Here's my contribution, I hope it is helpful.
Reading John MacArthur’s article on NDEs reminds me of the first time I heard someone who didn’t come out of my tradition tell of a spiritually transforming experience. I thought it was sacrilege. If it had been someone from my church telling the story it would have been fine, we told such stories often in my family. But this was a heretic.
I don’t remember the details of his story, but I do remember that it involved an angel, very bright light, and sense of overwhelming love. I remembered that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11.14) and thought, because he wasn’t a member of my church, that that was what he had experienced. I said what he told me mocked God. I have regretted saying that for a long time now. That happened over forty years ago and the memory still haunts me. Because of what he said about love. Satan isn’t about love. Then I started looking into NDEs and was soon hearing and reading a lot of stories that sounded similar to what I had heard from that man and, deciding that they all couldn’t be lies, I started looking into them and the scriptures more deeply. Here is some of what I learned.
One of the big questions is, “Where do we go when we die?” The Bible isn’t very clear on that but there are some important hints. Jesus is the classic example of someone who died and then came back. What does the Bible say about where He went? Here are three clues:
There was a thief who was crucified near Jesus, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23.43, emphasis added)
Peter tells us, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;” (1 Pet. 3.18-19 emphasis added)
After His resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene near His tomb, “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father...” (John 20.17 emphasis added)
So the story is that Jesus died, was ‘quickened by the spirit’ and (1) went to paradise, (2) preached in a prison, then (3) came to Mary as a resurrected being. But had not, in the intervening time, ‘ascended to His Father.’ That would be His Father in Heaven. Where He hadn’t been.
For clarity I repeat; Jesus had been quickened by the Spirit and while in the Spirit visited at least two places, a paradise and a prison, but had not gone to Heaven.
Now we call many places ‘heaven’. The sky, the stars, being with our beloved, a hot bath, tropical islands, etc. etc. So when an nder says she has been to heaven that’s perfectly correct and in keeping with common usage of the word. But there is a Heaven that transcends all other heavens, and it is very possible that she didn’t go there. NDErs usually go to the spirit world but not, if the Bible is to be believed, the world (or Heaven) that comes after the resurrection. Usually. (I find it very unwise to speak in absolutes -- as soon as I do, bang! here comes an exception.) One thing I’ve learned from studying NDEs is that there is a lot of territory in the hereafter. Not just a whole universe, in fact, but multiple universes. I have yet to see a map that shows exactly where in all that space God’s throne is.
Now take note of this; “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Mat. 27.52-53) That just might be a little freaky. Talk about dead men walking. But the question for us is where were their spirits while their bodies were in the grave? Since they are saints my vote is for some place like the paradise Jesus promised the thief on the cross. Then what about those who were in the prison Peter wrote about? “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished...” (Rev. 20.5 emphasis added) And who were these ‘rest of the dead’? Very likely the ones Peter was talking about when he referred to “the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing…” (1Pet. 3.19-20) That would mean they had been there for around 3,000 years. But then, time as we know it only exists in mortality, as many NDErs tell us from what they learned during their experiences. So there are still a lot of unknowns. And a lot of reasons for all of us not to jump to conclusions, although that seems to be what many debunkers do best.
In MacArthur’s article he also derides the experiencers for not exclusively waxing effusive over the glories of afterworld when they tell their stories. (If he had read more of the reports on nderf and other places he would soon see that there is a large percentage of experiencers who do exactly that.) He bases his belief that all those who visit eternal worlds speak of the glories and wonders they behold at great length and don’t say all that much about themselves. Relying on the Bible as his source he uses the accounts of Isaiah, Ezekiel and John as his evidence. He left one out.
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Cor. 12.2-4) So this guy was caught up to the third heaven. Impressive. Couldn’t tell if he was in or out of the body -- overwhelmed I guess. So anyway, this guy (who many, if not most, scholars think was Paul himself) was caught up into paradise. And heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Very cool! But where is the description of glory? Where is the long enumeration of the sights and sounds, the angels and cherubim, the chariots, pillars, smoke and stuff that show up in those other accounts? Sure, he can’t speak the words he heard, however according to MacArthur he should be running over with praise and adulation for the wonders of the place. But he doesn’t. Maybe he missed the memo, “No visiting Heaven without making a detailed write-up of all the glorious stuff you see.” Or maybe God and the apostles don’t feel the need to follow someone else’s rules.
Another point that MacArthur makes is that the Bible is the only place where anyone can get information about God and Heaven. That really is a logical knot to chew on, isn’t it? Because he’s not in the Bible, but he’s writing stuff that he thinks, apparently, is good religious advice that is coming from him, not the Bible -- except when he quotes directly, which is just a small portion of his writing. Hail sola scriptura.
So he insists that anything that anyone learns about Heaven and the afterlife must come from scripture. To quote him:
"The New Testament adds much to our understanding of heaven (and hell), but we are still not permitted to add our own subjective ideas and experience-based conclusions to what God has specifically revealed through His inerrant Word. Indeed, we are forbidden in all spiritual matters to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6)."
One logical conclusion of that statement is that, as his own article breaks that rule, it should be forbidden or used as grounds to anathematize him. But that’s not our job, so let it pass.
MacArthur also says;
"In the Old Testament era, every attempt to communicate with the dead was deemed a sin on par with sacrificing infants to false gods (Deuteronomy 18:10–12). The Hebrew Scriptures say comparatively little about the disposition of souls after death, and the people of God were strictly forbidden to inquire further on their own. Necromancy was a major feature of Egyptian religion. It also dominated every religion known among the Canaanites. But under Moses’s law it was a sin punishable by death (Leviticus 20:27)."
Those citations are very strong, but apply only to pagan gods and practices. Here’s what Isaiah has to say on the matter: “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” (Isa. 8.19) (I quoted the KJV, the NIV which the link takes you to changes the meaning by the way it is translated.) Isaiah clearly agrees with Deuteronomy and Leviticus when it comes to the practices and gods of other people, but as I understand the scripture he then advises the Israelites that they should seek unto their God for any connection between the living and the dead. This is, after all, the whole point of Jesus’ mission, His death and resurrection. He died for the very purpose of bringing us into the presence of God after we die. Is it reasonable to think that we are “strictly forbidden to inquire further” about what is at the very core of our being on earth? What did Jesus Himself say?
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat. 7.7-11)
Far from forbidding inquiry to God Jesus commands it. And He tells us that our Father in heaven will gives us good things when we are willing to ask for them.
So to John MacArthur and his friends I say, “Thanks for sharing, however it seems that there’s more to the Bible than what you have seen so far. But don’t stop looking; there’s some great stuff in there.”
And to the man who, in 1970, told me of his experience with an angel, bright light and overwhelming love, I extend my sincere apology. God bless you, wherever you are.