This post was updated on Jan. 16, 2015.
Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.
The best-selling book, first published in 2010, purports to describe what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir – with its assuring description of “miracles, angels, and life beyond This World” – became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism.”
Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”
Referring to the injuries that continue to make it difficult for him to express himself, Alex writes, “Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. … 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.”
Thursday evening, Todd Starowitz, public relations director of Tyndale House, told The Washington Post: “Tyndale has decided to take the book and related ancillary products out of print.”
On Friday afternoon, Tyndale released this statement: “We are saddened to learn that Alex Malarkey, co-author of ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,’ is now saying that he made up the story of dying and going to heaven. Given this information, we are taking the book out of print.”
There is considerable disagreement about when Alex first recanted his testimony and objected to the book, which has reportedly sold more than 1 million copies.
Maggie Rowe, senior publicist of Tyndale, released an updated statement Friday evening, saying: “Earlier this week Tyndale learned that Alex Malarkey, co-author of ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,’ was retracting the story he had told his father and that he recounted in the book they co-authored for publication in 2010. It is because of this new information that we are taking the book out of print. For the past couple of years we have known that Beth Malarkey, Kevin’s wife and Alex’s mother, was unhappy with the book and believed it contained inaccuracies. On more than one occasion we asked for a meeting with Kevin, Beth, Alex and their agent to discuss and correct any inaccuracies, but Beth would not agree to such a meeting.”
Last April, Alex’s mother posted a statement on her blog objecting to the memoir and its promotion: “It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven’ not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned.” She goes on to say that the book is not “Biblically sound” and that her son’s objections to it have been ignored and repressed. She also notes that Alex “has not received monies from the book nor have a majority of his needs been funded by it.”
Tyndale’s book contract was only with Kevin, Alex’s father – not with Alex or his mother. Repeated attempts to reach Kevin and Beth Malarkey have not been successful.
Beth ends her April blog post in obvious frustration, writing: “Alex’s name and identity are being used against his wishes. … How can this be going on??? Great question. … How did it get this far? … another great question.”
Some evangelicals have been posing those questions to LifeWay Christian Resources, the denominational publisher of the Southern Baptist Convention, which maintains a large chain of religious bookstores.
On Thursday, LifeWay announced that it was pulling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” from its shelves. Martin King, director of corporate communications for LifeWay, said, “We only had a few dozen copies across our entire chain of 184 stories in 28 states.”
Asked why LifeWay didn’t stop selling the book earlier when Beth Malarkey first made her objections public, King said, “We receive letters and complaints about lots of products we carry. We don’t pull a book just because we get a letter or a tweet. We became aware that the author said this story isn’t true this week. That’s when we pulled the book.”
Phil Johnson is one of those people decrying the publisher’s and the bookstores’ slow response to complaints about Alex’s spiritual memoir. Johnson is the executive director of Grace to You, the media ministry of John MacArthur, senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., a prolific author and an internationally syndicated Christian broadcaster. Several years ago, Johnson edited a manuscript by MacArthur that offered a scriptural critique of “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” and other books like it.
When Johnson posted critical comments about “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” on his blog, Beth Malarkey contacted him. In Johnson’s words, she told him, “‘My son and I have been trying to get the word out that this book is an exaggeration and an embellishment and is not true.'”
She asked him to help them. Johnson wrote to Tyndale House himself and says he has seen “reams of correspondence between Beth and Tyndale,” but he never received a satisfying answer to his objections.
“The idea that Alex suddenly recanted is just not true,” Johnson insists. “He’s been trying to make his voice heard as well as a teenage paraplegic boy can. There was proof everywhere that he did not stand behind the content of this book. But it was a bestselling book. Nobody in the industry wanted to kill it.”
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