Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo has now been on the list for 10 weeks, but has been at #1 for 6 weeks in a row. So I grabbed the book and thought I would give it a quick read and review it. I am always skeptical when any Christian book makes it to #1 on this list. The day after I received this book, I noticed that Tim Challies posted a review of this book on his blog, www.challies.com, a site you all should read. I have resisted reading his review because I didn't want to be influenced by it. That being said, I would recommend that you read his insights, for I am fairly sure I know what he is going to think of this book even before I read it. I am sure he will go into more detail than I plan on going into for this review.
The book is accurately subtitled: "A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back," for that is exactly what the book is about. It is another one of those books where someone supposedly dies, goes to the afterlife, sees what is going on, and comes back to tell about it. It falls on the heals of Don Piper's book, 90 Minutes in Heaven. The little boy, Colton Burpo, was four years old when he experienced a ruptured appendix and nearly died. The book is written by Todd Burpo, his father, who is a pastor at a small church in rural western Nebraska.
As I read this book, I certainly felt for the family. This was the last of a series of tragedies that had fallen upon their family. And I felt for them as they prayed for the life of their son to be spared. I really can't imagine what that would be like. That's about where my sympathy or excitement for the book ends. There were many things in the book that I could take issue with. For instance:
- Supposedly everyone in heaven has wings. (pg. 72)
- Supposedly everyone in heaven looks like an angel and has a halo over their head. (pg. 73)
- Supposedly he only spent three minutes in heaven, but was able to see many people and go many places. (pg. 76)
- Supposedly the angel Gabriel sits on the other side of God's throne. Jesus is on the right, Gabe gets the left. (pg. 101)
- Todd says the sweetest and simplest declaration of the gospel he has ever heard came when Colton said the reason Jesus had to die: "I had to die on the cross so that people on earth could come see my Dad." (pg. 111)
- Our physical bodies in heaven are us in our prime of life, our younger versions of ourselves. (pg. 123)
- Angels have to guard the entrance of heaven with swords in order to keep Satan out. (pg. 133)
As you can tell, there are many issues with this book, but my main issue is that it is written from the perspective of experience, more specifically, the experience of a four year old. I am certainly glad that people are excited about heaven after reading it, but why do we have to read a book about some four year old who supposedly went to heaven in order to get excited about heaven? Books like this get to the heart of whether we ultimately trust the Bible alone for truth. Do we validate our experiences in light of the Scriptures or do our experiences shape our understanding of what is true?
This is ultimately an attack on the sufficiency of the Scriptures. For a brief moment, let me share with you one passage of Scripture that compares the Scriptures with experience. In 2 Peter 1:16-21, Peter shares about the experience he had with Jesus up on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured before him (Matt. 17:1-8). He says in vs. 16 that they were not making things up. They were indeed eyewitnesses to the majesty of Jesus. Not only did they see Jesus, but vs. 17-18 says they heard God speaking. Two senses.
As you read that passage, you get the sense that Peter is saying there is no question of the experience he had with Jesus up on that mountain. They saw and heard. But then in vs. 19, Peter transitions to say that no matter what happened when they saw Jesus, there is an even surer prophetic word (KJV). There is something even more reliable than the experience they had, namely the prophetic word of God. The Scriptures are more trustworthy, more powerful, and even more insightful than the testimony of some four year old who says he went to heaven.
Strangely enough, at the end of the book, Todd acknowledges that the Bible needs to be the final authority. He says,
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." (149)I guess I just found this particularly funny, since the previous 148 pages were filled trying to validate an experience as truth! If you do read this book, please read with discernment and ask yourself one question:
Why do I need a book like this in order to get excited about heaven?