An Episcopal pastor and former hospital chaplain has released a book titled Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences, which chronicles over 200 near-death experiences that people have shared with him. The accounts describe both heavenly and hellish experiences, some of which challenge conservative Christian beliefs.
The Rev. John W. Price, 74, who continues to serve at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, shared in an exclusive phone interview with The Christian Post that he has spoken to more than 237 people who have had near-death experiences, despite his initial reservations.
Ordained as a priest in 1965, Price admits that at the start of his career, he did not believe in near-death experiences at all, and even turned away the first couple of people who tried to share with him visions of what they went through. As he explains in Revealing Heaven, when he became a chaplain at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston and more people starting coming up to him with their stories, he started paying closer attention – and his views began changing.
"I was visiting medical doctors who were very involved in resuscitations, and they were very encouraging to me that I should write a book," Price said in his interview with CP.
"That seven-year appointment was a very good one in terms of the works I was able to do – it's what I became a priest for. It gave me an introduction to all these people who had these experiences."
Near-death experiences remain a controversial topic for many people. Hundreds of books and countless research papers have been written on the subject, both from Christian, New-Age, and other points of view. Various professionals in the medical science field have both tried to prove and disprove these accounts, which range from flashes of traveling through a tunnel, to remarkably detailed visions of meeting deceased relatives in heaven and even talking to Jesus Christ.
Some people have tried to dismiss all NDEs as nothing more than hallucinations produced by chemical reactions in a fading brain. But the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, of which Price is also a member, stores thousands of full-text accounts of people claiming to have seen the afterlife.
"The people who would claim that these are fiction are not paying close attention to the doctors who, independently of each other, have researched this and pronounced this valid," Price explained.
"The medical personnel I visited are in two groups. One group is the emergency room technicians and medics, and cardiologists who routinely deal with resuscitations, with people who have died. These are the very people who know that this is real, they deal with many of these every week," he continued.
"The others who are not involved with resuscitations – and that is a key point, lean back on the conventional medical wisdom, which says it can't happen, that when the brain dies, the mind ceases to exist, in the same way like if you pull the plug out of the wall of a computer that was running."
Revealing Heaven is focused on the most interesting stories people shared with the Episcopal pastor, but it does devote a few sections on looking at the medical argument behind the issue.
Price shares of several notable doctors, such as neurologist Pim van Lommel in Holland, who has conducted tests with people who experienced a period of clinical death before coming back to life, and found that those claiming an out-of body experience were aware of things they could not have possibly known, such as a specific sequence of numbers he had put on a shelf.
"Conventional medical science does not understand it," Price said.
"The ones who have done research on this understand it, but they do not recognize it, and say that it is valid. Dr. Raymond Moody, who wrote Life after Life, said in his book 'I am a medical doctor and not qualified to speak to the religious and theological implications of this.'"
The Episcopal priest shared that that phrase stuck in his mind, and made him realize: "Well, a pastor dealing with people who have had this experience would be the one to do that. And many years later I realized that was me."
It is estimated that the number of people in America who have had near-death experiences is in the millions, but because of the stigma and ridicule often associated of sharing such unique accounts, many choose to keep it to themselves.
Price revealed that many pastors, priests and rabbi don't believe in such visions, much like he didn't at the beginning of his priesthood, and therefore tell people who come up to them with these accounts to keep quiet.
"People who have had this experience do not want it to be scoffed at, denigrated. When my mind got changed, people who have had that experience realized they could talk to me, and that I would take them seriously. So that's the key difference why so many have not had anyone try to tell them about this," the former hospital chaplain said.
As for the visions themselves, the vast majority that Price describes are of people having pleasant experiences. Many say that they were shown a review of their life, where their past mistakes were exposed in a loving, non-condemning way.
What he says is surprising in these accounts is that even people who would be ruled out of heaven based on conservative Christian thought – such as practicing gay people, those with non-Christian faiths and even no faith at all – all shared with him encouraging afterlife visions.
However, 12 of the accounts that Revealing Heaven describe are of people who had a hellish experience. Price said in the interview that that number is up to 15 now. He suggests that this is not because most people with near-death experiences see heaven while only very few see hell but that those who have had negative visions are much more concerned and reluctant to share what they have been through. One such famous NDE account is the book My Descent into Death by former atheist professor Howard Storm, who then became a pastor.
In one very vivid story about hell that Revealing Heaven shares, a prisoner with a violent criminal past who attempted to kill himself describes how he was tortured by what appeared to be a demon, before praying and begging God for forgiveness. His plea for mercy was answered, and he woke up to find himself back in the hospital room with a second chance in life.
All the hellish accounts come from self-described nasty people who admitted they had lived hate-filled lives, causing harm to others, before these visions motivated them to turn their lives around.
Price admits that many of these revelations could be seen as challenging conservative Christian beliefs, such as that of an eternal hell where no one gets a second chance at redemption, and the belief that non-Christians can get into heaven.
What is more, he references former megachurch pastor Rob Bell's book Love Wins, writing that it "reflects what I observe from accounts of near death experiences and have since come to understand about God."
Bell has caused a lot of debate and discussion among evangelical Christians for his views questioning an eternal hell, that homosexuality is sinful, and that only Christians will be allowed into heaven.
Price maintained, however, that near-death accounts are also presented in the Bible. While some apostles, such as Matthew and Mark, did not mention returns from deaths in their stories and parables about death, Paul and John did share of such accounts. Revealing Heaven goes into detail about several Bible passages that talk specifically about visions of the afterlife, and how they can be used to relate to NDEs today.
One philosophical question that Price admitted was hard to answer concerned objective and subjective truth when it comes to NDE accounts. All the visions shared with him contained some unique elements relevant to a person's cultural background, but also many common themes, such as God expressing His love for all creation.
But whether all of these accounts point to an underlining objective truth, or whether it can be argued that they are at most subjectively true for those who have experienced them, is something each person will have to decide for themselves.
Price offered that some who continue to dispute NDEs might be coming from an Aristotelian philosophy, which dictates that man arrives to truth using the five senses. The pastor insisted, however, that humans have shown that sometimes, they tap into something else when it comes to decision making.
The pastor shared that he once asked a friend if he used his five senses when selecting his wife. The man's response was "I did – my first one." The implications were that the marriage did not work when the decision was based solely on the senses, which failed to warn his friend that that particular woman was not going to be a suitable life partner for him.
"Not all truth can be achieved from the five senses," Price surmised.
The conclusion of Revealing Heaven, which was released last month in bookstores and online, including on Amazon, reads:
"The insights from these accounts speak to us emphatically about God's loving nature and command us to love. That is how we are to live, in love, together."