The Near-Death Experience
Part Two: Alternative Explanations
by J. Isamu Yamoto
In the previous issue we examined common elements in the accounts of people
who claim to have had near-death experiences. We focused primarily on the New
Age interpretation of this phenomenon, surveying the work and writings of
Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, and Melvin Morse. In this issue our discussion
explores alternative explanations to those of the New Age movement for NDEs.
First, there are a number of medical explanations. These range from legitimate
possibilities, such as the effects of endorphins and hypoxia, to more incredible
propositions, such as the "memories of birth" interpretation. Second, some of the
findings of both secular and Christian psychologists and medical professionals who
have researched NDEs are found to conflict with New Age interpretations. An
example of this is the occurrence in some cases of hellish experiences during near-death trauma. Finally, it is clear that New Agers often misuse Scripture to support
their assertions. For instance, the citing of Paul's conversion experience on the
road to Damascus glosses over the fact that this was not an NDE.
In conclusion, we may allow for the possibility that God works in the experience of
some of these cases, but we must reject those experiences and interpretations
that clearly deny the teachings of Scripture.
A recent issue of Life magazine featured a cover story by Verlyn Klinkenborg that
focused on near-death experiences (NDEs). What is significant about this essay is
not that it provides new insights into this subject, but that NDEs took center stage
in a major national periodical. However disconnected Klinkenborg's journalistic
treatment of NDEs was, her comments no doubt influenced the general public's
understanding of this phenomenon. In fact, I discovered and perused this article in
the waiting room of my daughter's dentist's office.
Klinkenborg begins her essay by saying, "As scientists study the meaning of near-death experiences, perhaps we can inch closer to an understanding of life."
Although the author quotes a number of professional experts in this field and
several people who have experienced NDEs, what the reader inches closer to is
more the debatable interpretations some have offered for NDEs than any reliable
understanding of the nature of life.
Medical explanations of NDEs are quickly dismissed while mystical interpretations
predominate. The following remark, for instance, is typical of Klinkenborg's
perspective: "To many, NDEs provide some of what religion has always provided:
a way to talk about death before it comes and a glimpse of death as passage
rather than termination." In addition, several religious illustrations capture the
reader's eyes more than the written word. One includes a man in a yogic position
with his fingers forming the cosmic symbol of the OM, a Hindu mystical concept.
Klinkenborg devotes much of her essay to the works and views of Raymond
Moody, Melvin Morse, and others who regularly appear in feature articles on NDEs.
Although she doesn't present their more obvious New Age ideas, she does
introduce them as noted authorities on the subject, giving them further credibility in
the minds of those readers who might want to learn more about this subject.
In Part One of this article, which appeared in the previous issue of the CHRISTIAN
RESEARCH JOURNAL (Spring 1992), we concentrated on such New Age
interpretations of near-death experiences. We reviewed the 15 common elements
that Moody, the pioneer of the study of NDEs, compiled in his book Life After
Life, which has sold over seven million copies. We considered the research of
Morse, a pediatrician in Seattle, Washington, who is a leader in the exploration of
the near-death experiences of children. We also examined the investigative work of
Kenneth Ring, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut who
founded the International Association for Near-Death Studies.
In Part Two of this article, we will continue our discussion of NDEs, focusing on
other interpretations of this phenomenon. Like Klinkenborg, we want to discover
whether a better understanding of NDEs will inch us closer to an understanding of
life. Unlike Klinkenborg, however, we want to give serious attention to the
observations and explanations of researchers other than those who advocate New
MEDICAL EXPLANATIONS: SCIENCE OR PREJUDICE?
The medical and scientific communities, by and large, discount the claims that near-death experiences indicate that there is life after death. Although their explanations
of NDEs are quite diverse, most are skeptical of the out-of-body experiences and
visions that have been associated with NDEs. Nevertheless, few would dispute that
a dramatic psychological effect has occurred with those people who have reported
a near-death experience. Thus, they have tried in various ways to make sense of
this fascinating phenomenon.
Lysergic Acid (LSD). Many medical professionals believe NDEs are hallucinations
caused by one of many psychoactive drugs. Because of its popularity in the sixties
and the nature of its effects on the mind, lysergic acid is one drug that is often
advanced in the cases of those who may have had prior experience with LSD. Their
main argument for linking LSD with NDEs is that people frequently feel they have
had both a religious and an out-of-body experience -- two elements commonly
associated with NDEs -- while under the influence of LSD.
NDE advocates, however, see two weaknesses in this explanation. First and
foremost, the visual hallucinations from an LSD experience are not consistent from
one person to another. In fact, images and emotions are usually distorted and
individually bizarre. NDEs, on the other hand, are quite vivid and distinct and --
most importantly -- are remarkably parallel to one another. In addition, NDE
advocates distinguish between the perceptions of people having these two
experiences. While most people on LSD know their sense of reality is being
distorted, people during an NDE perceive their experience as intensely real.
Narcotics and Recreational Drugs. Some skeptics of NDEs suggest other drugs
as the sources for this psychological phenomenon, particularly such narcotics as
morphine and heroin, since both can cause strange hallucinations. Although both
drugs can induce heavenly and blissful experiences, NDE advocates reject them
because of their side effects. While morphine and heroin users have described
nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, inability to concentrate, and even decreased vision,
these side effects are not present with NDEs.
Such recreational drugs as marijuana, cocaine, PCP, amphetamines, and
barbiturates have also been linked to NDEs. NDE advocates, however, point out
that people often experience varying levels of paranoia after taking high doses of
these drugs while people who have had near-death experiences have
demonstrated no signs of this psychological problem. Another disparity between
the two is the presence of severe depression in many who take recreational drugs
and its absence in those who have had NDEs.
Anesthetic Agents. Some medical professionals attribute the NDE phenomenon
to anesthetic agents that are given to victims or patients. Halothane, surital,
nitrous oxide, and Nembutal are the most commonly used and mentioned. This
claim is based on reports by nondying patients who are able to recall bits of
conversations or other details concerning their treatment while under anesthesia.
The problem with this explanation, however, is that these anesthetic agents are
not known to trigger hallucinations.
The anesthetic agent Ketamine deserves further discussion because a couple of its
extreme psychological effects on some people are noted to be similar to NDEs.
First, this agent frequently causes people to imagine that they have had an out-of-body experience (OBE). Second, Ketamine tends to produce a sensation in many
that they have seen their doubles, or a mirror image of themselves. NDE
advocates, however, argue that the OBE associated with Ketamine is normally of a
frightful nature and not pleasurable, as is the case (they maintain) with NDEs. In
fact, since Ketamine has had such severe adverse effects on patients, it has been
withdrawn from further use.
Autoscopic Hallucinations. The psychological event of seeing one's double is
known as autoscopy. It is usually associated with brain tumors, strokes, and
migraine headaches, and it occurs when a person superimposes his or her double
on reality. Since this double appears as a mirror image of the person, and since
many people have described seeing themselves during a near-death experience,
some skeptics of NDEs say this element of an NDE is nothing more than an
Advocates of NDEs, however, claim a clear distinction between these two
experiences. On the one hand, they say autoscopic hallucinations involve people
projecting their doubles outside of themselves. On the other hand, people view
their bodies from outside of themselves during near-death experiences. The
difference can be illustrated in this way: a man is lying on his bed and sees his
double hovering above himself -- he is having an autoscopic hallucination; a
woman who has been critically ill sees herself lying on her bed from above -- she is
having a near-death experience. The man is still in his body while the woman, NDE
advocates say, is not.
The Endorphin Model. When a person suffers great pain or extreme stress, the
brain sometimes releases natural chemicals to relieve the pain or stress. These
substances are known as endorphins, and they affect people in the same way
morphine or heroin does. Some critics of NDEs argue that the sudden stress
and/or pain of dying produces a large amount of these endorphins, which then
create a pleasurable and mystical high that some people interpret as a near-death
A problem with this theory is that there is no medical proof that the brain creates a
greater quantity of endorphins because of the stress of dying. Even Dr. Daniel Carr
of Massachusetts General Hospital, who proposed this theory, qualified it by saying
that endorphins are just a possible explanation for NDEs. In other words, there
is no evidence for the theory, only one assumption leading to other assumptions.
Thus, while the endorphin model is plausible, further research is needed.
Transient Depersonalization. Dr. Russell Noyes of the University of Iowa offers a
psychological explanation of NDEs that is similar to the endorphin theory. In this
case, instead of natural chemicals reacting to the stress of dying, a psychological
mechanism is triggered in response to this stress to create a sense of separation
from the prospect of physical annihilation. The illusion of a transcendental state is
experienced in which a person feels detached from his or her body. In addition,
time, emotions, and thoughts seem surreal.
This intriguing theory can easily be adapted to fit the NDE model because most of
the elements of an NDE do appear surreal to other people. There is one NDE
factor, however, that this theory (along with several other models) cannot explain
-- why are the NDE elements consistent among so many people with such diverse
backgrounds? Detachment from time, feelings, and thoughts would seem to argue
against this theory. Moreover, although depersonalization does occur in many life-threatening cases, depersonalization has yet to be documented scientifically in any
cases concerning NDEs.
Hypoxia. Hypoxia is an abnormal physical condition in which a deficiency of oxygen
reaches the tissues of the body. In the case of NDEs, some critics attribute the
hallucinations involved in NDEs to hypoxia. They say that since the brain is deprived
of oxygen, a person who is near death experiences pleasurable feelings and a
natural high in which NDE episodes are imagined.
According to NDE advocates, however, there is a problem with this explanation. In
medical studies that have examined two groups of patients who were thought to
be dead but recovered, it was found that those who reported a near-death
experience did not have any less oxygen in their blood gases than those who did
not have an NDE.
Memories of Birth. Dr. Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer at Cornell University,
offers one of the most fascinating explanations for NDEs. He suggests that the NDE
is a psychological replay of the experience of birth. Sagan and others who profess
this theory hold that the birth canal, the operating room, and the doctor during
birth are remembered as a tunnel, a lighted environment, and a being in white
during a near-death experience. Their strongest argument is that everyone has
experienced birth, which explains the common elements in NDEs.
NDE advocates nevertheless challenge this theory on a number of points. First,
they contend that a baby has neither the mental capacity nor the visual ability at
birth to retain such details of his or her birth experience. Second, if any memory is
recalled of the birth experience, it would be traumatic and not pleasant. Third, the
baby's face is normally pressed against the walls of the birth canal, which conflicts
with the rapid travel through the tunnel toward a light in an NDE. As interesting as
this theory is, it has too many serious weaknesses to be commended.
"I think," says NDE researcher Kenneth Ring, "that we don't yet have a satisfactory
explanation for the near-death experience." In fact, Ring and his associates
have been extremely critical of all the explanations that have been offered outside
of the New Age interpretation. Although each theory fails to illuminate decisively the
NDE phenomenon, some (e.g., the endorphin and transient depersonalization
models) deserve further exploration under scientific conditions. The bottom line,
however, is that science still has a long way to go before it can explain this
phenomenon adequately (if it ever can). Thus, we must concur with Melvin Morse
that from a medical perspective, "the near-death experience remains a
EXPLODING A NEW AGE MYTH
The more one accepts the New Age interpretation of the near-death experience,
the less acceptable are the medical explanations. However, if elements of the NDE
as defined and described by Moody and other New Agers are shown to be less
credible, then perhaps some of the medical explanations might be more plausible.
One of the major difficulties in assessing the New Age interpretation of NDEs is that
most of the serious work in this field has been conducted by professionals who
profess or are open to New Age ideas. Some research, however, has been done
that paints a different picture of NDEs, and more information is increasingly
emerging in support of that other picture.
The research of Michael Sabom deserves special attention. Although his book
Recollections of Death (published in 1982) is presently out of print, it probably
presents the most objective observations on the near-death experience.
Sabom is a cardiologist who recorded the accounts of a number of people who
apparently died and experienced NDEs. He discovered that the elements in NDEs
can be divided into two segments: the first segment comprises those elements
that have to do with out-of-body experiences; the second segment comprises
those elements that have to do with transcendence. In other words, leaving the
body and seeing one's self are parts of the first segment, while feeling deep joy and
seeing a being of light are parts of the second segment. What is significant about
his research is that he discovered that only a small percentage of his patients
experienced both segments. In fact, OBEs were recollected in only a few cases.
What Sabom found is supported by Elizabeth Hillstrom, a professor of psychology
at Wheaton College who has studied a number of NDE cases since 1977. She also
says only a few of her interviewees recalled an out-of-body experience during their
NDEs. If OBEs occur in NDEs far less than what has been claimed by New Agers,
it not only brings into question their definition of an NDE, but their interpretation of
NDEs as well. Thus, Moody's 15 elements can no longer be seen as a consistent
model of an NDE. Moreover, by reducing the importance of OBEs, some of the
medical explanations gain more credibility in a majority of cases (e.g., the
endorphin model and drug influence).
New Agers continually stress how wonderful the near-death experience is -- one
allegedly feels inexplicable love, joy, and peace. Such sensations, they say, are a
key element of an NDE. That some people have experienced these feelings is not in
question, but that they alone describe NDEs is disputed by other research that
indicates that some people have had hellish experiences during their NDEs. For
instance, Carol Zaleski, a professor of religion at Smith College, records not only
the heavenly but the hellish descriptions of NDEs in her historical treatment of this
phenomenon. Her book Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death
Experiences in Medieval and Modern Times is at the same time widely
respected for its academic excellence and is troubling to some New Agers who
have assumed that NDEs confirm their belief in a nonjudgmental God and a
punishment-free afterlife for all people.
Maurice Rawlings, a Christian cardiologist, has observed that these hellish
experiences include encounters with demons or Satan himself and sensations of
being in a lake of fire. In Beyond Death's Door, Rawlings further notes that there
are probably just as many hellish as there are heavenly episodes of NDEs, but that
the hellish experiences are so terrifying that most people who have had these kinds
of experiences psychologically suppress them.
By revealing a very dark side to NDEs, Zaleski, Rawlings, and others have rendered
suspect the standard New Age portrayal of the near-death experience as
containing an aspect of transcendence -- that is, NDEs are not always so beautiful
and sublime, but can be quite frightening. And even if some of the experiences do
sound New Age, the fact that others do not means that NDEs do not offer clear
and uniform support to the New Age world view. Each must thus be evaluated
on its own merits.
Another important element in the New Age interpretation of the near-death
experience is their claim that NDEs change people's lives in a very positive manner
-- that is, they become more loving; they become seekers of truth; they value life
itself more highly; they lose their fear of death. What one rarely hears from New
Agers is that not only can an NDE be a life-changing experience in a so-called
positive way, it can be quite a negative life-changing experience as well.
In Coming Back to Life, P. M. H. Atwater describes many of the unpleasant
effects that NDEs have had on her and other people. Although Atwater is
deeply involved in the occult and mediumship, she is nevertheless candid about
NDEs' severe psychological disturbances on people. For instance, she found that
many people -- following an NDE -- seem to drift, finding it difficult to be committed
to relationships and a vocation. Thus, many people experience family problems,
divorce, and the inability to hold a job. One could say that NDEs are partly
responsible for many wrecked lives -- a startlingly different picture of the near-death experience from that portrayed by Moody, Ring, Morse, and others of their
In the field of psychology, very little attention has been focused on this
phenomenon from a Christian perspective. Indeed, Elizabeth Hillstrom is the only
Christian scholar I am aware of who has devoted years of intense research to the
study of near-death experiences. I asked her which elements of the New Age
interpretation of NDEs were most disturbing to her as a Christian. She immediately
spoke of "the being of light" and the message conveyed by this being.
Although many NDEers identify the being of light as Jesus Christ, Hillstrom points
out that this being never really tells people who he is. The NDEer assumes from the
message and the radiant glow that he is Jesus. In Part One of this article, we
discovered that this being usually preaches a message of unconditional love and
universal acceptance of all people -- a message that sounds wonderful, but actually
is quite deceptive because it denies any divine judgment or responsibility for sin. In
fact, this message smacks of New Age ideas. Hillstrom examines this message one
step further by looking at what this being of light does not say, by asking the
question: "Where is the Great Commission?" If, indeed, this being of light is Jesus
Christ, certainly he would tell people that he is Christ and to go back and tell others
that he is the only way to God. Since he doesn't, his identity becomes not only
problematic, but also alarming.
A TURN TO THE BIBLE
There are two important reasons why we should turn to the Bible as we try to
understand the NDE phenomenon. First (and quite obviously for Christians), the
Bible is the supreme authority in guiding the lives of believers. It conveys what God
declares essential for humans to know about truth and how to please Him.
Therefore, whatever the Bible has to say bearing on near-death experiences must
be thoroughly and objectively examined.
In addition, we must turn to the Bible because NDE advocates also turn to the
Bible to support their interpretations of this phenomenon. Since many of these
advocates believe in the universality of all religions, they naturally seek passages
from as many religious texts as they can find that seem to parallel the near-death
experience, including one particular biblical account that they assert describes some
NDE elements. What NDE advocates claim to find in this biblical account must not
be taken at face value, however, but must be studied also in contrast to the total
NDE model that they have established.
The biblical event that New Age writers frequently try to link with NDEs is taken
from Acts 9:3-6 and 26:12-23, which respectively relate Paul's encounter with
Christ on the road to Damascus and Paul's own account of his experience. In this
story Paul, who was still named Saul at the time, was broadening his zealous
persecution of Christians when a blazing light halted his journey to Damascus. After
being blinded by the light, Paul heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?" (9:4). Presently the voice identified Himself as Jesus. From this
experience Paul became a dedicated disciple of Christ.
According to Raymond Moody, "This episode obviously bears some resemblance to
the encounter with the being of light in near death experiences." Moody
supports his claim by drawing parallels between the radiant light, the presence of a
spiritual being, the conveying of a message, and the life-changing effect of this
experience with elements he attributes to NDEs. Furthermore, Moody says,
although Paul was labeled as insane because of his story, he went on to preach
love as a way of life to others. The correlations are quite clear.
There are, however, glaring distinctions between the two. First and most
importantly, Paul did not have a near-death experience. Some people have
asked how we know that he didn't. The best answer comes from Paul himself
when he later elaborates on the incident, offering further details to King Agrippa
without once mentioning that he had died (Acts 26:2-29). Another difference is
that the light blinded Paul, while in NDEs the light does not visually impair people's
eyes. Moody admits to these two variances, but does not mention one other
critical difference. While most NDEers prefer to keep their experience private, Paul
felt compelled to proclaim his conversion experience to everyone around him, even
including those who would be extremely hostile to his words. In fact, Paul
demonstrated the best example of fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission -- he not only
preached love, but declared Jesus Christ as the only way to God.
Beyond Paul's conversion story, New Agers are hard pressed to enlist other biblical
accounts with which to draw similarities to NDEs. They have alluded to Paul's
discussion of spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-52); Paul's reference to a man
(apparently himself) who saw the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4), which they assert
was an NDE; and Jesus' self-declaration as "the light of the world" (John 8:12).
None of these biblical passages, however, were intended to illuminate the
mysteries of the near-death experience.
In context, the "spiritual bodies" Paul writes of in 1 Corinthians 15 are the bodies
believers will possess after they have been resurrected at the time of Christ's
second coming. Jesus' declaration that He is the light of the world pertains to the
spiritual illumination He brings to the world -- it has no necessary relevance for the
near-death experience. While the experience Paul discusses in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
could be called a near-death experience -- he himself did not know whether he had
died ("out of the body") or seen a vision ("in the body") -- it is not described in
terms similar to Moody's profile of an NDE. Rather, it was a unique revelatory
experience in keeping with Paul's unique calling as the "apostle to the Gentiles"
(Gal. 2:7-9). It thus cannot be taken as representative of a near-death experience
common to humanity.
There are several cases in the Bible in which people have returned from the dead:
Elisha restored the Shunammite boy back to life (2 Kings 4:8-37); Jesus healed a
ruler's dead daughter (Matt. 9:18-26); and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead
(John 11:38-44). What happened to them while they were dead is never
described, however, and thus they need no discussion. One biblical account that
does deserve comment is the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:54-60). In this story
Stephen looks up to heaven and sees the glory of God and Jesus. But what must
be noted is that Stephen had this vision before he was stoned -- that is, he was
not dying when he saw Jesus.
The point is that the Bible says little, if anything, about what occurs during a near-death experience. Nevertheless, the Bible is very clear about God's displeasure with
those who invite spirit beings into their lives. "Do not practice divination or
sorcery....Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by
them. I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:26, 31). And, if the being of light is an
actual spirit entity who is actually conveying a universalist message, then biblically
we must conclude that he is an evil spirit, not Jesus Christ (John 14:6; cf. 2 Cor.
11:3-4). Now, many NDEers never sought a near-death experience, nor did they
seek the being of light. Thus they cannot be charged with violating God's prohibition
of spiritism. But many others, especially those who espouse New Age ideas,
actively seek further encounters with this being. These are guilty of spiritism and
stand in desperate need of repentance and restoration before the true God.
But how can we conclude that this being of light is an evil spirit when he exudes
love and joy and peace, and when he encourages people to love others? It is tough
to speak against such an argument. It is much easier to speak against a horned
demon with a pitchfork who commands people to hate, hurt, and rebel. Spiritual
warfare, however, is a battleground where it is often difficult to identify the enemy.
Frequently he disguises himself as a beloved friend. Deception has always been his
way, and it has been a deadly weapon in his arsenal evident since he used it in the
Garden of Eden. Indeed, Paul warned Timothy that "in later times some will
abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Tim.
4:1). Of course, the most evil deception is when the Devil appears to be God.
Again, Paul's words ring true: "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2
One question relevant to Christians still remains unanswered: How should we view
the near-death experiences of those people who have become faithful followers of
Christ because of their near-death experience? In Part One of this article, I
recounted the story of Dan, who experienced many of the classic elements of an
NDE, which led to his Christian conversion. To this day he strongly believes he met
Jesus during that experience. Did he, however, actually encounter the Devil?
Since NDEs are of a subjective nature, determining their source is largely a
speculative venture. With divine, demonic, and several natural factors all meriting
consideration, a single, universal explanation for NDEs becomes quite risky. So,
while the Devil apparently has been involved with some NDEs, who can say with
certainty that Dan encountered the Devil instead of Christ? If the message and
experience of an NDE does not distort or conflict with biblical teachings, then we
should be careful not to speak against that which resulted in salvation and may
have been a genuine work of God.
Nevertheless, a potential problem emerges when near-death experiences are
exalted as a means of bringing people to Christ. Such endorsement could lead
many to trust NDEs more than they should, accepting them as generally authentic
rather than examining the merits of each case individually. Indeed, if the message
of the being of light, the interpretation of the near-death experience, or the lifestyle
that results from the experience contradicts the teachings of the Bible, then that
particular NDE should not be accepted as valid.
In addition, there are some NDE accounts that provide elaborate and fantastic
details concerning heaven and hell that go far beyond Scripture. When unreservedly
accepted, these reports function as extrabiblical revelation about the nature of the
world beyond. This can easily weaken Scriptural authority while diluting the divinely
revealed content of Christian faith with the feeble projections of human
imagination. The best protection against such error, if we are to hold that some
NDEs may in fact be genuine, is to maintain that only the Bible can be trusted
absolutely as a revelation of heavenly realities.
We must also remember that medical research is still at an early stage of exploring
this phenomenon and may yet provide vital understanding on this subject. It is
quite possible that physical/psychological and spiritual explanations can
complement each other. For instance, just as many Christians have understood
satanic powers to operate through the effects of mind-altering chemicals such as
LSD, so these powers might also intrude on someone's consciousness affected by
bodily chemicals, such as endorphins, or the psychological stress of near-death
trauma. In fact, such a possibility is likely if the person has previously engaged in
extreme forms of occult activity.
It is possible, therefore, for an NDE to be partly explained medically and partly
explained spiritually. When, for example, the message of the being of light is
obviously intended to deceive the NDEer, that experience can be explained in terms
of satanic influence without denying medical or psychological causes.
It is also possible that demonic influence enters in some time after the NDE
occurred. In such cases an experience that is authentic, or at least not occultic, is
later remembered or interpreted as conveying a universalist message. The
research of Maurice Rawlings would seem to support this.
In conclusion, we should avoid overgeneralizing either the implications of NDEs or
the experiences themselves. In many cases, something decidedly wrong has
occurred at some point on a spiritual level; in other cases the experience may have
just been a natural phenomenon; and in still other cases, the Lord Himself may
have been involved in an authentic near-death experience. We cannot draw any
conclusions about individual cases, however, without first taking what has been
reported about the experience and the message and examining this report under
the light of God's Word. According to this test, any doctrine that denies the
judgment of God is condemned. But any testimony that glorifies Jesus Christ as
the only Lord and Savior is worthy of our serious consideration (1 Cor. 12:3).
1 Verlyn Klinkenborg, "At the Edge of Eternity," Life, March 1992, 65.
2 Ibid., 73.
3 Melvin Morse, Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death
Experiences of Children (New York: IVY Books, 1990), 224.
4 Ibid., 224-25.
5 John White, "Beyond the Body: An Interview with Kenneth Ring," Science of
Mind, November 1982, 12.
6 Ibid., 13.
7 Morse, 226.
8 Michael Sabom, Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation (New York:
Harper & Row, 1982).
9 This writer interviewed Dr. Hillstrom on 27 April 1992.
10 Carol Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experiences
in Medieval and Modern Times (New York: Oxford University, 1988).
11 Maurice Rawlings, Beyond Death's Door (New York: Bantam, 1991).
12 P. M. H. Atwater, Coming Back to Life: The Aftereffects of the Near-Death
Experience (New York: Ballantine, 1988).
13 Dr. Hillstrom is currently writing a book for InterVarsity Press that is slated to be
published next year. In this book she critiques some of the proofs that New Agers
use to support their positions on altered states of consciousness, paranormal
powers, meditation, and, of course, near-death experiences. She has taught
courses on this issue for several years at Wheaton College. At this time her book
has yet to be titled.
14 Raymond A. Moody, Jr., Life After Life (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books,
Taken from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1992. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian
Research Journal is Elliot Miller. Copyright © 1994 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box
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