Book Review - Heaven is for Real
The basic storyline of the book follows the Burpo family from rural Nebraska. The father, Todd, is a pastor of a small church. And his wife, Sonja, is a school teacher. At the time of the events in the book, the couple has a daughter named Cassie, and an almost four year old son named Colton. To make a long story short, Colton suffers a burst appendix, and almost dies from complications. Colton's parents, and his church family, pray on his behalf and he makes a miraculous recovery. In the coming months and years, Colton reveals to his parents, in bits and pieces, a remarkable story of leaving his body to visit Heaven during that critical time. In the process, he reveals details of Heaven that align well with Biblical texts, and he also describes meeting deceased family members, whom he had no way of knowing otherwise.
I mentioned I'm cautious about such books, and maybe even skeptical. It's not that I don't believe in near death experiences. Quite the contrary. I think it's pretty obvious that they do occur. But I am far from convinced these experiences are always godly in origin. (We know satan is the great deceiver.) Having said that, do I think there are Christians who have been given a legitimate peek into the world known to us as "Paradise" or "Heaven?" Yeah, I do. And I come away from this book tending to believe that Colton Burpo probably did.
Now, does that mean I believe that every detail relayed by Colton in the book is accurate? No, not really. I have a son the age that Colton was during his experience. There are times my three year old son will be saying something perfectly rational, and then without explanation or pause his thoughts/words will go in some totally goofy direction. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish fantasy from reality when he's talking to you. Also, is it possible a young child finds he gets attention for talking about Heaven, and then begins to feed off that and just starts saying anything that comes to mind on the subject? Perhaps. I don't know Colton Burpo, so I can't say for sure.
As for the book's Biblical merit, while I don't recall reading anything in Colton's account that I would classify as anti-Biblical, there were several things that were extra-Biblical that caused me to raise an eyebrow. Namely that Gabriel has a throne at the left hand of the Father, that Mary often accompanies Jesus in Heaven and watches over Him as a mother would a son, and that people in Heaven have wings (much as an angel would), which is a concept found often in art/tradition, but nowhere to be found in Scripture.
Having said that, many of the things Colton relates in the book seem to be very biblical. Here's some things I thought were pretty cool:
1) Colton returns with a passion/zeal for the exclusivity of Jesus, and that people know Him. At one point the little boy gets visibly upset at a funeral, "Did he know Jesus? He had to know Him! He can't get into Heaven if He didn't know Him!" He made such a scene his parents had to escort him out.
2) When asked what he did at night time in Heaven, Colton gets a disgusted look and asks his dad, "Who told you it gets dark in Heaven? It doesn't get dark there! God and Jesus are the light!" (Biblical)
3) Colton loves to play with swords. When his mom suggested there were no swords in Heaven, Colton vehemently tells her that's not so, reminding her that satan is still alive/well, and that when he (Colton) was in Heaven certain angels yielded swords to keep satan out. (He says he asked Jesus to play with their swords, and Jesus told him it would be too dangerous.)
4) Colton has a true disgust for modern pictures of Jesus. In all the pictures he has seen, only one does Jesus justice. (Interestingly, a picture painted by a little girl who also claims to have gone to Heaven.)
In the end, what you think of the book really comes down to a matter of trust. Do you trust the little boy and his parents are communicating an honest story? (I have no reason not to.) And if so, how accurate is their story to the actual events?
For me, the most edifying part of the book was not the part that spoke of Colton's experience in Heaven, but the part that spoke of the agony that Todd (Colton's dad) went through as he watched his son deteriorate to the verge of death, and could do nothing about it. He discusses the anger/agony/helplessness he felt in those hours. It is a great story of faith and God's grace but, I will warn you, it hits pretty close to home if you're a parent.
Overall, I would recommend this book. It is a good/uplifting story that honors God. As in all things, the reader just needs to use good discernment.