Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Review: Heaven is For Real

Heaven is for real

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 <http://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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

22 comments:

  1. thanks for insightful intelligent review! almost makes me want to buy the book so I can enjoy the review even better lol peter Veitch

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    1. Yes, the boy's story should be rejected on many grounds, not the least of which is his description that God is "really, really big". On the contrary, the Bible says God is spirit. Furthermore, as the articles below convey, Colton claims that everyone looks like angels in heaven with wings. But since the resurrection of a believer's transformed body HAS YET to take place, their form in heaven MUST lack physical attributes.
      Moreover, if God strictly refuses to allow someone to come FROM heaven to deliver messages (Luke 16) it stands to reason He would not allow someone to COME TO heaven (and back) to deliver messages, when Luke 16 categorically says the Scriptures are sufficient and He expects us to walk by FAITH before heaven becomes a reality in time.

      http://www.thebereancall.org/content/heaven-real-real-exercise-discernment-0/

      http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/heaven-is-for-real

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  2. Thank you Steve for your review. I work in a Christian bookstore and shake my head every time I get a new order for this book. I really can't understand the lack of discernment in the church (particularly the Evangelical church) these days.

    Two things I might have done differently if I were to review the book: 1) I would have saved any of my own comments about the book until after I let the book speak for itself first. I know you are trying to come out being up front and honest about how you feel about the book, but I think this leaves you prone to accusations of bias. 2) Somewhere in the review I would want to say that I was not accusing the Burpo's of lieing. It's possible(even probable I would say) that young Colton believes strongly that he did go to heaven and saw some of the things he saw. And it's possible his Dad believes his son's story in full. So I think a clear distinction needs to be made between the Burpo's motives and what actually happened. So, I would say that I am not questioning that the Burpo's believe in the story they are telling us, but whether or not that story has the mark of authenticity to it, which, obviously, it does not.

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  3. very excellent book!!you can get this book at Focus on the Family where i work :)...people really do have amazing stories to tell

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  4. I loved this book and I thought that it's naivety was the point. It wasn't dressed up in a religious manner, it came straight from a child, who said it how he saw it. If I had more of a childlike faith, I wouldn't worry so much, and I would trust in my God as my father, rather than trying to reason everything from a adult perspective and miss the point.

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    1. The pointis, if you want to increase your faith, READ the Bible.

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  5. Of all the reviews, both positive and negetive, of this book, I have yet to see anyone supporting their comments with Scripture. I can say unequivically that little Colton did not go to heaven, not because his descriptions seem fanciful, but because the Bible flatly refutes such a possibility. In John 3:13 Jesus tells Nicodemus, "And no one has ascended into heaven but He who has descended from heaven, even the Son of Man" (NASB). This is what makes Jesus uniquely qualified to speak of "heavenly things" (v.12). In other words, no one has ever ascended to heaven and seen things never before revealed in Scripture, and then returned to tell about it. Paul was not permitted to disclose what he saw in his heavenly vison, and the Revelation of Jesus to John was the last revelation given to man. The canon of Scripture is closed. So we must ask ourselves, as Christians what is our ultimate authority; Scripture, or our own personal experience? Does experience stand in judgment over Scripture, or do we interpret our experience in light of Scripture?

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    1. there is a heaven, I saw my mother asend to heaven on 9/15/12. she passed away, I saw it, if no one believes it, oh well, I know what I saw and no one will ever take that away from me, NO ONE! Amen.

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    2. I can unequivocally say that John 13:3 does not refute Colton’s experience. John 13:3 does not mean no one CAN go to heaven. Jesus was only saying that no one has ever gone to heaven so as to be able to speak what he was speaking to them, but him alone because he came from heaven. It does not mean that no one has gone to heaven to be with God since Enoch was taken by God. And John 3:13 certainly does not mean that no one CAN go to heaven like little Colton did, because Paul experienced similar to Colton’s. The only major difference is that Colton SAW many things in heaven and was probably permitted by God to tell these things to his parents, while Paul HEARD inexpressible things that man is not permitted to tell. But you obviously missed that when you changed (and I don’t think we are allowed to change what is written) that to: “Paul was not permitted to disclose what he SAW in his heavenly vision.” Nope, that is not what is written in 2 Cor 12:4. What we have in 2 Cor. 12:4 is, “He HEARD inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” Surely there is a difference between what one SAW and what the other HEARD for you cannot see what is meant to be heard and you cannot hear what is meant to be seen. Surely there is a difference between what one SAW and what the other HEARD for you cannot see what is meant to be heard and you cannot hear what is meant to be seen. And yes, the Canon of Scripture is already closed, but it does not mean that God cannot do anything beyond what is written in the Canon. If that would be the case, God’s action is limited by nearly 800,000 words in the Canon. Neither the closing of the Canon means heaven cannot be more than beautiful as described to us in the Canon. Certainly, God will not contradict his written Word, but I also don't believe that God is limited by his nearly 800,000 words in the Canon. To limit what God can do by just 800,000 words is absolutely silly.

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  6. Thank you Anonymous who wrote on Aug 27! I'm glad that you brought up how the Bible argues against this book. I just want the readers of this blog and the writer as well, that I am a theologically conservative Christian, and I still don't like the book. There are many more like myself out there too. Don't think all of us are blind to books like this. And I also believe the Book of Revelation is very literal, but once again, it does not confirm this book. (There a real being that is called a dragon in Revelation, but it says right there that it is the devil.) One of the biggest reasons not to buy into this book is John 6:46,"Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, who was sent from God, have seen him." (NLT.) The little boy claims to have seen the Father, in direct contraindication to Jesus' words, therefore it is not true. It saddens me that people would be so easily fooled by books like this because they don't know the Scripture.

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  7. I bought the book because I was curious and when I read it, I came to the conclusion that this book was not to be taken seriously. I do believe that the book of Revelation is literal and symbolic it's not one or the other but both the key is learning the difference. I don't know what to make of this boys experience but I think that his parents saw an opportunity to make money and took it. I think that it is sad how people embrace what someone says just because they say they saw it, when scripture doesn't line up with their claims. Also someone said that we won't spend time in heaven but I'd like to remind them that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, Paul said that I believe. However it is true that in the end we will spend eternity in the New Earth, not heaven. I do think that maybe some of the accounts are true or more believable such as Ian McCormick, I found his account more believable then little Burpo's, and some others.

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    1. "I think that his parents saw an opportunity to make money and took it." Don't you think it is a malicious thinking? How can you judge other people (let alone your brothers and sisters in Christ. Well, that is if you are even a Christian) like that?

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  8. I'm a person that can be easily swept up by personal accounts - I love hearing other people's stories and am not shy in admitting that I am a pretty emotional person. (I'm opting out of posting my name on this post out of skepticism for internet safety.) Having worked with kids for awhile, I do have to say that kids are pretty bluntly honest at young ages - so I don't necessarily completely discount everything this young boy said, but it's interesting how it never really talks about when Colton gives his life to Christ? There really wasn't much about him repenting and praying the Lord's prayer of salvation. And I looked up the church the pastor/author of this book preaches at and found its core beliefs to be strangely short...and definitely not very Gospel-centered at all...and this book, interestingly enough, was not Gospel-centered. And if the Gospel is the heart of Christianity, which I firmly believe it is, then this book is definitely subject to some questioning. And just another thought is that because this book was written over the course of years, and because Colton does seem fairly smart for his age, it can be very true that he probably did overhear some of these details for heaven over the course of time and sought specific moments when he knew for sure his parents were listening to share them.

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  9. A couple things Steve: First of all, when you say, "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." I think you are completely missing the point of this family's testimony. I don't think anyone claims this to be objective fact. Much like the Bible, this book is written from the view and perspective of one family, more specifically, one little four-year old boy. Your questions and theories are valid, however, you take this book much too seriously. Perhaps what God allowed Colton to see, experience, remember and recall was precisely all of the things described in this book. One must not assume that Colton's Heavenly experience would be the same as anyone else's. It is absolutely possible that this is what Colton saw through his, yes, "naive and superficial" 4 YEAR OLD EYES. If you had an out-of-body experience and God allowed you to see a glimpse of Heaven, do you think that your 3 minutes would hold the same characteristics as Colton's? Do you think that you would sit on Jesus' lap and admire his "pink diamond studded golden crown"? Probably not.

    All I am saying is that your review of this book is just as naive and superficial as you accuse the text to be. How old are you? Still focused on the "objective" thoughts of a 4 YEAR OLD boy? You write for Thinking Christian, but are you still so blind that you are unaware of what the Christian faith is for? Just is case you aren't- it's about FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE- and your review is exactly none of these things. Our faith is about struggle and sacrifice and seeking the truth- not judging and deciding once and for all what is possible and what isn't. As a devout Christian, Catholic, and student of all religions, I am embarrassed to have read this review on this web site. Congratulations, you really won the argument. Maybe one day if you ever meet Colton and his father, you can tell them how idiotic they are and maybe sleep better that night.

    Don't be so simple minded. You are better than that. God bless and may you continue to seek to strengthen your faith in all that is possible through God.

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  10. I read the book and loved it. I have aread about near death experiences about other small children who have drowned and was recessitated. They have claimed to have been to Heaven also. I would like to believe their stories are true

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  11. Heaven is for real for people who are humble like a child, but not for those who are skeptical. It is not OUR understanding of the Scriptures about heaven that creates heaven itself. Heaven is far beyond our comprehension and even the Bible gave us only a glimpse of it. Heaven is not fully or absolutely describe to us in the Bible and, therefore, no one can absolutely say that Colton's experience and description (from a 4 year old perspective) absolutely wrong. As a matter of fact, I notice that you have a wrong assumption about heaven when you said, "And all this was discovered in 3 minutes in heaven!" As if you're suggesting that time on earth must be the same in heaven. You forgot that there is no sun in heaven like here on earth to which we refer our time. You question the throne, the sword, and the horses. So you don't believe Revelation 19:11? If the horse there in that passage is not really what the Bible is saying, and it should be something other than a horse, then do you think we should believe what you think what is was actually saying? I would rather believe what John said rather than believe the opinion of others. So are there horses in heaven? Ask the apostle John.

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  12. Coming from Holland I just heard about the story now and read the book. I've been a missionary for the last 20 years and always urge people to not believe everything they read, except for God's word.
    Of course I was surprised to read all this from a 4 year old boy. I have many questions...
    For example...why God always chooses evangelical American (sorry guys) christians for these kind of things. Why after all these years they are on tv shows, youtube and a movie is made of the story...smells like good money...And that for sure is not Jesus way...
    so, after thinking it over and letting it sink in I decided that if it is not true it is not my responsibility, but theirs.
    It does in any case remind us of the fact that NO human words are able to express how great life with my Savior Christ will be!
    Eternity is for real, and in this life we need to realize that without faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins we are hopeless and lost for eternity. Colton was right in this that we do NEED Jesus in our hearts. For me the most moving part of the book was not the sight of heaven but what was said by Colton at te funeral.
    Jesus desire is that you will be where He is and share in His glory. That is why He came, to make this possible.

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    1. At best you are naive and at worst just plain dumb. I would hate to have you as a missionary for any nation. If you want to know about heaven read the Bible. No man can see God the father and live. Jesus is God in the flesh and he is the only physical expression of God anyone can see. The boy did not go to heave.
      Hebrews 9:27 (NIV)
      Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
      One must DIE to go to heaven and then his works will be judged.

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  13. I own a rainbow colored horse. I call him Sam.

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  14. Our own son died at the age of nine. I had my own strange "vision" of Heaven afterward. I put about as much stock in the truth and accuracy of that vision as I do any other bizarre dream I have had. All I need to have hope of Heaven is revealed to us in God's Word. Read more of my story and why I don't plan to go see this movie, here: http://wp.me/p2s2sW-ey

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  15. many prophets will come in the last day saying Christ is here or there..do not go for even the very elect could be fooled. other than a few prophets of old God the father, Jesus the son & and The Holy Spirit reside in heaven until Christ comes again. the dead no not anything. the bible clearly states that we sleep until that time. as far as humans seeing God, sin which lives in us all can not stand in the glory of Gods presents. example, moses on the mountain. until the day comes that we are covered in Christ robe of righteousness to look upon Gods glory would be more than a human could stand with Christ.

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  16. I read the book. I don't really see how this book improves my faith, but I can see how it is possible that the boy saw a vision of his version of God and saw a vision of his version of Heaven. That doesn't mean he saw God, or he saw Heaven. It just meant he saw a vision. That's perfectly possible.

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