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'90 Minutes in Heaven' and Christianity's complicated relationship to near-death experiences
The latest faith-based film to hit the big screen, "90 Minutes in Heaven," has caused some Christians to question the popularity of books and movies about near-death experiences. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Not all Christians are happy about the latest faith-based film to hit theaters.

"90 Minutes in Heaven," released last week, follows Rev. Don Piper's recovery after a near-fatal car accident, including his struggle to settle for life on earth after spending an hour and a half in what he believes was heaven. It's a story about how a near-death experience can strengthen someone's faith, but writer and professor Scot McKnight believes it also illustrates the danger of letting popular conceptions replace the biblical view of heaven.

Near-death experiences "make us think each person gets the heaven they want," he wrote for Christianity Today.

Near-death experiences have been in the news repeatedly over the last few years, as films like "Heaven Is for Real" and books like "Proof of Heaven" grabbed headlines. The Atlantic investigated their popularity in April, highlighting how even some skeptical medical professionals believe there's merit in claims of "experiencers."

"Though details and descriptions vary across cultures, the overall tenor of the experience is remarkably similar" from account to account, The Atlantic reported.

And that's the problem, McKnight wrote, questioning why Christians celebrate stories of near-death experiences that contradict biblical teachings about heaven.

"My reading of hundreds of (near-death experience) stories is that they in fact often don't confirm what the Bible says. In fact, they bring into the light the faith and convictions and suspicions and hopes and dreams of what the person already believed," he said. "In this case, the Bible is being pushed to the side for the sake of experience."

Although the film's producers have not acknowledged the potential for controversy in portraying a near-death experience, they have provided several other incentives for faith-based audiences. Critics have noted that viewers will likely be touched by the movie's focus on family issues like how to pay for quality health care and the power of a faith community's support.

"'90 Minutes in Heaven' is most effective as it details the emotional and financial cost of Piper's survival, dealing with such nitty-gritty details as mounting medical bills (and) a transfer to another (and presumably lesser) hospital after the insurance company curtails payments," Variety reported. "Naturally, the prayers of friends, fellow parishioners and simpatico strangers are invaluable resources for Piper and his family."

Additionally, Giving Films, the production company behind "90 Minutes in Heaven," has promised all profits to charities in and around Atlanta, Georgia, where the movie was filmed, WSB-TV Atlanta reported.

"With '90 Minutes in Heaven,' you're not just enjoying an inspiring film, you're inspiring others. Giving Films donates ALL profits!" tweeted the account for the film this weekend.

As of Monday, ticket sales for "90 Minutes in Heaven" had surpassed $2 million, Box Office Mojo reported. The book by the same name, which was based on a true story, was on The New York Times best-seller list for more than five years following its release in 2004, according to Christian Retailing.
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