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Heaven can wait, Christian bookstore chain says

Heaven, apparently, can wait, a chain of Southern Baptist-owned bookstores says.

More specifically, the flurry of books retelling personal visits to the afterlife are now off the shelves at the 180 LifeWay Christian Resources bookstores in the United States, after they were deemed "subjective" by denominational leaders.

The Baptist Press news service quotes company spokesman Marty King as saying, "Last summer, as we began developing LifeWay's new structure and direction — what we've now identified as One LifeWay — the role of heaven visitation resources was included in our considerations. We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer."

The bookstore move comes after the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination's governing body, last year passed a resolution declaring the books suspect. Among other complaints, the resolution noted, "Many devout and well-meaning people allow these to become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife rather than scriptural truth."

Despite the SBC's disdain, the books themselves are popular. Don Piper's "90 Minutes in Heaven," coming to movie theatres this year as a feature film, had sold 5 million copies by 2013, according to CNN's Belief blog. Baptist Press reports the Piper book's sales are now up to "6.5 million copies in 46 languages."

The same CNN article noted that "Heaven Is For Real," the book recounting the story of 8-year-old Colton Burpo, was "on The New York Times best-seller list for 126 consecutive weeks and sold 8 million copies." The Burpo book was also released as a feature film last year.

But popularity isn't enough for LifeWay, which, along with other Christian and general booksellers, was burned when "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven," a best-seller by Kevin and Alex Malarkey, was revealed to be a hoax, as ChristianToday.com reported.

Alex, severely injured in an automobile accident, released an open letter to the Pulpit and Pen blog admitting, "I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible."

LifeWay pulled the Malarkey book from its stores when the statement was made public. However, the Pulpit and Pen writers say LifeWay has yet to acknowledge the Malarkey book situation, nor explain why the firm waited for months after the 2014 SBC resolution to change its sales policies.

"No one believes it," the blog said of the latest LifeWay explanation. "The 2014 SBC meeting was nine months ago. (LifeWay president) Thom Rainer thumbed his nose at the convention until a brave young man named Alex Malarkey wrote an open letter to Lifeway that became the biggest news story in the world on Jan. 17 and put Rainer’s shame on the front page of publications from the New York Times to the Today Show."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner