Information about the “out-of-body” experience is both vast and subjective. According to Wikipedia, one out of ten people claims to have had an out-of-body experience (OBE). Out-of-body experiences range from involuntary out-of-body experiences or near-death experiences that happen after or during a trauma or accident, to “astral projection,” in which a person voluntarily tries to leave his or her body behind and ascend to a spiritual plane where truth and clarity can be found.
A few famous Christians have had what might be called, in today’s world, an out-of-body experience, most notably the apostle Paul. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:1–4, “I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” In the verses preceding this passage, Paul lists his “boasts” or the things that, if he were counting on works and good deeds to secure his salvation, would get him into heaven. Though he seems to be referring to someone else, scholars agree that he is speaking of himself in the third person. Paul includes this apparent out-of-body experience in his list of boasts. Out-of-body experiences are sensational, but, as Paul says, “There is nothing to be gained by it.” This does not mean that his out-of-body experience wasn’t real, only that he is not relying on it to really benefit himself or others in any way.
An involuntary out-of-body experience or a near-death experience should be treated in the same way as a dream in the life of a Christian—an unexplained phenomenon that may make a good story, but does not give us truth. The only place we find absolute truth is in the Word of God. All other sources are merely subjective human accounts or interpretations based on what we can discover with our finite minds.
A voluntary out-of-body experience, or an “astral projection,” is spiritually dangerous. A person practicing astral projection or trying to achieve an out-of-body experience in order to connect with the spirit world is practicing the occult. There are two forms of this. The first is called the “phasing” model, in which the person tries to find new spiritual truth by accessing a part of the mind that is “shut off” during everyday life. This practice is connected to Buddhism or postmodernism and the belief that enlightenment is achieved by looking within oneself. The other form, called the “mystical” model, involves the person trying to exit the body entirely, with his or her spirit traveling to a mystical plane unconnected to the physical world.
The Bible explicitly warns against occult practice, or sorcery, and that warning can be applied to voluntary out-of-body experiences and astral projection (see Galatians 5:19–20). God’s commands are always for our good, and He commands us to stay far away from occult practices. There is great potential, when trying to access the spiritual world, of opening oneself up to demons who can lie to us about God and confuse our minds. The phasing model of out-of-body experiences is also futile, according to Scripture. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” It is futile to search for infinite wisdom inside the finite mind of man.
Involuntary out-of-body experiences have made their way into some recent books and movies. One example is the popular book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Pastor Don Piper. Piper describes what is, in essence, an out-of-body experience he had after a severe car accident, during which he believes he died and went to heaven for ninety minutes. Whether or not Piper did actually see heaven or spend time there is debatable, and in the end nobody but God knows. However, there is a serious problem, theologically speaking, with the conclusion Piper draws from his experience. He tells the reader that, now that he has been to heaven, he can speak comfort to grieving people at funerals “with more authority” than he could previously. Piper’s motives are good: he wants to give people hope. However, it is dead wrong to say that his own subjective experience will give him more authority to administer the hope of heaven to others. Scripture, by itself, apart from our experience, is the authority.
In conclusion, an out-of-body experience will give us neither truth nor knowledge. If an involuntary out-of-body experience occurs in the life of a Christian, the best approach would be to consider it in the same category as a dream—interesting, perhaps, but not a reliable source of truth. Christians should not seek to have out-of-body experiences or practice astral projection. We are to find truth only in the words of God, as Jesus prays in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”