90 Minutes in Heaven

90 Minutes in Heaven – the movie

The new movie 90 Minutes in Heaven hit theaters on Friday, September 11 and I went to see it last night. The movie, which is based on a 2004 book of the same name, is about a pastor, Don Piper, who claims that he died, went to heaven and returned as the result of a terrible auto accident in 1989. His book is really what kicked off the current Near Death Experience (NDE) / “Heaven Tourism” phenomenon in the Christian realm—which continues unabated with books and movies.

As of this writing, after eleven years, Piper’s book is still ranked #1 in Eschatology on Amazon.com, has sold over 7 million copies and has been translated into 42 different languages (if I recall the info at the end of the movie correctly).

I first read Piper’s book in the spring of 2014 as part of research I did into over 25 NDEs, including reading the books Heaven is for Real, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, Clinically Dead, To Heaven and Back, My Journey to Heaven and Heaven and the Afterlife.

First, I want to say that I’m not challenging the sincerity or motives of the author. The Lord knows the heart.

Second, the accident in which Piper was severely injured was truly horrific and the recovery process was excruciatingly painful—and I wouldn’t want to minimize how much he and his family went through in surviving such a traumatic ordeal.

That being said, just as is true of all NDEs, I do not believe that Piper died and went to heaven. At the accident, he was declared dead because they couldn’t find a pulse for 90 minutes.

However, there is a difference between being clinically dead and being dead in the biblical sense. When someone is clinically dead, all that means is that vital life signs can no longer be detected, but to be dead in the biblical sense means that the person spirit leaves the body—and the two do not necessarily occur simultaneously. Furthermore, the depiction in the movie is that only Piper’s pulse could not be detected by EMTs—and there were no indications that any medical equipment was used to detect other evidences of life like brain waves, sense of touch/feel, body warmth, etc. There are many recorded instances of people with very minimal vital signs being declared dead, when in reality they weren’t—and even began to recover in mortuaries and morgues.

There is no reason to believe that Piper’s experience was anything more than a vivid dream in the midst of serious trauma with perhaps his body on the verge of death with its cascading bio-chemical processes that happen as a body and brain begins to shut down. There is no way to objectively confirm that anything like an out-of-body experience actually happened. Everything is entirely based on one man’s perception—and in cases like this, perception does not necessarily correspond to reality.

For an in-depth discussion of NDEs, please refer to my article here on the ABI website by clicking here.

Normally I try to stay away from critiquing books and movies from a literary or artistic perspective and instead focus on content. However, with a movie the medium can’t really be separated from the message because the script, dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, the music, etc. are all inseparably linked to how the message is presented and perceived. In the case of 90 Minutes in Heaven, it is just a really poor movie—with a rating of only 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, 4.1/10 on IMDB and 28% on Metacritic.

First, it drags on and on at a snail’s pace—to the point of being painful. I simply could not wait for it to be over. Had I not been watching it for purposes of research for an upcoming interview, I would have been very tempted to leave.

​Second, the title is almost deceptive as very, very little is actually said or depicted about Piper’s time in heaven. The vast majority of both the book and movie deal only with his recovery time in the hospital—and not about his claimed trip to heaven—which is why people picked up the book or will go to the movie in the first place. You almost feel like it is a bait-and-switch by the end of the movie as there can’t be more than five minutes of total screen time given to the heaven sequences which occur at two different points in movie.

Speaking of which, the depiction of heaven was almost painful to watch. On the one-hand, it was both predictable and clichéd. It showed the “pearly gates” with a golden light emanating from them. Many people that Piper had known were there to welcome him—all exactly the same age as they were when they died (is that how we’re going to spend eternity?). And one of the most bizarre things is that several, perhaps most of the men were wearing coats and ties, while the women were all wearing dresses. Just strange.

Furthermore, the dialogue is really very poor—and even hokey in places. People just don’t talk like the characters in the movie—who are supposed to be portraying real people, real events and real conversations. It was just not believable.

This is true of much of the acting, as well—and even some decent acting by Fred Thompson and a brief appearance by Michael W. Smith didn’t salvage the movie. Country singer Dwight Yoakam’s character as a sleaze-bag lawyer was excruciatingly painful to watch—to the point that it could best be described as a caricature of a caricature (sorry Dwight Yoakam fans, but it was bad acting at its worst).

I could go on and on, but I want to close with a couple of thoughts:

1. The most appalling part of the movie was the last few minutes. After the story of the movie ended, it cut to Don Piper himself (not the person playing his character) who was speaking in a packed church. If his message in the over 3,000 churches where he has shared his story was anything like the end of the movie, then he has no right to consider himself a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ—because he did not give the gospel at all—not even a single phrase.

The only thing he said was that people needed to “keep the faith”—but he never even hinted at what that might mean. And, he said something to the effect, “I hope to see you all in heaven someday.” (leaving the impression that he would)—leaving the impression of a universalistic view of salvation—the idea that everyone will ultimately be saved.

Not one word was said about Jesus Christ—who was only very briefly mentioned a couple of times in the entire movie. Nothing was said about us being sinners in need of a savior. Nothing was said of Jesus being God or that He died on a cross for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve. Nothing was said of His resurrection or His return.

With a movie about such an important part of his life, and an opportunity to share the gospel with potentially tens of thousands of movie-goers, Don Piper completely failed to give the movie any biblical meaning or purpose whatsoever. This is utterly inexcusable.

And finally, Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16—two men who died, but with two completely different destinies. Lazarus, a believer, had died and entered paradise, a place that is referred to as the “the bosom of Abraham.” However, the rich man, an unbeliever, had gone to the place of punishment and physical torment—the fires of sheol. And when the rich man lifted up his eyes and saw Lazarus he cried out to Abraham and we read the following exchange in Luke 16:25-31:

But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”

Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.”
Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

​The point is very clear: Those who believe that “heaven is for real” and that the day of reckoning is coming can and will do so on the basis of the Word of God alone—and so there is no need for evidence or proof in the form of reports from someone who returns (or claims to have returned) from the dead.

In contrast, for those who do not and will not believe, neither will they be persuaded by any supposed report from beyond the grave.

The Word of God and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is all that is necessary—and nothing else can or will genuinely work to any degree.

7 Comments
  1. Awesome word! I’ve not seen the movie, nor do I intend to, but I have made the same argument (Lazarus and the Rich man) to those who insist that God gives special NDE revelation of heaven to some Christians, and makes the rest of us rely on faith alone.

  2. All of these scriptures describe biblical figures witnessing heaven.

    1. Jacob dreamed of “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven….And, behold, the Lord stood above it” (Gen. 28:12, 13).

    2. Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel…saw the God of Israel (Ex. 24:9,10).

    3. Moses saw the back of God (Ex. 33:23).

    4. Micaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon his throne” (2 Chron. 18:18).

    5. Isaiah “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1).

    6. Ezekiel saw “the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and…the likeness as the appearance of a man above it” (Ezek. 1:26).

    7. Ezekiel again had a similar vision (Ezek. 10:1).

    8. Daniel “beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit” (Dan. 7:9).

    9. Stephen “looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

    10. Paul wrote that he “knew a man” (likely himself), who was “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

    11. John “was in the spirit; and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne” (Rev. 4:2).

    Why not Don Piper?

    • Jerry,

      Thanks for taking time to read my article and comment.

      1. Jacob didn’t describe heaven.
      2. Seeing a theophany on earth is not seeing and describing heaven.
      3. Seeing a theophany on earth is not seeing and describing heaven – and Moses was a prophet.
      4. This was a vision, not a near death experience.
      5. This was a vision, not a near death experience – and he was a prophet.
      6. This was a vision, not a near death experience and he was a prophet.
      7. Again, a vision, not a near death experience and he was a prophet.
      8. This was a vision, not a near death experience and he was a prophet.
      9. This was a vision, and happened before he died – he didn’t die and return – and he was functioning as a prophet.
      10. Paul was an apostle, prophet and was prohibited from what he saw – and it was not a near death experience.
      11. John was an apostle and a prophet, what he saw were visions and it was not a near death experience.

      Don Piper is not a prophet. He claims to have died and actually visited heaven – which is different than a vision. There is not a single example in the Bible of a spontaneous resurrection that was not the result of the work of a prophet, and apostle or Christ himself. Piper’s and others’ experiences match nothing in the Bible.

      Furthermore, everyone – including those of all religions and even atheists all report thinking they went to heaven because they all experience one of more of the following four things:
      1) sensing one is out of their body,
      2) going through a tunnel,
      3) seeing a bright light, and
      4) experiencing an overwhelming sense of well-being

      Apart from these four things, out of nearly 30 claimed near death experiences with which I am familiar, no two people have descriptions that match up. If heaven is a real place and their descriptions are all entirely different in important details, then these people did not go to the same place.

      So, Christians must ask themselves:

      Does it matter that people of all religions claim to go to heaven?
      Does it matter that these contain completely new revelation?
      Does it matter that there are no biblical examples at all?
      Does it matter that the claims contradict both the Bible and logic?
      Does it matter that Paul was forbidden from talking about heaven?
      Does it matter that Abraham said such stories would not help?
      Does it matter if people believe completely unbiblical claims?
      Does it matter that unproven claims are given biblical authority?
      Does it matter that experience is used to interpret the Bible?
      Does it matter what people think about spiritual truth?

      • Whether an NDE is classified as a vision or actual is moot. In both circumstances it can be considered a vision. If Don Piper really had this vision, would it be wrong of him to think he died… when the people at the scene thought he died?

        In the cases of the cited biblical figures, was God merely a figment of their imagination? For those who had visions, were they TRULY seeing God or were they hallucinating?

        The facts are Don Piper was “clinically dead” (by your definition) for 90 minutes, there was a man that prayed over him, and Don Piper awoke singing.

        A few months later Don Piper tells his story.

        You can’t disprove what he says and you indeed are under no obligation to believe him. However, based on personal experiences with God, I simply cannot dismiss any testimonies a person brings forth.

        All we can do is take to heart Jesus’ words.

        Matthew 7:15

        “15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

        Here’s something I found interesting… his financials.
        http://baylyblog.com/blog/2013/01/john-piper-steps-down

        • Jerry,

          First, concerning his finances: This is not about his sincerity or integrity or motives or his heart or beliefs in the matter. I’ve never once questioned the motives of anyone claiming an NDE or visit to heaven, so these are irrelevant to the issue itself. Matters of the heart are between the person and the Lord and are not my concern, nor responsibility to judge – and in fact, is biblically not for me to judge.

          Beyond this, however, you have introduced a new problem – you just moved the goal posts from definitely a trip to heaven to a possible vision. That is a MAJOR difference. Don Piper has never claimed it was a vision to my knowledge. At least not in his book nor in the movie trailer, nor in the movie itself, which I watched the week it came out. Rather, he very clearly says that he died, went to heaven and came back.

          Untold thousands, perhaps millions, claim to have visions, but most aren’t taken seriously – and certainly their books don’t sell over 7 million copies or are translated into over 40 languages or result in a Hollywood movie or an ongoing speaking tour. This is substantially different.

          The fact is that I did disprove the NDE biblically and when I did you moved the goal posts to it possibly being a vision. You can choose to believe that might be what it was – but then that contradicts Don Piper himself.

          If you’re willing to accept personal experiences and interpret them in contradiction to both the person’s own testimony on the one hand, and/or contradict the Word of God on the other, then you have no authority beyond your own personal opinion for believing what you do.

          We are admonished by the Spirit of God Himself, through the apostle Paul, to test everything – and the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit of God, and written by prophets of God are the sole basis for testing everything – and the claims of trips to heaven – and contradictory visions of heaven in every single case (if that’s what they are), simply fail the test.

  3. Oops

    Pasted wrong link – here it is: https://www.citizenaudit.org/208691482/

  4. Your comments on Don Piper far too kind.
    A real gaff in his story, On page 33, of his book he says “I did not see God.” In a subsequent
    “gathering” he says “I saw an illuminating light
    and I know who that was, it was the Lord high and
    lifted up, this is His city!.”
    Which is it?
    It seems he has not read his book lately.
    Trips to heaven pay off handsomely, especially
    when you make a career out of it.


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