'Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' Publisher, Retailer Warned Story Was a Lie; Continued to Sell Despite Concerns From Mother, Christian Leaders

Artwork from Tyndale's commercial design team in celebration of its 50th anniversary. | (Photo: Tyndale House Publishers)

The producer and one of the largest retailers of the book "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" were warned over a year ago that the story was false, however, both continued to profit off the popular best-selling book despite the mother's concerns.

The Christian publishing company Tyndale House Publishers, the producer of the popular 2010 book, was warned at least two years ago that the book was not based on a true story, like it claims, and that the premise of the book was false. However, Tyndale failed to stop producing the book when the mother of the child co-author reached out to recant his story.

The publishing company announced last week that it will no longer produce the book after its co-author, 16-year-old Alex Malarkey, wrote an open letter recanting his testimony that claimed he died and went to heaven, saw angels and met Jesus and Satan, all during a two-month coma at the age of 6.

Although Tyndale House released a statement stating that the decision to drop the book was in light of Malarkey's recent open letter, Malarkey and his mother, Beth, have urged for over three years for the publishing company and book retailers to stop "profiting off of lies." However, neither Tyndale House nor LifeWay Christian Stores, acted on the Malarkeys' concern, despite having knowledge that the story was untrue.

Paul Johnson, who runs the Grace to You media ministry of John MacArthur's Grace Community Church in California, was contacted by Beth Malarkey in 2012 after he wrote a negative review of the book. Malarkey told Johnson that she had been trying to spread the word that the story is an "embellishment." She shared correspondence that she had with Tyndale House regarding the matter, yet they were unable to get the company to stop producing the book.

"For the record, Tyndale House Publishers knew full well more than two years ago that Kevin Malarkey's book contained fabricated stories," Johnson wrote. "I have a stack of correspondence between Beth Malarkey and Tyndale in which she tried to make Alex's true voice heard. They completely blew her off."

The book was co-written by Malarkey's father, Kevin, who has since divorced Beth and continues to receive 100 percent of the royalties from the book. Kevin Malarkey maintains that the Alex's story was true.

Last April, a Beth Malarkey wrote a blog post stating her frustrations that the her concerns have not been taken seriously and that the book continues to be published without being "questioned."

Johnson stated that he also sent a scathing letter to Tyndale House concerning the false claims in the book, however, Tyndale House did not reply to the letter.

Last Friday, Tyndale House publicist Maggie Rowe released a statement acknowledging that the company knew for years that Beth Malarkey had concerns over the validity of the claims in the book. The statement claims that Tyndale House attempted to establish a meeting with the Beth, Alex, and Kevin Malarkey but the family would never agree to a meeting.

In response to Rowe's statement, Johnson sent Rowe a letter stating that her statement was false. Johnson's letter stated that there had been numerous email exchanges between Tyndale House and Beth Malarkey. Johnson's letter also states that both Beth and Alex did, in fact, agree to a meeting with Tyndale House, but one was never set up.

"It is perfectly clear that Tyndale House had ample reason to put the brakes on this book years ago," Johnson wrote. "I have many more emails between various Tyndale representatives and Beth Malarkey that further prove the point. I'm willing to make them public if that's what it takes to make the truth of the matter known."

LifeWay Christian Stores, one of the nation's largest Christian retailers, also announced last week, after Malarkey's open letter, that it would remove the book from its bookshelves. LifeWay maintains that it found out that the book was false when Malarkey's open letter was published. However, they were also informed months earlier that the book was based on false claims. Pulpit & Pen, the website that published Malarkey's open letter, reported that LifeWay was informed of the book's invalid claim last year.

Pulpit & Pen posted text from an email conversation between a former LifeWay trustee, Justin Peters, and LifeWay President Thom Rainer dated from May of 2014.

"[I]f you are not already aware, the book 'The Boy Who Came Back From heaven' detailing story of Alex Malarkey is fiction. It did not happen," the trustee wrote. "I know this because I have exchanged numerous emails and have personally spoken with Beth Malarkey, Alex's mom. Alex does not support the book. You might want to pull this, too, if you haven't already … I will be glad to give you Mrs. Malarkey's phone number and email address if you would like to verify that I am telling you the truth."

Johnson further writes in a blog post that the publication of inaccuracies and fiction, such as the kind seen in "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven," has become an underlying problem in the evangelical printing industry. He stated that companies continue to publish "heaven tourism" books just for the sole purpose of profit.

"What's different about the current crop of afterlife testimonies is that they are being eagerly sought and relentlessly cranked out by evangelical publishers," Johnson writes. "They are bought and devoured by millions who would describe themselves as born-again Bible-believing Christians.

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