Christian expert on near-death experiences reveals 1 thing they all have in common

By The Christian Post |
Danist Soh | Unsplash

For over three decades, John Burke has studied thousands of near-death experiences (NDEs) and discovered a striking commonality among them all: Every individual, regardless of their religious background, experiences the God of the Bible. 

“I interviewed 70 people on every continent, and found that they all encountered the same God; it didn't matter their culture, ethnicity or religious background. God is the God of all nations,” Burke told The Christian Post.

Burke, who with his wife, Kathy, founded Gateway Church, a multisite church based in Austin, Texas, recounts some of these stories in his book, Imagine the God of Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God's Revelation and the Love You've Always Wanted, from that of a Hindu engineer who encounters a "brilliant god of lightning" to a nurse in Brownsville who is told by Jesus Himself to spread the message of love and redemption.

These stories, Burke said, are part of his broader argument that NDEs are God's "new global apologetic," intended to affirm His existence, the reality of the afterlife and His desire for a relationship with every person. 

“They all say, ‘I never wanted to leave His presence and of all the beauty I experienced, all of these great reunions with people I love who've gone on before me, nothing could compare to just being in this presence,” Burke said. 

John Burke
Pastor John Burke shares his experience with after death experience, 2023 | Screenshot: Christian Post

He clarified that while every individual encounters the God of the Bible during an NDE, he is not suggesting they will end up in Heaven. Burke said he doesn't believe these people are experiencing an “entrance into eternity” or a “tunnel of death,” rather, they’re encountering “something in between.”

“This can confuse some Christians,” he said. “But I like to remind them that the Apostle Paul was not a believer in Jesus, he was arresting Christians and having them jailed and killed when the same God of brilliant light appeared to him on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. When Paul asks, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He says, ‘I'm Jesus.’ But Jesus didn't tell him what to do and He didn't explain the message of the Gospel to him. 

“I believe God is saying to the world, ‘I'm real. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And I love every person from every nation, I want you to be my child through what I did through Jesus, so you can turn your heart back to me and be made right with me.’”

Once an agnostic engineer, Burke's quest for truth began in the most personal of settings — a hospital room, beside his dying father. It was there, amid the struggle of impending loss, he said, that he encountered the first seeds of what would become a lifelong investigation into the evidence of an afterlife and the reality of God.

“Over the last 35 years, I've just had this insatiable curiosity to figure out, OK, what are these near-death experiences, and how do they sit with what the Bible's been saying all along?” he said.

Imagine the God of Heaven, endorsed by Lee Strobel, Carey Nieuwhof and medical doctors, is a follow-up to Burke’s New York Times bestselling book Imagine Heaven, which has sold more than 1 million copies.

John Burke book

His latest book, he told CP, is the culmination of three decades of meticulous research and addresses common misconceptions and questions about the authenticity of NDEs — especially when some accounts have been widely discredited. 

For the book, he underwent a rigorous analysis of experiences reported by individuals from diverse backgrounds, including medical professionals like spine surgeons and anesthesiologists, who, according to Burke, "have a lot to lose by making up wild crazy stories about going in and seeing Jesus."

"What I'm trying to show is not the one-offs but the commonalities," he said. 

These near-death experiences, Burke contends, offer not just insights into the afterlife but also profound implications for the current life of a believer. 

“As evil increases, God tends to increase His testimony on Earth, and I think He's doing the same thing today,” he said. “What I'm trying to do is show how that aligns with the Scriptures to convince the skeptics but also to help Christians see what God is really like.”

“We all put God in a box to some degree because we're finite,” he added. “And yet the truth is, God is way more mysterious and glorious, beautiful, grand and sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient than we can imagine. But what does that mean? And how does it affect us today? God is also enjoyable, personable, relatable and fun. Yet, Christians don't often think that. I'm trying to show, ‘This is in the Scriptures, but it's also what these people experience.’”

However, Burke cautioned against forming theological beliefs solely on the basis of NDEs, noting the risk of encountering "questionable" accounts as they gain popularity. Instead, he differentiated what people report from their personal interpretations, influenced by their cultural and religious backgrounds.

For instance, Burke recounted the story of Nia, a teenager from Africa, who, following a near-death experience, described encountering a being of light she identified as the goddess Durga, despite the experience closely mirroring the Christian understanding of God. 

“I don't think we shouldn't get our theology of the afterlife or of God from near-death experiences alone,” he said. “I honestly think that's very dangerous. The more popular NDEs get, the more you are going to see questionable ones pop up. Even though this person may have had a valid experience and what they're reporting may be accurate,  they come back and they interpret what they saw in their own worldview.”

As the world grapples with questions of spiritual reality and the afterlife, Burke said he hopes his book serves as a timely contribution to the ongoing conversation and invites readers of all backgrounds to explore the possibility of a love and a life beyond this one.

“The same God hasn't just shown up in our age of modern medical resuscitation and near-death experiences; this is the same that God has been revealing Himself through the Jewish prophets and through Jesus and put incredible evidence in history,” Burke said. “The Scriptures need to be the interpretive key to near-death experiences, not the other way around.”

 Imagine the God of Heaven is now available.

Originally published by The Christian Post