Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review: To Heaven and Back
by Dr. Mary Neal

A kayak accident during a South American adventure takes one woman to heaven — where she experienced God’s peace, joy, and angels — and back to life again.

In 1999 in the Los Rios region of southern Chile, orthopedic surgeon, devoted wife, and loving mother Dr. Mary Neal drowned in a kayak accident. While cascading down a waterfall, her kayak became pinned at the bottom and she was immediately and completely submerged. Despite the rescue efforts of her companions, Mary was underwater for too long, and as a result, died.

To Heaven and Back is Mary’s remarkable story of her life’s spiritual journey and what happened as she moved from life to death to eternal life, and back again. Detailing her feelings and surroundings in heaven, her communication with angels, and her deep sense of sadness when she realized it wasn’t her time, Mary shares the captivating experience of her modern-day miracle.

Mary’s life has been forever changed by her newfound understanding of her purpose on earth, her awareness of God, her closer relationship with Jesus, and her personal spiritual journey suddenly enhanced by a first-hand experience in heaven.  To Heaven and Back will reacquaint you with the hope, wonder, and promise of heaven, while enriching you own faith and walk with God.

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Within the last few years, I've enjoyed reading a couple of books that recounted the testimonies of those who have had experiences in heaven.  Don Piper’s book 90 Minutes in Heaven was amazing, and his continued testimony of how he has endured physical and emotional pain since his return is inspiring.  I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of years ago, and I look forward to finishing his follow-up book of encouragements, Heaven is Real.

This past Christmas I also read the jaw-dropping story of Colton Burpo in Heaven is for Real, which has spent many weeks on the bestseller lists.  In both cases, I was awed, inspired and given so much hope from the experiences of these two individuals.  As a Christian I do believe in heaven, but to hear direct testimony from these guys was just incredible.  And while their stories are amazing, I felt comfortable believing in what they’ve been sharing with their audiences.

Recently I saw Dr. Mary Neal on a national news program sharing her own heavenly story as well, and my interest was piqued.  I read her book To Heaven and Back, and while I found it interesting and at times amazing, I didn’t feel as compelled to buy into everything that was shared in her story.  I believe that she’s sharing from her heart, that she has good intentions and that she did have these experiences.  I just felt that theologically there were some “red flags” in her story.  I always try to apply what I know of God’s word whenever I hear stories like hers, and for some reason, I felt that some of it just didn’t line up.

I’m not trying to discount eyewitness accounts of miracles that most certainly occurred the day of Dr. Neal’s accident.  I do believe in miracles, both ancient and modern, and I do accept that many miraculous things have happened to Mary.  There were just some subsequent spiritual moments and revelations in her life that I cannot be certain were from the Lord.

For example, she believes that we existed before our birth here on earth, and that we have already seen the basic outline of how our lives are going to play out.  She also believes that very young children still hold the memories of their pre-earth lives.  She states:

In preparation for our journey to earth, we are able to make a basic outline for our life. This is not to imply that we, the humans, are entirely in charge of our life’s design. It is more like God creates it, then we review it and discuss it with our “personal planning” angel. Within the algorithm are written branch points in our lives at which times we may exit, returning to God, or we may be redirected to a different task and goal.

I know that Dr. Neal is just writing from her heart, sharing what she has experienced and truly believes.  I also know that there is much about the spirit world that we cannot begin to comprehend, sometimes making it very difficult to verify.  There are forces that can disguise themselves as angels of light, deceiving us into believing things that seem to be lovely and true, but in actuality go against what the Lord has told us in His word. 

Unfortunately, I’m not enough a Biblical scholar to specifically refute the things that didn’t sit well with me in this book.  Much of To Heaven and Back was encouraging and amazing, showing God’s definite hand in the life of this intelligent, caring woman.  There were just enough doubtful elements that keep me from accepting the whole of the book.  My recommendation would be to read her story with both an open mind and a skeptic’s heart as well.  There’s much to learn from Dr. Mary Neal’s testimony, but I would take care as you experience it for yourself.

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In order to be an informed reader,
here are some To Heaven and Back book resources:


 I received this book for free from
WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
for this review.

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