Burpo, Todd. Heaven is For Real. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 2010, 163 pages.
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I never really planned on reading this book, just like I never planned on reading The Shack, The Secret, or Your Best Life Now. I just didn’t see it as being a profitable endeavor. However, after hearing of friends and acquaintances reading it, and a copy of the book spuriously appearing before me, I decided to give it a whirl. Heaven is for Real has been on the NY Times Bestseller list for 62 weeks now and I’ve seen passing comments ranging from the inspiring nature of the book to accusations of outright lies on behalf of Todd Burpo.
Heaven is for Real is about a young boy named Colton Burpo, who at 4 years old nearly died of a ruptured appendix. The book initially documents, rather arduously I might say, a good deal of familial struggles with health, ministry, and finances. It’s not until about a third of the way through the book that one actually begins to grasp the crux of the “heaven is for real” message. The book is written rather simply with short chapters, an easy read at best.
Before I began this book, I wrote out some prior assumptions, giving this professing family of believers the benefit of the doubt. I think that would be the Christ-like thing to do before evaluating one’s testimony with the openness of future events or exposing of truth changing those assumptions. They were:
- The Burpo family, being a pastoral family, is an honest and faithful family.
- Communication by children, especially young ones, is not always exact. Pre-schoolers are prone to exaggeration.
- God can give someone an experience like this if He wanted.
- However, experiences like this are not normative and nothing like this occurs in Scripture.
- If an experience like this happened, every detail must align with Scripture.
- Any experience should not be for the glory of the one who experienced it, but for the glory of God.
- Like any experience, it’s re-telling and interpretation are subject to our sinfulness. Those who had an experience are not fallible, therefore their re-telling is not infallible.
For me to say that this happened or did not happen to Colton, I believe, would be a bit irresponsible. There are some issues about the book that lead me to doubt such as the amount of time that it took for the details of this story to come together, Todd’s comments about how Colton would lack prior knowledge concerning some of the things he said (marks on Jesus, angels with wings, etc.), people having wings in heaven, and the vagueness of some of Colton’s statements. However, I don’t know Todd Burpo, I wasn’t around during these conversations, I haven’t seen every interview of them on the internet, and don’t have a grasp of their family dynamic.
What comes in to play the most for me is our reliance on testimony. Testimony can certainly be a good thing, but it should never draw the audience away from the glory of the gospel. Perhaps I was reading into this, but it seemed that Colton was seeing himself taking on the role of “teacher” with his parents throughout this journey. Five year olds are just smart enough to take advantage of such a situation, yet unwise enough to not realize its consequences. Testimonies can be misconstrued and often exaggerated over several years – especially in the mind of a child who is 4-8 years old. How much do you really remember when you were 5? Perhaps a few memories – most likely shaped by stories your parents told you as you grew up.
Another concerning feature about Colton’s testimony is his assurance of Jesus’ visage. Todd, the father, claims over and over that Colton rejected numerous pictures of Jesus, saying they did not look like him. However, when seeing a picture painted by a girl who had a similar experience to him, he essentially said the painting nailed it. I believe there is a major significance behind why we do not have many visuals of the life and times of Christ. We would worship them. Historically, when churches have claimed that they had pieces of the cross or certain artifacts, they end up being sources of veneration. If we had the “true” picture of Christ, would we worship the picture rather than Christ himself? History says yes.
If you want to discuss the book intelligently, read it. I wouldn’t call it a waste of time. It will only take you about 2 hours. Regardless of your perspective going in to it, I’d say that it gives you a connection to the waves in our evangelical culture. I believe that time will tell and show us very clearly if this was a work done from truthful hearts or out of desire for celebrity status…or to start a ministry. For me, I’m just going to wait and see. And I’m also going to get my truth about heaven from Scripture.