Monday, November 28, 2011

[Book Review] Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Whenever someone claims to have visited Heaven (or Hell), I'm usually a little skeptical. In the Bible, we do have several instances of people of God seeing visions of Heaven. Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in Isaiah 6. Paul makes a claim of having visited Heaven, though he doesn't explicitly say it was himself. Then we have the book of Revelation with a vision of Heaven as given to the apostle John. In recent years, we've had claims of visitations to Heaven (Don Piper with his book, "90 Minutes in Heaven") and Hell (Bill Wiese's "23 minutes in Hell"). Now we have a book written by a Wesleyan pastor who's claiming his son visited Heaven at 4 years old during an emergency appendectomy.

I must say that the book was a fascinating read. I was kept engaged in the book as I was hoping for a good outcome in the surgery, even though I knew the outcome. As a parent myself and someone who has had to have one of their children in the hospital overnight, I felt for the parents. I could empathize with them even though my children have not had to go through anything so extreme. It wasn't until a couple of months after the surgery that young Colton Burpo started telling of his visit to Heaven and the father, Todd Burpo, started trying to line up scripture with what Colton was saying.

The Good:

We must know Jesus to get to Heaven.  This was the central theme of what Colton was saying. This is not inaccurate and very true. This seems to be Colton's main takeaway from his "visit." He got to have a "vision" of Heaven and came away with the only way to get to Heaven was to have Jesus. Otherwise, one goes to Hell. In a day when it seems that people want to deny Hell and deny that one even needs to have a faith and trust in Jesus, this is a good message, indeed. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only good message from the book, other than Colton surviving the surgery.

The Bad:

  1. Rainbow-colored horse? Burpo never attempted to justify that one with Scripture. We do know that Jesus rides a white horse (Revelation 19:11-21).

  2. The final battle is all men while the women and children look on.  There is nothing in the Bible to support this. In the same passage about Jesus on the white horse, we see all the armies of Heaven following Jesus to battle the great dragon, who is subsequently captured.  There is no indication of who makes up that army.

  3. People have wings? Colton had to have heard this from somewhere before having his "vision" or "dream." Once again, the only creatures mentioned in the Bible to have wings are the angels themselves. Burpo attempts to use the stoning of Stephen as some sort of proof of the angelic-like look on his face when he died. Personally though, Christians often are peaceful when they die because they will be in the presence of their Lord.

  4. Gabriel sits on the left-hand of God? This is not too far-fetched, but it cannot be wholly supported by Scripture. Burpo attempts  a scriptural defense of this, but fails because he can only go so far as to show that Gabriel stands in the presence of God (Luke 1:19).

  5. Another girl has had a similar vision and paints her views of what she saw, including one of Jesus. So now, we go from Scriptural proofs to experiential proofs. This is dangerous water to tread because there will most likely be something else in there that is not scriptural. Are we sure that the picture of Jesus she painted is the correct one? Just because a 4 year old says so?

The Iffy:

Colton "met" his miscarriaged sister and dead grandfather whom no one was sure had made it to Heaven. This is kind of tricky ground to walk on as this type of experience or vision cannot be confirmed by Scripture.


I selected this book to review because I am curious about these types of experiences. I want to be able to take these and compare them to scripture to see if they add up. Unfortunately, in my opinion, if one thing cannot be matched by Scripture, the whole thing fails. I don't doubt that 4 year old Colton had some kind of experience while laying on that operating room table. Who knows what goes on in our sub-conscience while sleeping or under the influence of anesthesia? I do know that 4 year olds have a vivid imagination as do most children. I have a 4 year old myself. Colton wanted the message to be that Heaven is for real, but the message should have been that we all need to believe in Jesus in order to get to Heaven. We know that Heaven is real from Scripture. We know that we need Jesus to get there from Scripture. Does it need the so-called "vision" of a 4 year old to confirm it? Probably not. The book is well-written, but not scripturally sound, as with probably any book written about a visit to Heaven or Hell, save the book of Revelation.  I won't recommend this book for theology, but would recommend just for knowledge sake.

I received this book as part of Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program in exchange for an unbiased review. I was not paid for my review.