(CP) Award-winning Christian author and former investigative journalist Lee Strobel investigates stories of near-death experiences and looks at what the Bible says about the afterlife in the new documentary film "The Case For Heaven," based on the book of the same name.
Coming to theaters nationwide for three nights only on April 4-6, the film seeks to answer questions about what awaits believers after death. Strobel also researches the evidence for Heaven and Hell, and shares the documented testimonies of people who claim to have had near-death experiences.
"My background is in journalism, in law, so I tend to be a skeptic; I tend to be someone who wants evidence and facts and logic and reason," Strobel said in a recent interview with The Christian Post. "I was an atheist for much of my life, and I came to faith through my own investigation into the historical reliability of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the scientific evidence for the existence of a creator and so forth."
Out of his investigation came the bestselling book, "The Case for Christ," which was later adapted into a film.
Strobel's research then became a very important part of his ministry. He regularly interviews scholars and experts around the country and worldwide to help his readers trust the validity of the Bible, something he said he believes is needed in the times we're living in.
"I think that's important these days when we do have an increase in skepticism in our culture," Strobel said.
The author recently launched a new center for evangelism and applied apologetics at Colorado Christian University, where he helped to create 91 courses at the undergraduate and master's degree levels and certificate courses that are all online.
"I really believe it's important for young people, especially, to understand that we have a faith that's not built on wishful thinking or make-believe or mythology or legend, but really on a solid foundation of truth," Strobel maintained.
"The Case for Heaven" was inspired by Strobel's own brush with death. Ten years ago, he nearly died and his wife found him unconscious on the bedroom floor.
"I remember waking up in the emergency room and the doctor looked down at me and said, 'You're one step away from a coma, two steps away from dying.' And then I went unconscious again," he recalled.
Strobel has an unusual medical condition called hyponatremia, which is a condition where there is a severe drop in one's blood sodium level.
"You can't live at the levels of sodium that I was at," the former Chicago Tribune reporter told CP. "So I lingered between life and death there for a while until they were able to save my life. But it was a very clarifying experience because when you're in that situation, nothing is more important than what really happens after we close our eyes for the last time in this world."
People ask the questions, "Is there an afterlife? Is there a Heaven? Is there a Hell?" he posited.
"As a Christian, I believe what the Bible teaches, but I still have that skeptical background. So that's what launched me on a mission to write The Case for Heaven."
Before Stroble dug into his research, he described himself as a Christian who was skeptical about the afterlife.
"I was a skeptic about near-death experiences," he said. "I thought that maybe they were the result of oxygen deprivation to the brain and hallucinations. But then, as I researched it, I learned that there have been 900 scholarly studies done of near-death experiences published in secular scientific and medical journals over the last 50 years. So [it's a] very well researched area, he added.
"The Lancet, which is the well-known medical journal in England, carried an analysis of near-death experiences, saying that none of the alternative explanations can account for them," he continued. "So something is going on there. Being a skeptic, I thought, 'I'm not going to believe near-death experiences unless I have corroboration.' Because there have been people who've made up stories I can't confirm, so I don't buy into that."
As documented in the book and film, Strobel found the evidence he was looking for by listening to the testimonies of people who, during a near-death experience, saw and heard things they otherwise couldn't have seen or heard unless they'd had an authentic out-of-body experience.
The account of a woman named Maria who was pronounced dead at the hospital is one of the stories featured in "The Case for Heaven." Maria testified that although she had been declared dead, she was conscious the entire time. She describes her experience as her spirit and her soul separating from her body. She watched the resuscitation efforts as the doctors were trying to revive her body and her spirit floated out and up to the roof of the hospital.
When she was revived, her spirit returned to the body and described in detail a tennis shoe she saw on the hospital's roof. The hospital staff went up to the restricted area and they found the shoe exactly as she had described.
Maria's account is corroboration that she had an out-of-body experience that is authentic, Strobel said.
"There was another study done of 21 blind people, most of them blind since birth, and yet during their near-death experiences they were able to see for the first time," Strobel added. "They saw people trying to resuscitate their bodies, they saw plants, they saw birds. Then when they were revived, their spirit returned to their body and they lost their eyesight again. One medical researcher said this is medically impossible."
"I've become quite convinced that these are authentic experiences," he maintained. "It's consistent with Christian theology."
Strobel isn't the first Christian to come to the conclusion that there is a Heaven. Gary Habermas and JP Moreland, two well-respected Evangelical philosophers, wrote a book, titled Immortality, in which they also describe in detail their near-death experiences.
"This is something I think we should take seriously," he stressed. "The evidence is there that something is going on. I think it's consistent with Christian theology and it's supportive of what the Bible tells us because the Apostle Paul says, 'To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.'
"We know that when we die, our physical body dies. But our spirit, our soul continues to live on, either in the presence of God or apart from God. That's the intermediate state.
"Then at the end of history, when history is consummated and Jesus returns, we're reunited now with our resurrected bodies, and we go through final judgment, and then we spend eternity in a very physical Heaven or a very physical Hell. So the near-death experiences are consistent with that."
In the film, the Illinois native explains that when believers die, they are not yet in the final Heaven.
"When we talk about near-death experiences, just understand, these people are not irreversibly dead. ... They're clinically dead. They have no measurable brain waves, no pulse, no heartbeat, they're clinically dead, but not irreversibly dead, because they are going to come back," said Strobel, pointing to 1 Corinthians 15:50-57.
"When a person does die, their spirit goes to this intermediate state," he explained. "It's not the final Heaven. It is a place where we are in. If we're in the presence of God, it is a wonderful experience. But there's still incompleteness to us. We still want to be in that final Heaven, which is what comes after the consummation of history."
Strobel was speaking of the final Heaven described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which says: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first."
In the documentary, the father of two also talked about Hell because he said he could not talk about Heaven and not mention its opposite.
"I felt like I couldn't write a book about the afterlife without dealing with how Jesus talked about Hell more than anybody in the Bible," Strobel told CP. "I did a lot of research on it and I found that there's a lot of misconceptions we have about Hell."
The story of the late, world-renowned evangelist Luis Palau was also featured in the film.
"Luis was a hero of mine and a friend," Strobel said. "For the book, I was thinking, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to interview a great Christian who is on the verge of dying, knowing that they're going to Heaven shortly? How would that change their thinking? What would they be pondering at that moment?'"
Palau had been diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly before Strobel interviewed the evangelist at his home.
"The most profound thing that he said to me that I'll never forget, right near the near the end of the interview, he looked at me and he said, 'Lee, when you get to the end of your life, when all is said and done, you will never regret being courageous for Christ,'" Strobel recalled.
Mani Sandoval, the director of "The Case for Heaven," said billions of people around the world look to Heaven as an "awe-inspiring place only fully known once you're there." Strobel and the team behind the film looked at evidence outside and inside the Bible to make a strong case for Heaven.
"I hope that people who are Christians will walk away with renewed hope, stronger hope and assurance that their eternity is going to be with God forever," Strobel added. "That's a wonderful prospect. I hope that non-believers will come to the movie and realize that this life is not all there is and that they will turn to Jesus for forgiveness, and His free gift of grace and eternal life."