Armand J. Azamar
Heaven is for Real isn’t the only alleged witness of the afterlife.
Placebo (7th edition, 1999) by Rev. Howard O. Pittman serves as another modern account of the spiritual realm. Pittman was a Baptist minister for 35 years who felt pretty secure in his Christian walk. But, on August 3, 1973, a main body trunk artery ruptured. According to Pittman, he suffered a physical death and angels took him through the spiritual realm. During this experience, he saw the work of demons in the lives of humans. Pittman claimed angels brought before him the Lord in Heaven, where he received an incredible surprise about the true nature of his Christian walk.
There are several things I appreciate about Placebo. In terms of reading, it is short and simple. The writing style is also very unpretentious. Even the two grammatical errors I found display the “homegrown” nature of the print.
True Christian living and hypocrisy are major themes of Placebo. Pittman calls this “heart-possessing” Christianity versus the “mouth-professing” Christianity. He says that Satan gives a placebo of mouth-profession to comfort modern believers (thus the name of the book). This form of Christianity is intellectual, superficial and completely indiscernible to its adherent. Even though this testimony occurred in the 1980s, this still applies to believers today. If you can’t appreciate Pittman’s claimed tour of the afterlife, the call to repentance is worth the read.
The only problem I have with the book isn’t the content itself, but more so the genre. Placebo serves as a classic example of a Christian-based near-death experience (NDE). Nothing about Pittman’s account contradicts Scripture per se. Nevertheless, such extra-biblical accounts can serve as a distraction for weaker believers.
Similarly, most believers should be careful to not entertain unbiblical NDEs. For example, a prominent NDE website features the full text of Placebo. But, the webmaster criticizes Pittman’s use of Christian terminology, instead identifying demons as “discarnate earthbound human souls” and the Devil as a manifestation of spiritual/mental ignorance (i.e. a manifestation of Self and not a separate evil entity). Thus, Pittman’s testimony is filtered through an unbiblical worldview.
In general, NDE research tends to overlaps with false teachings. These include reincarnation, universalism and an overall New Age tone. If you are a Christian, it is easy to see how this can be problematic. Again, Pittman does not agree with these false teachings. But, many NDE researchers use Placebo for their worldview.
I recommend Placebo as an easy and curious read that can both encourage and challenge the believer. There were some rumors that the account was found to be a hoax. However, after doing some investigating, I found no evidence of an exposed fraud. Regardless, Christians must test all extra-biblical items them against Scripture. At the end of the day, Pittman echoes the reality Paul already talks about in 2 Corinthians 4:18, we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (NKJV).