22 August 2008

Book Review: 90 Minutes in Heaven (Part One)

I read Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven as part of my research for a series of lessons I taught on Heaven to my Sunday School class at church. After reading it, I must say I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I don't think he's lying; I think he had some sort of experience, and as far as we know, he really was dead at the scene of the accident. On the other hand, his experience is not consistent with what the Bible says about Heaven. But we'll get to that in a little bit.

Since this is my first book review, I am devising an arbitrary grading matrix for book reviews. I will give the book up to 100 points, split up into the categories of Readability (15 points), Theological Accuracy (40 points), Accomplishment of Thesis (20 points), and Persuasion (25 points). If I don't like this setup, I'll change it for the next book review.

Here's the basic story of the book: Don Piper, a Baptist minister, was driving home from a convention in Texas on January 18, 1989. While crossing a bridge, a large supply truck from a prison lost control and hit him head-on, crushing his little Ford Escort and killing him instantly. He was declared dead by EMTs at 11:45 am and was left in the car until the coroner arrived. Meanwhile, a fellow Baptist minister and convention attendee came up on the scene and felt a strong burden to pray for the then-unknown man in the car. After persuading the EMTs to let him pray for the dead man, he climbed inside the car and laid a hand on Piper's good shoulder (the left was barely still there) and prayed for quite a while, intermittently singing hymns. At 1:15 pm, during a song, the dead man began to sing along with the minister. Piper was rushed to the hospital and the rest of the book details his time in Heaven, his recovery, and his subsequent ministry.

So here we go. Readability: 10/15. Piper and co-author Cecil Murphy are not the best writers I've read. They're not bad, either. At times, you can sense them struggling for the right words to express what Piper experienced, and sometimes it just ends up summarizing overwhelming experiences with somewhat cliche wording: "I still didn't know why, but the joyousness of the place wiped away any questions. Everything felt blissful. Perfect" (23).

Accomplishment of Thesis: 10/20. The reason for the low score is because when I bought this book, I expected it to be a book about Don Piper's 90 minutes in Heaven. Only 16 out of 205 pages actually describe his time in Heaven, a major bait-and-switch. The book should be called Back From the Dead: One Man's Painful Journey of Recovery After a Fatal Car Accident. Nearly 170 pages chronicle his physical and emotional recovery.

Stay tuned for part two.

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