NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Reports are coming to light that the publisher of a book about a boy who claimed he “came back from heaven” and the bookstore chain who carried the publication were informed at least a year ago that the book was false but continued to carry it anyway.
As previously reported, Alex Malarkey, co-author of “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” wrote an open letter this week admitting that the story was fabricated.
“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” he confessed. “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,” Malarkey continued. “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.”
Malarkey had been involved in a car accident at the age of six, and was in a coma for two months. His book, published by Tyndale in 2010 and co-written with his father, claims that he died and went to heaven, having encounters with angels and ultimately meeting Jesus. The book reached bestseller status, and a documentary was also released about Malarkey’s story. Christian reviewers gave the book high marks.
“I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient,” a now teenage Alex Malarkey wrote in his open letter this week. “Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”
Following his admission, Tyndale House Publishers informed reporters late Thursday that it would no longer publish “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.”
“Tyndale has decided to take the book and related ancillary products out of print,” Todd Starowitz, public relations director for Tyndale House, told the Washington Post.
Lifeway Christian Stores, one of the nation’s largest Christian retail chains, also announced Thursday that it would pull the book from its shelves and send its copies back to Tyndale.
“LifeWay was informed this week that Alex Malarkey has retracted his testimony about visiting heaven as told in the book ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.’ Therefore, we are returning to the publisher the few copies we have in our stores,” it wrote in a statement.
But some state that neither Tyndale or Lifeway are being completely honest in suggesting that they had just learned that the story was untrue. Phil Johnson of Grace to You wrote in a blog post on Friday that Tyndale House, led by President Mark Taylor, had been notified two years ago that the book was fictional. He explained that he has correspondence between Malarkey’s mother and Tyndale within his possession, and as Malarkey’s cries were not heard, he wrote himself to ask Tyndale why she was seemingly being written off.
“I’m curious about what rationale Tyndale’s legal department has for dismissing the concerns that have been raised by Beth Malarkey, who says that the story told in ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven’ is filled with exaggerations and untruths,” Johnson’s email, sent on June 3, 2014, read in part.
Pulpit & Pen, the blog that first broke the story about Malarkey’s admission, also reported on Friday that Lifeway had been told about Malarkey’s book being fictional last year, and yet did not remove it from their shelves. It posted text from email correspondence between Justin Peters, a former trustee of Lifeway who also leads a discernment ministry, and Thom Rainer, the president of Lifeway.
“[I]f you are not already aware, the book ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven’ detailing story of Alex Malarkey is fiction. It did not happen,” Peters wrote to Rainer in May 2014. “I know this because I have exchanged numerous emails and have personally spoken with Beth Malarkey, Alex’s mom. Alex does not support the book.”
“You might want to pull this, too, if you haven’t already. I know Lifeway used to sell it,” he continued. “I will be glad to give you Mrs. Malarkey’s phone number and email address if you would like to verify that I am telling you the truth.”
But Lifeway did not address Peters’ warning; it just generally remarked that they understood that Peters had concerns about some of the books the Christian bookstore chain was carrying.
“There was no follow up … No asking for more details,” explained writer Dustin Germain. “No thanking him for bringing this to light and to his attention. No curiosity over whether or not it’s currently being sold. … No righteous anger and indignation that a completely contrived New York Times best seller that sold over 112,000 copies in the year 2010 alone was being sold and consumed to unsuspecting and naive Christians.”
Last spring, Malarkey’s mother wrote in a public blog post that she had concerns about the book’s continued proliferation as her son had confessed that the book was unbiblical.
“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,” Beth Malarkey wrote in a post entitled “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven…Not Quite.” “Alex’s name and identity are being used against his wishes (I have spoken before and posted about it that Alex has tried to publicly speak out against the book), on something that he is opposed to and knows to be in error according to the Bible.”
Malarkey and her husband have since divorced following the publishing of the book.
While no one knows exactly why the books remained on the shelves after the Malarkeys and others began speaking out, Germain states that it is possible that the companies “pursued profit over personal integrity.”
“It was only when the pressure and bad press grew so loud that they put on the appearance of doing the right thing,” he asserted.