on November 30, 2010
I found out about a pretty neat program not too long ago. I could get free books if I'd agree to write a review. As a lover of books, with over 1,000 of them in my library, I jumped at the chance.
The first book I received was titled "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo. Needless to say, as a pastor I was skeptical! I thought, Oh no, not another I've been to heaven book! Beginning with 90 minutes in Heaven, the market has been flooded by books of peoples accounts of their journey to Heaven, Hell, and the Laundromat! I assumed this book would be little different and I thought I'd wind up relegating this book to the "not worth my time" pile. I was wrong.
"Heaven is for Real" is a a heartwarming, simple, and surprisingly biblical glimpse into a little four year old boy's journey into Heaven. Colton Burpo was four year's old when he found himself at death's door. His family didn't realize he had made his amazing journey until small but shocking revelations that amazed and bewildered his parents began to leak out. Colton didn't just have one sit down conversation, he let his journey be known one startling revelation at a time.
How could this little boy know these things? How could he know about relatives who had died long before he was born? How could someone so young offer such amazing insights into Heaven, Christ, and the glories that await Christians? How could he know things he'd never been taught and couldn't know?
As I mentioned before, I'm a skeptic at heart. A book like this one wouldn't likely catch my attention and certainly wouldn't win any praise from me. So many books like these are fanciful, unbiblical, and simply outright inconsistent with what I know to be true from the Bible. Colton Burpo's story was a refreshing and surprisingly accurate portrait of what awaits each of us whose destiny is Heaven. I read the book with a critical eye, looking for those little details that would prove this story to be at best inaccurate or at worst a fraud. I couldn't find them. His tale seemed honest. His descriptions fit the way a child would describe things, not one whose words had been fed him by an adult. Some of his revelations were simply amazing!
Who would be blessed by this book? I'd honestly say almost anyone. If you've recently lost a loved one or maybe you are a mother who has lost a child to miscarriage. You can find something here that will warm your heart and quite possibly help ease your pain. This book is a sweet, touching, and amazing story. I think you'll be blessed by it.
That said, you might wonder if I found anything in the book I didn't agree with. That's a tough question. I found nothing I'd say was blatantly wrong or in direct contradiction with the scriptures. There were a couple of things that made me raise my eyebrow but I can't quote a verse that says Heaven couldn't be like that, just a couple of things that didn't fit my expectation or interpretation of what Heaven would be like. Those things might make you wonder but I think you'll find they don't detract from what this book is meant to do, strengthen your faith, encourage you in your walk with Christ, and maybe just maybe long for Heaven just a little bit more.
Hope this review helps you make your choice of whether or not to pick up a copy of this book. I'd recommend you do.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 <[...]> : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
on March 7, 2011
It's a terrible thing to be young and jaded. I confess that, despite my belief that there is a real and dynamic spiritual world interwoven with material reality, I approached Heaven Is For Real with a high degree of skepticism. I have a hard time getting past the logical-critical methods which have been drilled into me through the course of my education. Part of me, I suppose, deeply longs for quantifiable evidence of the spiritual. My jadedness comes from poring over scads of accounts of afterlife experiences and finding so many times that they come coated in a greasy film of sensationalism and self-promotion. Heaven Is For Real might just be the real thing.
Todd Burpo, co-author, husband and father, is a small-town minister and serves as the narrator. Todd went through a trying season of personal injury and illness, taking on large medical debts, which culminated in a life-or-death struggle for Todd's son, Colton. Colton had a bout of what seemed to be, and was misdiagnosed as, the stomach flu, but in actuality Colton's appendix had ruptured and the condition went untreated for five days. Railing against God for this Job-like testing, as Colton was wheeled into the operating room screaming, Todd thought he'd seen his son for the last time.
Against all odds, and through multiple surgeries, Colton miraculously recovered. The caliber of the miracle would not begin to be revealed till months later when Colton revealed to his family that he had been to Heaven. Over the course of time Colton would open up and share details of his experience; offering preternatural knowledge of things about which, his family says, Colton had no prior knowledge. As Todd described it, Colton's revelations came in the sort of call-it-as-you-see-it way of preschoolers who have not yet "learned either tact or guile." From details about Heaven to interactions with family members who passed on prior to Colton's birth, this story is one which invites the reader into contemplation of mystery.
What allows me to take this story seriously is the sense of humility and circumspection present in the narrative. The Burpos tread carefully with Colton letting him tell his story as he was ready. Seven years passed from the first inklings of Colton's experience to the publishing of the book.
The single aspect of Heaven Is For Real that concerned me was when Colton's reporting shifted from descriptive to predictive, recounting visions of a great battle-to-come at the end of time. In these visions, the forces of Heaven are arrayed against the forces of Hell and Christian men wield either swords or bows-and-arrows as part of God's army. Colton reported to his father that he saw him as a participant in that future conflict. What gives me pause is this: the Armageddon visions come much later than the earlier stories shared by Colton and are in a narrative peppered by frequent references to Colton's early and ongoing love for superhero battles played out with sword-wielding action figures.
Don't use this book as a basis for theological discernment about either the afterlife or the end of time. Take this book for what it is: a sweet story of the love of parents for their child, the care of Christians for each other in times of crisis, and the surprising mystery of the grace of God.
on May 5, 2014
If there is something--anything--redeeming about this book I could not find it, hence the lowest rating possible. Reading this book is maybe the nicest thing I've ever done for my friends. Now you don't have to. For me, it was kind of like being dragged by horses across a field of broken glass. . . during a blizzard. . . while passing a kidney stone. . . and listening to Bob Dylan. I didn't know anything about Todd Burpo, but I can tell you my respect for Lynn Vincent has plunged to the center of the earth. I can't even give it a bump for the quality of writing.
I was compelled to read "Heaven is for Real" by its popularity. The book is currently #7 on Amazon and the movie has grossed $65 million in just a few weeks. Millions of people have formed their beliefs about God and heaven from what Todd Burpo claims his 3-year-old son experienced in heaven and later relayed to him.
The story goes as follows: Young Colton Burpo underwent an emergency appendectomy and made a subsequent miraculous recovery. Several months later, Colton revealed to his parents that while in surgery he had an out-of-body experience, spoke with angels, and sat in Jesus' lap. For the next couple years, whenever the Burpo parents got a hankerin', they'd pump Colton for more information. There was a pattern to these sessions. Colton would be preoccupied (often playing with swords or action figures) when his dad asked something like, "Hey Colton, did you see God's throne in heaven?" Whether the question was, "Did you see animals?" or "Did you see Mary?" or "Did you see Satan?" or something else, Colton's reply never failed to gratify. His father was invariably stunned and amazed. Colton would then run off and play while Mr. Burpo pondered a passage of Scripture that confirmed his son's story, e.g., "Then I suddenly remembered what it says in the book of Revelation. . ." Signaling the completion of the pattern, the author exclaims something to this effect: I know exactly what they were teaching my boy in Sunday School and there's no way he learned this there. Our only reasonable conclusion is that Colton Burpo really did visit heaven!
If the Burpos' close family and friends want to believe this account based on their personal knowledge of them and their character, fine I guess. But should we? Everything in us wants to, but there's no good reason we should. In fact, in this case there are loads of reasons we shouldn't.
For one, I'm really suspicious about Jesus speaking to Colton Burpo in Evangelical clichés. Instead of learning that people need to believe in Jesus, for example, Colton learned from his encounter that we need to be nice and have Jesus in our hearts. Why did Jesus opt for Evangelical clichés over biblical expressions?
As well, despite valiant attempts at proof texting, we do have to choose between biblical theology and the Burpo story. For example, is God the Father physically big so as to require a physically big throne? Do people have bodies after death but before the resurrection? Did Jesus win the victory over the devil or not? For each of these questions and more, the Bible gives one answer; 4-year-old Colton Burpo gives another.
Finally, there are all the things that just don't add up for me. If you thought your child really visited heaven, would you investigate the experience intermittently over the course of years? Or, fearing he might forget some of the details, would you sit down with him at once, asking every question that comes to mind, taking copious notes? Is it even reasonable to trust the account of a child who by all appearances is wrapped up in a world of action figures, make-believe sword play, and fantasy? Does the notion of disembodied spirits having wings strike you as odd? How about Jesus on a rainbow-colored horse? If Colton was having an out-of-body experience, how is it that he sat on Jesus' lap? How did he hug people in heaven if his body was on the operating table? I don't have a verse to prove the Holy Spirit isn't "kind of blue" in color, but do I need one? I could go on. Frankly, not only can I not believe this story, I can't believe anyone can.
If I only had a nickel for every time I've heard Christians justify books like "Heaven is for Real" and "90 Minutes in Heaven" on the basis that, even if false, people are drawn to God by them. I say, no. Jesus told a parable (recorded in Luke 16) about a rich man who died and went to hell. There he suffered in agony. God allowed him to look far away and see a man named Lazarus sitting next to Abraham. From his life on earth, the rich man had known Lazarus as a beggar who lived near him. The rich man pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his five living brothers to change their ways before they died. Denied. Abraham declared, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." The rich man protested that a visit from dead Lazarus would do what Moses and the Prophets (i.e., the Bible) couldn't. Abraham gave this retort, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
God draws men to Himself through the Word. I suspect He does not draw men through sensational, unverifiable testimonies of complete strangers, much less those who are trusting in the ability of a 4-year-old to remember, interpret, and articulate the details of a supposed trip to heaven. As to the extra-biblical details of heaven and the afterlife, it isn't simply that we don't know these things; it's that we aren't meant to know them. After Paul's unique trip to heaven, he was forbidden to share what he experienced (2 Cor 12:3-4). We only know that he heard "inexpressible things". Why is Colton Burpo allowed to give details which Paul was forbidden from revealing? The answer is simple: Paul didn't have books, movie tickets, CDs, t-shirts, and bracelets (yes, bracelets) to sell. Perhaps God allowed Colton Burpo to tell his story so that his dad, Todd, could become a millionaire.
I'm sure I've raised some hackles. If you believed the Burpos' story based on the book or the movie, I ask: Did you believe it because it was believable? Or because you wanted to believe it? The apostles didn't preach heaven; they preached the gospel. The gospel is the power to save. "Heaven is for Real" is the power to tickle ears. That it occupies the #1 best seller position in the "Christian Book" category on Amazon is a testimony to the sorry state of Christianity.
on August 28, 2011
For those of you who are going to rant and chastise me for being judgmental, save it...
I, too, have had a terrifying experience where my child was extremely sick, doctors could not diagnose him for a couple of days, he went into the hospital, and when he was finally diagnosed was not expected to live. This is where my 'judgmentalism' comes from...
Thinking I was going to be buying a sweet little, uplifting tale that would resonate with me as I am a person of great faith and unfathomable love and thankfulness to God _ I came to a point in this book (about midway through Chapter 6) where I had to quit reading this book. The more I read (as written by the little boy's father) about the actions of these parents before actually seeking medical attention for their obviously sick child, the more judgmental I became. I don't like it when I find myself judging people, so the best thing for me to do was to delete the book from my Kindle and just forget about it. If I could ask for my money back, so that no money goes into the hands of people who acted so ignorantly, I would.
Here are a few examples of their behavior that just stupified me: When little Colton first became sick, before a trip, his mother took him to the doctor and the doctor wrote his illness off as a stomach flu. The parents prayed not that their sweet little 3 year old get better, but that he would get better enough not to interrupt a trip. (The trip was for a district church denomination meeting.) So, little Colton seems to be back to his old self the next day, so they go on their trip. While out on their trip, both of their children become sick one night and the parents believed there was a revisitation of the stomach flu. That's understandable. However, when the 6 year old daughter who only threw up a couple of times overnight and the 3 year old continues to vomit "hourly", without any sign of improvement whatsoever, do they check-out of the hotel and take him to the ER or head back home? Nope, they take him to the home of some friends (let's just give this virus to everybody we know) so the mother can take care of him while the father attends church with one of the friends. Ignorant, selfish call I think. But, we're all entitled to a dumb move now and then. So, I keep reading. Once church is over, the father and his friend come home to find the 3 year old still very sick and vomiting "profusely". The male friend the father went to church with that morning is concerned, thinking the symptoms might equal appendicitis. The father, whose experience as a pastor and garage door salesman make him an expert, decides that it's not appendicitis. Fine, anybody can be wrong. Keep reading... so dad decides it's not appendicitis and must still be the (contagious) stomach flu, therefore the family will just stay another night with their generous hosts - just in case they haven't made them sick yet, I guess. The following morning,after a night of the little boy STILL vomiting, the parents pack up to go home and their host, seeing the sick child cradled in his mother's arms, says that the little boy looks "pretty sick" and suggests that the parents take him straight away to the ER. Well, the parents reason that the 3 hours they would sit in an ER would be better spent driving home, so they head on home. They call ahead to their local doctor, make an afternoon appointment, and before heading out explain their reasoning to their host. The host "said he understood", but the father "could tell he was still worried". Okay, even now the friends of the parents are apparently thinking "what are you DOING?". Two hours into the drive, after the parents have had to stop and change clothing on an already fully potty trained child (!!!) whose began soiling himself and the child is by now "crying constantly" and they've had to stop "every 30 mintues" for him to throw up. So, they're still an hour or so from home, and they STILL DON'T STOP AT AN ER! I mean, come on people, it doesn't take a triple digit IQ to figure out at this point that 48 hours of hourly to half-hourly vomiting by a 3 year old can result in dehydration so severe that he could be having organ problems. Wait, the dad even says that 2 hours into this 3 hour trip home that they know he must be getting dehydrated (ya think?!?) and they STILL DIDN'T STOP. So, they get back to their hometown in 3 hours and, though earlier in the book Dear Old Dad says they called ahead for an appointment with family doc, when they get home you know what they do? They go to the ER. FINALLY! And when they get to the ER, the kid is so sick, they don't make the family wait the dreaded 3 hours that the parents had speculated about earlier, no, one look at the child and the ER staff immediately takes them back. Blood work is performed, Xrays are performed, and IVs are run. Results... the doctor doesn't know what's wrong with the child, but the Xray shows 3 masses in his stomach. While the IVs and antibiotics (antibiotics... they don't give those for stomach virus) are dripping, friends begin streaming in. One friend suggests that the parents should have the boy transported to Denver Children's (ya know, since doctors at Podunk Hospital don't know what's wrong). The parents dismissed this, instead deciding (I suppose) to let the Podunk docs google until they make a diagnosis. On day two, after the boy is STILL throwing up and only getting worse "faster", mother stays on at the hospital while Dad works and prays. Finally, on day 3 at Podunk, it dawns on the parents of little Colton (whose looking like death to his parents)that maybe they should take him to another hospital. Denver Children's? Noooo, that would be too far from the parents "base of support". ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHAT ABOUT COLTON'S MEDICAL SUPPORT? This is where I quit reading. I know from the photo on the cover that little Colton survived and is doing well (he's obviously not 3 anymore). But I just, at this point, had formed such an unfavorable opinion of these parents selfishness or ignorance or both, that I just didn't want to read anymore. As a parent, I love to the point I would die for my kid. Sitting in an ER 3 hours from home is a far cry from death. Subjecting him to days of continual degradation of health and wellbeing so that I can be close to those who will pat my back and tell me it's all gonna be alright is not my idea of taking care of my child. I'm sorry if this feeling is offensive, but it's why I could not finish this book.
on March 30, 2014
There seem to be two schools of thought on the reviews posted here: either it's an amazing, overwhelmingly joyful confirmation of faith, or the father is lying in order to make money.
I have a different point of view. ALL signs in the beginning of the book (and even later, with the father's incredulity) point to the fact that the father was obviously losing his faith. He even raged against God at one point. And when he wasn't raging directly against God, he was picking over and over and over the fact that HE had been through so much, HIS health scares were so bad, HIS inability to work was so bad. When Colton was sick, it was all about how DAD felt about it, how DAD didn't like to see it, how DAD didn't know what to do, how DAD felt like a failure.
Then of course, Colton was begging for Dad before and after the surgery.
And later, with the tiny crumbs we're awarded that (supposedly) came out of Colton's mouth, we are swarmed before, during and after them with Dad going on about HIS reaction, HIS making parallels to scripture, and so on.
For the (co-) author, it's all I, I, I, me, me, me, I felt this, I saw that, I heard this, I couldn't take it so I went to have a glass of water, me, I, I, me, me.
It is so obvious. This person is a pastor. He can/could not forgive himself for beginning to lose faith. So he grabbed onto what may have been a snatch of a dream from his little boy (based on the dogma that had been instilled daily and even hourly in this child, both inside and outside the home - i.e., Sunday school) and began to see what he wanted to see.
He was so desperate for a confirmation of his now-flagging faith that, yes, he, even if only subconsciously, coached his son. You can see it in the writing. He asks a question, then later asks the question with a bit of a twist and of course, Colton, who wants to please his father, reaches and finds "a memory" that seems even more staggering to the father...even though each and every one of these "memories" is thrust into children's heads in Sunday school via words, stories and pictures, and in a preacher's household, in the home as well.
Dad, years later, collected and, yes, paraphrased (he admits that he "wishes (he) had written down" what Colton had said at the time Colton was saying it) Colton's supposed "revelations," from an adult point of view.
Colton was not being bad and he was not lying. A dream, memories, snatches of stories from Bible school - to a not even four-year-old, they all mingle. A child this age has NOT separated fantasy from reality. If I recall correctly, that happens at approximately age seven, which is why age seven and up is termed "the age of reason."
Colton saw how happy his parents were with what he was telling them - AND how their heads snapped in his direction and how riveted they were every time he talked about "Jesus and heaven." Well, what child wouldn't keep doing what gets him attention? Children want and need parental attention and love. They never feel like they're getting enough of it. When they hit upon something that has the parents all a-lather like this, well...of course they're going to keep talking, and, subconsciously, add and embellish. That is very natural.
As to the impossibility of Colton knowing about the miscarriage, his grandfather, etc., what on earth makes parents think children don't listen in on the parents' conversations when the parents think the kids are asleep? Obviously they do not remember being children themselves.
I very much wanted to believe this story but it was contrived, coached, manipulated (poor Colton) and overly eager to prove itself again and again. That itself speaks volumes for the fact that Dad, even with fame and fortune and looooooads of money from this book, and even with TV appearances (um, I thought this happened to Colton, not to him?) - is still trying to convince himself. Sadly, he sure hasn't convinced me.
on December 22, 2011
Right up front, let me say that I think Todd Burpo's book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back is one of the most naive, superficial, and disturbing "Christian" books I've read for a long time.
In brief, the book purports to tell of a 4 year old's journey to heaven during a surgical procedure for a severe ruptured appendix. Following the procedure, and over a period of months and years, Colton, Todd's son, gradually "revealed" bits and pieces of his alleged journey to heaven. Here's what he "discovered" and/or "experienced" on his journey:
- angels sang to him while he was in hospital
- he was sitting on Jesus' lap while he was in heaven
- while in heaven, he saw his father praying in a small room in the hospital and his mother in a different room talking on the phone and praying
- he met John the Baptist in heaven
- Jesus has a rainbow coloured horse and wears a golden crown with a pink diamond
- he was given "homework" to do in heaven while he was being cared for by his deceased grandfather - Pop
- everyone in heaven has wings and flies around from place to place - except for Jesus who who levitates up and down like an elevator
- everyone in heaven has a light above their heads (Todd Burpo interprets this in the book as a halo)
- God is `really, really big' and is so big he holds the world in his hands
- Jesus sits at the right hand of God, Gabriel sits on God's left, and the Holy Spirit is "kind of blue" and sits somewhere in the vicinity of the other three.
- the gates of heave are made of gold and pearls
- after Colton's return to earth, he became obsessed with rainbows because of the incredible number of colours he saw in heaven
- at times, following his return from heaven, Colton saw `power shot down from heaven' while his dad was preaching
there are swords and bows and arrows in heaven that the angels use to keep Satan out of heaven
the weaponry described above will apparently be used in a coming battle that destroys the world - and Colton's dad will be fighting in that battle
- the final battle will be against actual dragons and monsters while the women and children stand and watch the men fighting them
- he meets `a sister' in heaven - who was lost through miscarriage by the mother years before - and which the parents claim they never spoke to Colton about
- he claimed to see Satan in heaven but wouldn't say what he looked like
- and he described what Jesus looked like, comparing people's ideas of Jesus in their artworks as not right, until he was shown a painting of Christ by Akiane Kramarik which he said got the picture of Jesus right
There are a few more "revelations" in the book, but these are the essential ones. And all this was discovered in 3 minutes in heaven!
There are a number of reasons one should be highly sceptical of this book. Firstly, Colton was just 4 years old when he began to talk about his experience mostly prompted by his father - except for the first of his comments about the angels singing to him when he was having his surgery. Four year old children are renowned for making up stories and not being able, at this age, to distinguish fantasy from reality. After all, many children have imaginary friends and use their imagination constantly in making up stories while engaging in play. It would seem that the parents are still thinking like four year olds if they take what their kid says as literally true!
Secondly, why so many months and years for the story to develop - with the prompting of the parents? Surely if a child visited heaven they'd come back and be talking about it excitedly all at once - at least to start with. Haven't we all heard children bubble over with enthusiasm after having an exciting experience? Not Colton. He doesn't even mention it until he happens to say something about where his parents were during his operation. But given that it takes years for his whole "story" to come out, one has to wonder how much of it was constructed in response to his father's questioning.
Thirdly, the "information" provided by Colton is so obviously consistent with an evangelical fundamentalist view that it is not hard to see it has being informed by this culture as he grew up. Colton's father is a pastor and he admits to reading Bible stories to Colton as he grew up. He would have attended Sunday School and been exposed to all the detail he has described even if unconsciously. It's not surprising that his description of heaven draws on that culture.
Fourthly, Colton's father holds to a literalist reading of the biblical Book of Revelation which most people quite rightly understand to be highly symbolic and figurative. Colton describes things like swords and horses (rainbow coloured, no less, obviously similar to the children's Rainbow Brite toy!) in heaven and his father believes they are truly in heaven because verses in Revelation confirm it! So does Colton's father believe there is really a slain lamb/lion creature actually there too?
Fifthly, if Colton's descriptions of God on thrones with angels using swords to keep Satan out of heaven are to be taken literally, then God has been caught in an Old Testament era time warp. Are they really suggesting that God has eternally sat on thrones, ridden horses, fought with swords against real dragons? Most biblical scholars (and most Christians) would have a much more mature view of these issues than the childish view that Colton and his parents have. But then, of course, according to this book, we are to become like little children in our faith and just accept all this stuff without question.
Finally, the idea that Colton has told them a few things that he just couldn't have known about is highly unlikely. Church communities are renowned gossiping communities and it is much more reasonable to assume that he heard some of these things than to believe they are supernaturally revealed.
There's a lot more that could be said about this book. But the above will do. Heaven is for Real is simplistic, superficial, and naive. The most disturbing thing about this book is that it has become so popular - which doesn't say much for the people that swallow it whole without a second thought - even to the extent of stating that they have had their faith strengthened by it. If this is all it takes to reaffirm faith then, to my mind, that faith is pretty fickle.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
on June 6, 2011
So the story is that Pastor Burpo's son, Colton, got horribly sick and had an out of body experience where he went to heaven.
While in "heaven", Colton saw Jesus and a whole whack of things that sound amazing...
Sadly, the Bible gives me significant reason to question the validity of Colton's vision, since Colton says a bunch of things that sound 'biblical' to an undiscerning reader, but cannot be the case.
Colton went to a place where he saw Jesus' horse. Well the Bible speaks of Jesus having a horse in Revelation 19, but it's his war horse. It's not currently grazing in heaven and you DEFINITELY don't get to ride that one (unless Colton did a little pre-emptive judgment of his preschool or something).
Colton went to the stereotypical "gold streets and whatnot" heaven, but the Bible's clear that this is the New Jerusalem (Rev.21 & 22). Wherever Colton went, Colton DEFINITELY didn't go to the New Jerusalem.
Colton apparently had wings and a halo in heaven. The Bible is clear that human beings DO NOT turn into angels in heaven, and the whole "wings and a halo" thing is nowhere in the scriptures. It's from popular and secular media and 'Far Side' cartoons.
Colton apparently saw that the angels in heaven had swords, and this is apparently so that they can "keep the Devil out". So the angels need to wage physical battle against Satan because he's trying to constantly get into Heaven? What about places like Job 1:6-12 & 2:1-7 where Satan is found standing before God?
...and Colton asked for a sword but Jesus said he couldn't because it was "too dangerous". Dangerous for who? Was Colton in actual danger of killing someone or damaging something in Heaven? Was Jesus worried that Colton would cut himself?
I could go on and on but there's no need. This book was a complete insult to my intelligence by assuming that I'm so idiotic that I wouldn't check the claims of a 4-year-old prophet against scripture. What's even more unbelievable is that Pastor Ron Burpo apparently has a B.A. in Theology. *facepalm*
Pastor Burpo's son definitely saw something, but I have heavy reasons to question whether or not Colton had a heavenly encouter or something far more deceptive. Seeing how many people are buying this book (I saw it here in Canada on a top 10 best sellers rack at a huge national bookstore), I'm guessing that it's a distraction and deception from the spirits who typically do such things while manifesting themselves as angels of light.
Be warned. *False teaching alert*
Read at tremendous spiritual risk.
Embarking on a short tour of the afterlife is all the rage, it seems. Don Piper got it started with 90 Minutes in Heaven, a really bad book that sold millions of copies. Then there was 23 Minutes in Hell, another bestseller and another awful book. And now hot on their heels comes Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. It's currently sitting atop the New York Times list of bestsellers and has over a half million copies in print. I wonder if I'm the only one who finds it a mite suspicious that now that these books are selling like proverbial hotcakes, more and more people find that God wants them to tell their stories of heaven and hell. Probably not.
Heaven Is For Real is written by pastor Todd Burpo and it tells the story of his son Colton who, at age 4, visited heaven. His visit came while he was on the operating table after suffering a burst appendix. He told his parents his story several months later and his parents then waited 6 or 7 years to record it in a book. That book has shot to the top of the charts, resulting in many of you sending me emails to ask, "Have you read it?" So I went ahead and read it. Because that's the kind of guy I am.
You will probably not be surprised to learn that this is not a good book. What I want to do here is offer a very brief review and then I want to tell you why you can legitimately dismiss this book and all the others like it, because I think that's where many of us feel the tension--what gives me the right to dismiss another person's experience?
I've already given you the broad outline. Colton dies (or something close to it) and visits heaven for an unknown period of time. He returns to his body and over the months and years that follow tells his parents about his time in heaven. He tells about spending time with Jesus, about meeting the sister he never knew he had, about fluttering around with wings, about the pearly gates, and on and on. Along the way you'll get descriptions of Todd's various afflictions and you'll read the fine details of Colton's battles with constipation and the great relief he experienced passing gas. Riveting stuff, this.
Every one of Colton's experiences, or very nearly every one, follows a pattern. He tells his father some little detail. His father experiences a gasp or feels his heart skip a beat. "I could hardly breathe. My mind was reeling. My head was spinning." A Scripture verse comes to dad's mind that validates the experience. Colton gets bored and runs off. Repeat.
The story is told with short chapters and grade school-level writing. Fine literature it is not. The point of it all is to encourage you that heaven is a real place. Colton went there and his experience now validates its existence. Just like Don Piper went there and his experience validates its existence. Just like Bill Wiese went to hell and can speak with authority to tell you that you really, really don't want to go there. Just like the Apostle Paul went there and told us all about it in order to...oh wait.
Now, what do I do with a book like this one? It seems to me that there are only a couple of options available to me. I can accept it, agreeing that this little boy is legitimate--he went to heaven and is now telling the tale for our edification. Or I can reject what this boy is saying--he did not go to heaven and this book is fictitious. If I go with this second option (which is exactly what I am doing) I now have two choices before me: either the boy (and/or his parents) is a liar or he genuinely believes he experienced something that he did not actually experience. I know which way I would lean, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.
Either option is very uncharitable and each one leaves me with a further problem: on what grounds can I dismiss this as fiction, as a book that is completely unprofitable?
If I wanted to disprove Colton's experience on grounds of logic or consistency I might point in a couple of different directions. In the first place, Colton is a toddler who speaks like an adult. His verbatim quotes sound nothing like a 4-year old, and I think I can say this with some authority as the father of a 4-year old. I'd also point to the fact that dad routinely remembers circumstantial detail that there is very little chance he would remember 6 or 7 years after the fact, something that, at the very least, tells me that he is filling in details where he feels he needs to. But there are better grounds.
The better strategy, I think, is to look to the Bible.
I offer two ways of going about this. First, the Bible gives us no indication whatsoever that God will work in this way and that he will call one of us to heaven and then cause us to return. It is for man to die once and then the resurrection. To allow a man (or a boy) to experience heaven and then to bring him back would not be grace but cruelty. The only biblical example we have of a man being caught up to heaven is Paul and it's very interesting that he was forbidden to tell anything about it. And the reason he even mentioned this experience was not to offer encouragement that heaven exists, but to serve as a part of his "gospel boasting." He saw heaven and was told to say nothing about it. This was a unique experience in a unique time and for a unique reason.
The second ground refers to the reason each of these authors offers--that through their experience we now find confidence that what God says is true. This kind of proof is exactly the kind of proof we should not need and should not want. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. Don Piper insisted that he was called to be the Minister of Hope. If hope is to be found in any person, it will be found in the person of Christ. It is the Spirit working through the Word who will give us confidence in our faith. And what is faith? It is simply believing that what God says in his Word is true. We do not need tales of heaven or stories of those who claim to be there.
If you struggle believing what the Bible says, but learn to find security in the testimony of a toddler, well, I feel sorry for you. And I do not mean this in a condescending way. If God's Word is not sufficient for you, if the testimony of his Spirit, given to believers, is not enough for you, you will not find any true hope in the unproven tales of a child. This hope may last for a moment, but it will not sustain you, it will not bless you, in those times when hope is waning and times are hard.
So reject this book. Do not read it. Do not believe it. And do not feel guilty doing so.
on June 18, 2011
I read this book truly hoping to find an account of life after death that I could believe in. Unfortunately the story has several factual errors which cast serious doubts about the legitimacy of the story. Add that to the increasingly fantastic imagery that emerges as the boy grows older and is exposed to more Christian "schooling" and Hollywood media and the whole story loses credibility.
The first factual error is the fact that the boy mentions that Jesus had red marks on his palms and feet (where supposedly he continued to bare the marks of the nails of his crucifixion even in Heaven). It is not a well known fact that Jesus was crucified through the wrist and NOT through the palms, as it is not possible for nails through the palms to support the weight of the body. This has been proven through scientific tests using cadavers. Even the Shroud of Turin if indeed it is authentic, bears stains that would correspond to a wound on the wrist NOT the palms. This is one of the most important errors because it is a description that occurs soon after the purported meeting with Jesus, and not years afterwards where the effects of a child's hyperactive imagination could, and in my opinion have, created incredible scenes.
Colton also says he watched Jesus send "power" in the form of the "holy spirit" down to his father (a pastor) while he gave his sermons. The only problem is that during the time he was supposedly in Heaven watching Jesus do this, his father was at the hospital and not preaching.
Another factual error was Colton's idea that Jesus looked like the painting by the God inspired child prodigy Akiane, which depicts a fairly light skinned man. Now most Christians in the Western world might like to believe Jesus was "white", but the truth is he was born in the Middle East. Just take a look at what the typical Jew living there looks like and you will see that he would have actually had dark skin and most likely black hair.
Another problem is that ONLY Christians can get into Heaven according to Colton, so all other religions, agnostics or atheists, no matter how good they are -- are screwed. Yet - conveniently, his miscarried sister who was never born to be baptized a Christian, turned up in Heaven.
As Colton gets older the story gets even more fantastic with "future" scenes of Heaven waging war with Satan with... wait for it: SWORDS as well as BOWS and ARROWS. Not surprising this happened to coincide with Colton's recent viewing of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not to mention that only males were warriors. It appears that female emancipation in the modern world has regressed in the future according to Colton.
Having been raised as a Christian and having religious parents and a Grandfather who was a Pastor, I am in no way anti-Christianity. However, like many, I am looking for the truth, not blind propaganda. When I read this book it pained me to eventually realize how fake it was.
Add that to the fact that the co-writer Lynn Vincent has written many political books, including ghostwriting Sarah Palin's, and the only conclusion I could come up with was that this book has to be taken with a bucketful of salt.
on April 1, 2011
Around the world, people of faith all have different views of the nature of God, Jesus, and Heaven (not to mention other prophets, gods, and revelations). Of course, these differences exist not just between religions, but also within Christianity itself (there can even be many, many differences between believers within the same congregation and even within families). Even people engaging in similar approaches to biblical interpretation (e.g. literal readings of the King James Version of the Bible) can yield very different conceptions of the nature of Heaven. The result, of course, is that within Christianity, there are thousands and thousands of good-faith understandings of God, of the permanence of the soul, and of Heaven.
Given this, how could it be conceivably possible that Colton Burpo's revelation of the true nature of God and Heaven happened to conform exactly to his father's views on them?
I should note that you do not have to question the existence of God or of Heaven to wonder about this. In fact, I think the question is more troubling for true believers. For real believers, the question is not whether there is a heaven or not (that is beyond question); the real question is whether Mr. Burpo is using his son as a false prophet.
I think people should really consider that before endorsing or supporting this book.