The Near-Death Experience
Part One: The New Age Connection
by J. Isamu Yamoto
Dan was a warm, gentle, talented, outgoing young man. One would therefore think
he would be popular. But there were in fact many who hated him -- because of his
lifestyle. Eventually he left his Midwestern hometown and moved to San Francisco
to join a community of homosexual professionals.
Because he led a very active homosexual life in that community, Dan contracted
gonorrhea. His physician offered him two choices: either receive antibiotics daily for
ten days or one massive dose by injection. Dan selected the injection. After
receiving it he immediately had difficulty breathing. Soon he went into anaphylactic
shock and died. He had no pulse or heartbeat. His electrocardiogram was flat.
After everything went black, Dan saw himself lying on the floor while doctors and
nurses tried desperately to bring him back to life. He then saw a long, dark tunnel
to which he felt drawn. Before entering it, his entire life passed before his eyes. His
deceased grandparents, who had raised him, appeared at this time and approached
him, expressing their love for him.
After being in the dark tunnel for a while, Dan saw a light that became brighter as
he drew closer to it. Finally he left the tunnel and found himself in a beautiful
garden, where a fence barred him from going any further. Meanwhile, a brilliant light
radiated warmth, love, and peace from the other side of the fence. Dan knew that
the source of this light was Jesus Christ.
He wanted to go to the light but the fence prevented him. He then heard a voice
come from that light, which said, "It is not time to come into my Father's kingdom.
You have not lived as I intended. Go back and glorify me."
At that moment Dan awoke, back in his body, no longer a man living for himself,
but now a believer in Christ. From then on, he left his homosexual lifestyle and
joined a strong, supportive Christian community. To this day, Dan thanks God for
giving him a new chance to live according to His plan and not according to physical
When this story first came across my desk in 1990, I was skeptical about the
extent to which Christ was really involved in Dan's life. As book editor at
Christianity Today, I was responsible for the content of the books they were
publishing that year. Dan's experiences were part of a manuscript that a Christian
proctologist (an expert on the physiology and pathology of the rectum and anus)
had submitted for one of our chapters in a book on homosexuality. Furthermore,
the ten years I had previously spent on staff at the Spiritual Counterfeits Project
(SCP) caused alarms to go off in my head while reading his story, telling me that
this account sounded New Age.
When I checked the sources behind Dan's story and discovered that his testimony
was reliable, I had to rethink my previous assumptions about the issue of near-death experience (NDE). I realized then that my views on this subject were shallow
and not carefully thought out. Since many advocates of New Age ideas had openly
supported the validity of NDEs, I had reasoned that they were part of the New Age
arsenal that was currently bombarding our society. Moreover, because NDEs had
not been in my area of responsibility at SCP, I dismissed them as an insignificant
Dan's story, however, forced me to reassess my casual response to NDEs. Many
questions emerged in my mind about Dan's conversion experience, but the most
disturbing were: "Why would Christ allow an evil spirit to imitate Him for the
purpose of bringing Dan into His kingdom? Why would an evil spirit want to do this?
Might the spirit who spoke to Dan from the light actually have been Jesus Christ?"
I could not really answer these questions without deliberate research into NDEs,
which the Christian Research Institute has given me the opportunity to do. The
following is what I have discovered from my research.
BACK FROM THE TWILIGHT ZONE?
Christians are not the only ones wary of those who claim to have had near-death
experiences. For many in the medical and scientific communities, their stories are
as strange as those tales seen on Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone." In fact these
scientists maintain that either drugs, lack of oxygen, severe psychological stress,
or some other explainable disorder causes people to dream or hallucinate, believing
they are experiencing an NDE.
Perhaps their Western rational minds have predisposed these scientists against
NDEs because they seem too weird -- like the stories of those who insist they
have traveled with alien beings in UFOs. Or perhaps the subject of death has
become a forbidden topic for the Westerner, and thus anyone who has had a brush
with it is ignored out of fear and ignorance. Whatever causes some to avoid this
mysterious subject, NDE is still a phenomenon that Christians particularly must
understand if they are to share the gospel effectively with those who have
experienced or been influenced by it.
To better understand what a near-death experience is, we must go back 17 years
to the publication of a book that catapulted this subject into the national limelight --
Raymond Moody's Life After Life. In this small but fascinating book, Moody
compiled a massive number of accounts of NDEs and discovered 15 separate
elements that are common in these experiences.
(1) Ineffability. Many of those who have experienced an NDE say that no words
can adequately or truly describe what happened to them. Their experience, for
them, is inexpressible.
(2) Hearing the News. Many of them relate hearing a medical person pronounce
them dead. To those around them, all their bodily signs indicated that they had
expired, but during that moment, they consciously knew they were still alive.
(3) Feelings of Peace and Quiet. Many people recall feeling sensations of
extreme pleasure. Although severe pain normally accompanies a life-threatening
injury or disease, they remember feeling only a deep peace and quietness during
(4) The Noise. Many relate hearing a distinct sound that occurs either at or near
death. In some cases, this noise can be quite pleasant, like rapturous music. In
other cases, the noise can be harsh and disturbing, like continuous buzzing or
(5) The Dark Tunnel. Many recollect being jerked through some dark
passageway, frequently while hearing the noise. This dark tunnel has been variously
described as a cave, sewer, trough, valley, and so on.
(6) Out of the Body. Many remember seeing their physical bodies apart from
themselves as though they were "spectators" observing their bodies. Surprise,
panic, and a desire to return to their bodies often accompanied the realization that
they were separate from their physical form.
(7) Meeting Others. In many cases they encountered spiritual entities who were
present to help them through the experience. These beings variously appeared as
loved ones who had recently passed away, strangers who had died, or some other
spirits who were acting as their guardians.
(8) The Being of Light. Quite a few speak of beholding a brilliant light that, despite
its brilliance, did not hurt their eyes. To them, this radiant light is a personal being
who emanates irresistible love and warmth and who communicates with them --
through thoughts and not speech -- about the meaning of their lives.
(9) The Review. A number of them recall an instant moment of time during their
experience in which they witnessed a vivid review of their lives. These panoramic
images provoked in them the importance of loving people and understanding the
meaning of life.
(10) The Border or Limit. Some recount being obstructed by some form that
often prevents them from going any further in their journey or from reaching that
being of light. It can be a fence, a door, a body of water, or even an imaginary line.
(11) Coming Back. All of them obviously returned from their near-death
experience, but how they felt about coming back varies considerably. Some
wanted to stay with the being of light. Others felt obliged to return to complete
unfinished tasks. Some chose to return. Others were told to come back. In any
case, the return is often instantaneous -- back through the dark tunnel.
(12) Telling Others. Those who have had NDEs regard their experience as a real
event rather than a dream. But since they believe that it was extraordinarily unique
and that others would be skeptical, they are quite reticent about disclosing their