Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackHeaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(I had a hard time rating this book… it’s hard to do so without seeming like I’m passing judgment on the validity of the Burpo’s claim)

This nonfiction book tells the story of Colton, a 3-year-old pastor’s kid who has a near-death experience and later reveals to his parents that he was in heaven during that time. The first half of the book, which describes the family’s struggles leading up to the illness, and then the rupture of the appendix and subsequent surgeries, is rather dismal and depressing. The second half of the book is a series of conversations over the next few YEARS in which Colton’s parents hear about what he (supposedly) saw in heaven during this experience.

A couple things stood out to me when reading this book (with a rather skeptic eye, I might add) :

– There are some things that Colton knew that were truly amazing. Recognizing a great-grandpa that he never met from an old picture? Very interesting. But so many of the things that he described from heaven that the Burpos thought were so amazing were things that he easily *could* have known from Bible stories, Sunday School, or just listening in on Sunday readings and services. I have a two-year-old — I KNOW they hear much more than what we specifically, directly tell them. But for them to say there was no way he could have known that John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, or that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father (Nicene creed, anyone?), or that Jesus had wounds in his hands and feet made me scratch my head. Many of these details came out over the next months or years, and by the time a pastor’s kid is seven, he would have surely heard or read or seen pictures of the Biblical descriptions of heaven? I know for a fact that at least two of our children’s Bibles we read have illustrations of John’s vision of Revelation. I’m not saying that the boy didn’t see these things… just that I don’t necessarily believe that there’s no way he would have known these things without having seen them himself — that’s simply not giving the kid enough credit.

– I initially was really impressed with how the author seemed to “test” Colton’s descriptions using Scripture. At one point, he writes, “As a pastor, I’ve always been very conscious about what I share about heaven from the pulpit, and I still am. I teach what I find in Scripture.” I was pleased to hear this. But some of the things didn’t fit so neatly, and I wondered if the author weren’t trying a bit too hard to force Scripture to “fit” into his son’s ideas. The book of Revelation is filled with symbolism, and to say that they definitively mean one thing or another based on a child’s vision seem unwise.

– The whole “battle at the end of time” thing really bugged me. Not only did the author admit that his son was a huge fan of the Narnia movies, but the theology here is shaky at best, downright heretical at worst. The fact is that Satan has already been defeated, and the suggestion that men (yes, only men, not women or children) would have to fight in an epic battle in heaven really put up some red flags in my head.

– I was also really frustrated that the parents were so hesitant to ask him for more information. This made no sense to me at all. I understand not wanting to plant ideas or ask leading questions, but the fact that it took literally YEARS for the son to disclose what he saw seemed kind of unlikely. I know if it was my son, I’d be asking him to tell me all about it right there when he brought it up. We wouldn’t have left the Arby’s without getting the whole story!

As I read this book, a particular Bible passage kept coming to the forefront of my mind:

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The purpose of this book is rather unclear. The boy’s story seems to line up fairly well with Scripture (though there are obviously figurative parts of Revelation which are taken very literally, such as the rainbow-colored horse), so what is its purpose? If someone doesn’t believe the Words of God Himself in Scripture, then why would they believe the same thing as told by a four-year-old?

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About WNK

Check out my book review blog! https://excellentlibrary.wordpress.com/

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