all) record very vivid experiences of leaving their bodies and of being transported away. Many such testimonies have described entering something which sounds very much like Hell; it is a place of suffering, torments and moans and usually described as being very dark and gloomy, but many other testimonies speak of entering Heaven after a rapid journey through a tunnel at which light is perceived at the end. This light typically gets brighter and brighter culminating in the experience of entering a beautiful and wondrous place in which the feelings of love and security are powerful.
Oftentimes deceased relatives are then met and in a surprisingly high number of accounts these people also describe meeting the Lord Jesus Himself! The descriptions of Paradise are all amazingly similar, even when experienced from people from many different cultures, indeed people who have extensively researched this phenomenon, always remark on the similarities right the way through the experiences.

Paradise is usually described as having breathtakingly beautiful grass, trees and flowers all of which are utterly perfect. But many such people also record seeing the Heavenly City itself. Everything is usually described as being very bright, yet without being any strain on one's sight. Frequently there is also a reference to indescribably beautiful music which is nothing like the music of earth. Always these accounts seem to agree that there is no sun there, just the bright radiance of God. Typically, either an angel, or in some accounts the Lord Jesus Himself, tell the person that they must return to their physical lives for a few more years.

Again, from many different cultures there is a similar recognition and description of the see-through spirit bodies of those who have departed from this earth according to this experience. Indeed, several people who have experienced NDEs record the horror of having to re-enter their physical bodies again.

The Christian Problem

Traditionally perhaps 95% of evangelical Christianity has rejected NDEs even though there are now many recorded NDEs of Christians who describe undergoing exactly what the Bible says that Christians should expect to happen at death, (entering Heaven!!)

So why have we Christians tended to be so dismissive of these accounts?

I spoke to two other evangelical Christians to corroborate my own impression as to why evangelical Christianity largely attiributes NDEs to the occult. I found that all three of us were in total agreement. There are two problems:

1. NDEs often picture non-Christians being accepted into heaven by Jesus.

2. Occultic and New Age enthusiasts accept NDEs as part of a much bigger picture of perverse teaching including the acceptance of reincarnation.

Regarding Point One, can we truly say that the Bible excludes all non-Christians from entering Heaven? I have to say that my immediate response here is that the Bible does not exclude people as often as some evangelical Christians occasionally appear to do! We also have to remind ourselves that there are also numerous NDE accounts of Hell! Many accounts have described entering Hell and it should not perhaps surprise us that many of those who experienced this, quickly converted after re-entering their bodies!

Regarding Point Two, the acceptance of NDEs by New Age and occultic people does not necessarily mean that all NDEs are of improper origin (though some could be). If a perverse and unbiblical spiritual teacher believes in God, does his/her overall perversity also make the belief in God perverse? Of course not! I am somewhat alarmed that some inspiring accounts of how Christians have had wonderful deathbed experiences of hearing angels sing and of seeing angels who have come to escort them 'beyond the grave', appear on occultic sites but would be barred from most Christian sites. Have we got something wrong here? We should not reject things which we might reasonably expect a loving God to allow, just because occultic types accept them!

Science - Indications Of An Encouraging New Approach!

We have all become so used to science's usual approach of anti-supernaturalism (or, naturalism), that it may come as a shock to learn that some scientists are now starting to consider that the brain and the mind may be far more separate than they had previously believed. The very first scientific responses to deathbed experiences and NDEs was highly sceptical. We were told that these were hallucinations caused by chemical changes in the brain at the time of death, but other scientists soon challenged this picture, remarking on the astonishing similarity of these experiences from many cultures. Four years ago the British Daily Telegraph newspaper carried the astonishing conclusion of "two eminent doctors" who conducted a year long study on heart attack survivors who underwent 'after-death' experiences:

'The new study concludes, however, that a number of people have almost certainly had these experiences after they were pronounced clinically dead. This would suggest that the mind or consciousness can survive the death of the brain - a conclusion that was hailed by clerics last night as supporting religious faith.'
The report continues:
'The study's authors, Dr Peter Fenwick, a consultant neuropsychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Dr Sam Parnia, a clinical research fellow and registrar at Southampton hospital, stress that more research is needed. Dr Parnia said: "These people were having these experiences when we wouldn't expect them to happen, when the brain shouldn't be able to sustain lucid processes or allow them to form memories that would last. So it might hold an answer to the question of whether mind or consciousness is actually produced by the brain or whether the brain is a kind of intermediary for the mind, which exists independently." Dr Fenwick said: "If the mind and brain can be independent, then that raises questions about the continuation of consciousness after death. It also raises the question about a spiritual component to humans and about a meaningful universe with a purpose rather than a random universe."'
The Daily Telegraph report continued,
'By examining medical records, the researchers said the contention of many critics that near-death experiences were the result of a collapse of brain functions caused by lack of oxygen were highly unlikely. None of those who underwent the experiences had low levels of oxygen. Researchers were also able to rule out claims that unusual combinations of drugs were to blame because the resuscitation procedure in the hospital unit was the same in every case.'

Christians have long maintained that the brain and mind must be different and unconnected components since we know that we have a God-given soul, or 'spirit essence'. This exciting research corroborates what Christians have always believed, yet many Christians will have missed the report because of the unwise dismissal of anything associated with NDEs.
Dr Parnia further speculated that,
'"...The brain is like an intermediary which manifests the mind, like a television will act as an intermediary to manifest waves in the air into a picture or a sound, we can show that the mind is still there after the brain is dead. And that is what I think these near-death experiences indicate."'

(© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004).


So this starts to lead towards the undeniable conclusion that NDEs are spiritually meaningful occurrences. This does not mean that I now necessarily accept every NDE claim that I have ever heard as completely valid, nor that I feel that occultic elements are not sometimes involved, but I really believe that evangelical Christianity may need to revisit the topic of NDEs and encourage a more open debate in the evangelical community. I feel that we have been too hasty to pidgeon-hole all NDE claims as 'occultic' - this is why evangelical Christians simply never talk about some incredible near-death survival experiences of famous Christians; we simply feel it is safer to leave the subject closed - even when we cut ourselves off from many inspiring and encouraging occurrences.
Following this article you will find links to a few Christian death experience testimonies - check them out! - do we reject these simply because theologically deviant occultists have previously shown more interest in them than we have?? I could have produced many more such accounts which abound in both books and on the internet. Am I saying that all such accounts are as 'theologically-correct' as many of us evangelicals would prefer? Not at all - far from it, in many cases. But I really believe that Bible-believing Christians must stop rejecting things for the wrong reasons, especially where such inspiring accounts are not unbiblical. I also hope that we can stop rejecting the death-bed experiences of numerous Christians because they may talk of 'spirits' and angels being present.
Robin A. Brace

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See also:
(Very much worth reading!)

Death Bed Experiences

The Story of Jeanette Mitchell-Meadows

David Smith's Story

The Story of Dr Susan