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Thread: Todd Burpo's ‘Heaven Is for Real' A Skeptics Review

  1. #1

    Todd Burpo's ‘Heaven Is for Real' A Skeptics Review

    "Heaven Is for Real" is the purportedly true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

    Three things convinced the Burpos their son had gone to heaven: his knowledge of where they were when he was being operated on, his claim that he met a sister he never knew even existed, and his declaration that he met his great-grandfather, a man he never knew but could readily identify later from photographs of the man at a young age. (The good news, Colton says, is that people are younger in heaven; and his miscarried sister was a little girl with a striking family resemblance who introduced herself.) His total time in heaven: three minutes.

    Colton is very specific about what he saw and heard, right down to what the angels sang to him. "Well, they sang Jesus Loves Me and Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho," he told his parents. He knew exactly where he was, too. "I was sitting on Jesus' lap," he said, looking his father right in the eye when he shared that piece of information. Jesus had eyes that “were just sort of a sea-blue and they seemed to sparkle” Colton, now 11 years old, recalled. Colton is shown an online picture. “Dad, that one’s right,” he exclaims. It is the Akiane Kramarik's portrait of Jesus with blue eyes called "Prince of Peace". Question arise, blue eyes on a Galilean Jew and who would have features which resemble modern-day persons of Semitic descent? Colson picked from a pictorial line-up a Jesus looking more like Kenny Loggins and less like a Middle Eastern man from 2,000 years ago?

    The list of descriptions in this book are lengthy. Dress code is pretty simple. White robe, bare feet and a sash. Furniture in heaven is sparse. Two thrones and that is it. One for Jesus, and a massive mountainous one for the big guy. Makes you wonder where are all the mansions Jesus promised? If you think you will be bored, think again. You get to have a pair of wings to float around with. Christians have halos over their heads that can be seen by children that are "pure of heart". There are lots of colors and rainbows in heaven. If you pray hard enough, God will "shoot power" down from heaven to help you. God is "very masculine with pretty eye's." Men get to have swords, women and children are out of luck. That's because the men need to protect the women and children for the upcoming battle with Satan. Soon there will be a big war between "bad people", demons and monsters against believers, God and Jesus. Jesus wins and throws Satan into hell. "I saw it dad." Not surprising this happened to coincide with Colton's recent viewing of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not to mention that only males were warriors. It appears that female emancipation in the modern world has regressed in the future according to Colton. In addition, the author keeps saying that there was no way the boy could know all those Biblical details, yet he mentions numerous times about how they had Bible stories every night before bed since the child was born. Colton's dad confirmed he read from a Bible storybook to Colton every night.

    I've read many books over the years about near death experiences by such authors as Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross; George Anderson; Brian Weiss MD; James Van Praagh; Raymond Moody MD; Melvin Morse MD; Gary Renard, etc, and hoped for a revelation excelling all based on the reviews. I'm fascinated by the subject. I personally read most of the book and had to digress. I was hooked at first and was enjoying it as it confirmed a lot of my beliefs, mainly there is a life after death, until the wings were introduced. The "wings" detail is a projection of childhood idealized images. Believer's are not fitted with wings in heaven. Angels are created spiritual beings, we do not turn into them. At that point I was confirmed that there were fantasies injected in the story, combined with other problematic details. When he said Jesus or whoever was welcoming him to Heaven brought him a chair to sit on, I started feeling like the 6 dollars I spent on the digital edition was money wasted. After so many details, what kind of chair was it? Was it a folding chair? What brand was it? Did it have cup holders in the arms?

    More problems ensue, when the Burpos said that Colton painstakingly described images like the bloody wounds on Jesus’ palms and feet, which is detail oversight since Roman crucifixions drove nails through the wrist, whereas the weight of the body would rip a nail placed in the hands. This has been proven through scientific tests using cadavers. Even the Shroud of Turin if indeed it is authentic, bears stains that would correspond to a wound on the wrist NOT the palms. Colton also says he watched Jesus send "power" in the form of the "holy spirit" down to his father while he gave his sermons. The only problem is that during the time he was supposedly in Heaven watching Jesus do this, his father was at the hospital and not preaching. Another detail glitch?

    The hospital medical records report that Little Colton did not actually die. His simple answer? "If you have to be dead to go to Heaven *shrug* then I guess I died." Colton took several years for this information to all seep out, so it wasn't just the memories of a 4 year old. He had years to embellish with his imagination, to enlarge the tale for greater effect. The book does describe how minutes in our time are different than in heaven, but nonetheless, most four year olds barely remember what they did a day ago. Yet this kid seems to remember in detail what happened months ago?

    This experience is not a tale that little Colton Burpo woke up and told. the "story" actually came out over the course of years following the surgery it was supposed to have happened during. Naturally as time went on and the parents continued to interrogate their son about this "experience". He had to come up with something to appease them because it invoked their interest which he naturally perceived as "I am pleasing my parents." The parents have set up expectations for this boy to invent a reality that fit into their belief system.

    I may have believed the testimony a whole lot more had the father of the boy not complied the book. The book was more about the Pastor and his congregation than his son's experience. 80% of the book is actually not about heaven but about the father's experiences in dealing with his son's medical issues. Overall, there were so many quotes from the bible that I felt like it was a bible study rather than the "Near Death Experience" that I was expecting. The book reads like a fundamentalist sermon written by someone who is completely oblivious to the origin of the Biblical books and the modern scientific study of the Bible. We are told one absurdity after another, backed up by biblical proof-texts that are supposed to validate what the child told its parents. Most of the material comes from daddy asking his son about something, the son tells the father exactly what he wants to hear and then the father quotes the Bible (stretched at times) to validate what the son said.

    The fact that the child is using words that kids don't use makes me skeptical of the overarching content of it. He describes things using words that I doubt a seven or eight year old would know. This content was more than likely modified by his father for theological effect. The book's sole intention seem to be the reaffirmation of Christian ideals and to lobby against abortion.

    To be honest, I come to books like this (dealing with near-death experiences) with a load of skepticism. Why? Because the only authoritative book on these subjects, especially Heaven, has already been written, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit through chosen writers over the millenniums. And if we need something more on this topic, the proper way to obtain valid information is to carefully study what the Scripture has already revealed about it.

    When we draw our theology from our own or other's experiences as a source of truth, we are risking swallowing a candy coated pill of mixed content. Instead, it is God's Word, and truth contained which is to be used to interpret our experiences. Whenever the experience supplants Scriptural authority, speculation rather than revealed truth rules the interpretation. And when that happens, we slowly undermine the authority of Scripture, and will inevitably undermine our own faith. How is this? Because faith, real, Biblical, saving, soul-affirming faith, can only be a garnered by the personal revelation of God and His character, or trusting His promises found in His Word.

    This then is the primary problem I see with this innocuous little tome. The problem is not whether Colton might have had some genuine sort of experience of Heaven or not. He may have. The problem is that we are willing to find more comfort and encouragement about the reality of Heaven and some of its supposed features from a NDE experience than we are from the Bible and God's own revelation of these things. It is as though the Holy Spirit's revelation is inadequate for us.

    The problem isn't as much with the book and its material itself, the problem is what it reveals about us! That we know so little of what the Bible teaches about heaven and eternity or are so little interested what God has to say about it or are so little comforted by it that we will find our hope rather in a four year olds story lined with quirky errors and obvious fantasies. The modern church thrives on emotional testimonies, because it is an quick and easy thrill. However, the Lord chooses to reveal himself by personal revelation, to those willing to labor in the spiritual way to find His reserved albeit bequeathed treasure.

    Another issues I have with the overarching message of the book, around the world, people of faith all have different views of the nature of God, Jesus, and Heaven. Given this, how could it be conceivably possible that Colton Burpo's revelation of the true nature of God and Heaven happened to conform exactly to his father's views on them? Wesleyan Armenian doctrine, not Calvinistic in theological scope. Do you think 4 year old Colson had studied experience in these deliniations? C. Michael Patton of Credo House, an evangelical theological center in Edmond, Okla., reviewed the book in a more measured and academic style, although even he concedes much of the contents "leave me scratching my head." How did a 4-year-old know about the Holy Trinity, for instance? Questions like this can be easily answered, the father coached him.

    I should note that you do not have to question the existence of God or of Heaven to wonder about this. In fact, I think the question is more troubling for true believers. For real believers, the question is not whether there is a heaven or not; the real question is whether Mr. Burpo is using his son as a convenient puppet to promote his theological views, which is not at uncommon amidst the modern church looking for a inspiring testimony through a person verses the divine revelation through the Spirit of the living Christ.

    As Christians, and if a truly God inspired work, it seems the parents would not be lining their pockets with $16.99 a sale when it costs $3.50 to produce. There are plenty of publisher outside of Thomas Nelson, who publish at near cost. Todd Burpo wrote the book with Lynn Vincent (a professional literary sensationalist) who collaborated with Sarah Palin on “Going Rogue.” Clearly funds were transferred in this collaboration, and I imagine enhanced text modifications as this is her skill set. Todd mentioned in an interview that he planned to spend some of it on personal home improvements, which is nice.

    I find it surprising that more adults reading the book don't exercise a bit more critical thought to the claims of this book. I find most Christian's cannot deliniate fiction from fantasy for lack of discernment and swallow most anything set before them. Yes, it is inspiring to think there is a heaven, that we may see our loved ones again and that there is a loving God in the after world. But, are people so desperate for answers to these questions that we have to prop up the imaginations of a child to verify Biblical claims? I think it gives people hope, and for that, it's worth something. It may help to rationalize untimely death with a belief in a loving God who intervenes on behalf of human beings in need. If the sufficiency of God's omnipotence is not enough, maybe a crutch like this is needed for those struggling in the faith.

    If you enjoy the feel good Christian venue, definitely buy this book. I will accept that I gave Todd Burpo a $6 donation to help him pay medical bills. In my opinion, this book should be read for what it is: a sweet tale of an idealized image of Heaven. I find the book is essentially a boy's authentic OBE (Out of Body Experience) falsely aggrandized as a NDE (Near Death Experience) coupled with Christian modeled precepts of heaven. The book is being promoted organically (word of mouth) as fact because adults are less cynical about a testimony from a child. They are cute, thus elevated above typical skepticism.

    The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

    PDF Outline of Book:

  2. #2
    Christ's Bride Johanna's Avatar
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    Jul 2009
    I think the story of this little boy is really neat and inspiring.

    However, it is just a story, one that we may like a lot or not so much, but just a story that a Christian kid could very well tell after all he's learned about God, especially in America. I mean, there are many things that only an American kid would know such as chairs, blue eyes, Sunday school songs, a rainbow horse... Things that surely don't fit the image of heaven that African or Asian Christians draw from the Bible descriptions of heaven.

    So let's just remember that our faith is more diverse than what we think, that when it comes to teaching small kids about God it is better to avoid telling fairy tales because the only result of that is weak teenage believers and zero maturity in grown-up believers.

    The Gospel is not about rainbows and a beautiful Jesus. It is about self-denial, persecution, and yet, an eternal hope that nothing in this world can take away. Are we ready to go out and preach the Gospel and suffer for it? Or are we still wasting our time reading books that will supposedly 'boost' our faith instead of taking the Gospel everywhere, at all times, even it is means suffering?

    In case anyone would like to make sure they got the Gospel right, check this out: Kirk Cameron Interviews John MacArthur

    God bless you all!

  3. #3
    Follower of Christ cmnahrwold's Avatar
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    Feb 2008

    My thoughts

    A) How did Colten know about the death of his unborn sister? The father to me seems very credible

    B) How did Colten know what his grandfather had looked like as a young man, since he died at a very young age?

    C) Science? I just asked my 4 year old daughter what body part I was pointing to (as I pointed to my wrist) and she states "that's your hand daddy".

    D) Unbiblical? Share with me one point of the story that is undeniably unbiblical. Not conjecture.

    E) Blue eyed Jesus. Where did you find this? In the painting Jesus has green eyes:

    I have read the bible. I have read the NT many times. I try to study the bible daily. I have a genuine relationship with Jesus who is not only my Savior but my best friend who I talk to every single day. God is shaping me through trials to help me to become more holy. God is crushing my old life and my selfish way of thinking.

    However the book still appeals to me. Kind of like when I talk to followers of Christ and they tell me awesome stories of how Jesus is changing their life, or how they have personally experienced God. It is uplifting to hear such stories of God's glory. We are to encourage one another in this walk.

    Eze 1:28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

    Re 4:3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

  4. #4
    Follower of Christ cmnahrwold's Avatar
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    Feb 2008

    No rainbows in heaven?

    Eze 1:28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

    Re 4:3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

  5. #5
    I enjoy a positive testimony too, but the proof of authenticity is all subjective to the teller. I can't tell you how many times pastors and evangelists have been revealed as frauds for falsifying information to bilk up emotions. Todd Bentley comes to mind as a recent villain circa 2010. The Charismatic church is rife with lying wonders, falling angel feathers, gold dust, jewels appearing... all supposedly from God, but in a laboratory, found to be plastic or pigeon feathers. Never once found real. Many who call themselves Christians, lacking any spiritual discernment, follow these ministries as authentic. People being raised from the dead is another missionary scandal to garner support, much that has been proven false. I will not name a big name who have been found lying lately about such reports. The list of charlatans misrepresenting facts in the church is lengthy, and very few are called to give an account.

    With your comments Chris, I see you might be missing my point. It's not so much that this book is the problem by it self, it is just a book like the sensational "The Shack" was. I am not so much concerned about its theology or apparent lack thereof, or if Colton didn't die and only experienced a OBE which is likely the case. The problem is the church is so prone to comfy arm chair Christianity, that quaint little stories like this gets the whole of Christendom in a tizzy. Book publisher Thomas Nelson is on the 22nd printing of this book already, 40,000 a run if I recall correctly. The internet runs amuck with a new heaven or hell experience almost monthly now (example: InsightsofGod: Experiences and Visions of Eternity), because people want to have personal reassurance.

    Why? Maybe because the detailed revelation of the Bible isn't enough? Did Jesus need to read the latest fad scrolls to gain assurance? In truth, it doesn't matter how many times a Christian reads the Bible, it's just words to the mind if the heart is brazen from yielded to vices. No one can properly discern Biblical revelations if they are not substantiating being crucified with Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit and seeking with all their hearts to be purified. That's why many Christian's need books like this. They need a crutch because they are not living in Christ nor have a PERSONAL revelation of him, but attempt to follow a form of Christianity. They go to church, have for years, teach Sunday School maybe, even an elder, but do not have any real faith to speak of. I just spent three days interfacing with apostate Christians, they departed because they had no substance of Christ in them. Overall, many self-labeled Christians are falling out the back door faster than the church can counter, because they have no real relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit.

    When is the last time you saw a prayer meeting filled to capacity? I have attended many, and if four people show, it is considered significant. Who spends their evenings face down before the throne of God, praying for our church, family and country? Do you know how little church missions have earnest support? I received an IRS notice that 275,000 not-for-profits were discontinued this year alone. Johanna can post a message from Voice of Martyrs repeatedly on Facebook and no one even cares. But let a little boy spout off some surrealistic tales, and the modern church shows up in mass to readily consume.

    The average Christian is looking for confirmation that they can have a assured soft and comfy eternity. The popularity of this book is a reflection of our society. We love the fluffy feeling of "awwww", I have confirmation of a sweet place in heaven. I feel so good now, having this guarantee and the joy-joy feelings of a perfect afterlife. The story line is so wonderful, I won't even stop and question if the source is reliable or if the details are remotely biblical. I have heard this called "Candy Land" Christians. Like emotional bees, looking for the sweet spots in life, searching for another fix of "make me feel good."

    This book meets a need at large, the hedonistic need of a church so carnel, so corrupted by the love of pleasure and self, that it can't discern how far it has fallen. The early church instead gloried in souls finding salvation. They even gloried in family who were martyred in the cause of service. They sought not human comfort, but were consoled by the Word and the Spirit.

    I am not trying to convince anyone, everyone has the right to their own opinion. This is my opinion, and I think I have the Spirit's witness.

  6. #6
    Follower of Christ cmnahrwold's Avatar
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    Feb 2008
    I can see your point of view. However, the issue is not black and white like you illustrate. One should not stereotype a Christian because of a book that they read. I am sure that some Christians might fall into that mold like you explain, but do all? Just from reading a book? Must people always take a stand on something that they might not fully agree with? Have you ever just read a book for enjoyment?

    I found the book on my coffee table since my mother had been reading it, picked it up and read it. Thought it was a good book. Thought others might like it. So this means that I am not a tough enough Christian, since the book appealed to me? Sure I am not perfect and most people of this world are not. I do not know about all of those missions closing like they did, this is unfortunate. Perhaps this is a good meter of how things are going for the average Joe in America right now. Times are tough. People were able to give more 10 years ago compared to now. Sure the Smith's on the corner of Elm Street with their gigantic house and nice car might not notice the poor economy, but I sure do. Sure glad that sanctification is a process and that God is patient with me.

  7. #7
    Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Dublin, Ireland
    Markus the angel entered the classroom.
    He noticed that many desks were vacant while the Holy Spirit sat at the top of the class with a look of deep sorrow upon His face.
    He was perplexed as he noticed the lack of students in the class.
    Markus then noticed an angel standing by a window who motioned him to come up to him.
    The angel pointed to a building across the street.
    A large throng of people were entering the building and coming out the other side laden with books, dvd's and all kinds of teaching material.
    Many were rejoicing over the merchandice they bought and encouraged others to do so.
    The sound of the cash registers was deafening as the sellers promised this or that book would change their lives and many more incredible claims.
    The angel rolled his eye's as he pointed at the large trucks queing up to unladen their products at the back of the building.
    Markus shuddered and turned back to the classroom.
    Only then did he notice the sign on the front door.

    ''Teaching The Way of God in Truth. 24/7 365 days a year. No Charge.''

  8. #8
    I agree Chris, a person cannot stereotype a Christian by a book they might read. Great point! Please don’t think I am picking on you personally, but am commenting on the whole. I agree with Paul Washer on a point, that any book less than century old is not typically worth opening the cover, whereas the church has become so carnal, that the books found in the Christian book store are more poisonous than edifying. Certainly not in every case, but too many to shame most church libraries I have strolled through.

    "The Imitation of Christ" is a book of enjoyment for me, as you know. I also skim Smithsonian, National Geographic and Biblical Archeological Review. That is about it for secular intrigue I like to engage my mind with only spiritual content if possible.

    Funny story Watchman

  9. #9
    Follower of Christ cmnahrwold's Avatar
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    Feb 2008
    I have been thinking about this discussion all day. Just had a few more points to add if you do not mind.

    A) We have been assuming that the only people who have been reading the book are "Christians".

    B) Jesus used miracles throughout His ministry. He did them for a purpose. The woman of the well witnessed a miracle in that Jesus knew her sinful past. She in return went to her home and shared with the others. Many of the others became believers.

    C) The disciples shared with the Jewish people during pentacost and spoke in tongues for a purpose. Thousands of people became believers that day.

    D) Does God continue to perform His mighty miracles through others to this day? Why do we assume that He would not use a child? Millions of people are buying this book. They are reading the message of the Gospel in this book. How many believers might come out of this? Lets pray that God uses it, if it is in fact a real miracle.

    E) Is it wrong to make money for your hard efforts? Can the Burpos use the money for the Kingdom of God? Could it not be God's will for the Burpos to have such a blessing?

    F) Credibility of the author is important. Todd Burpo seems like a genuine human being. After a few minutes of watching and listening to him, one can tell that he is the real deal. Check it out

  10. #10
    I have read many reviews and discussed with Christians and non-Christians. Some Christians hug it, but I could not find one example of any non-Christian liking it. They think it is rubbish (actual descriptions), preposterous, obscenely slanted with an agenda. The single most condemning remark is the point in the book that describes the funeral, where a man that died had to have Jesus in his heart to get in heaven. This single detail troubled more non-Christians than any other detail in the book, causing an outcry of exclusivity.

    Do I think a non-Christian was brought into Christ with this book? Maybe, who can say. If they did, it was probably not based on accepting Jesus, repentance of sins and dedication of life in death through Christ Jesus. The gospel is never presented in this book. Most likely, any conversion from this book would be a temporary fire escape from hell to embrace the joy-joy vision of happy land... which of course is not salvation at all.

    Dr Isaac Dix Winston, III who holds a Th.M in Hebrew studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, recently wrote a detailed review, questioning its content: 1

    Other doctrinally sound clergy are also releasing similar reviews. Tim Challies is a well known Christian author and reliable reference for sound theology, who also wrote his rather tangy review, whose last sentence was to the point. A number of his 10,000 Christian readers were in agreement:

    Widely respected T.A. McMahon of "The Bearean Call" also shared a spiritually mature review, calling for discernment among the church, expressing concern for those who easily fall prey to these type of books.

    Discerning the World provided an extensive review, uncovering basically all the unbiblical issues in the book:

    Phil Johnson of Grace for You provides a "Marlarkey Doctrine" review:

    Case and point, it is not my opinion alone, but a number of doctrinally sound leaders think it is a book too irrational to consider realistically, not to mention the visions overall are not doctrinally accurate. Far as what they do with the money, that is up to Burpo's, whereas they have to give an account before God as we all do

    Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 which reads "For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God beside thee, which worketh for him that waiteth for him." he quotes like this: "But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). No one has seen heaven, heard anything from heaven, even began to imagine heaven, for what is waiting our mortal minds cannot possible fathom because as mortals, we have no point of reference by which to translate through our dimensional six senses. Which is why the toddlers visions are problematic, because we have no way of mortally comprehending what heaven will be like.

    The only biblical example we have of a man being caught up to the third heaven is Paul and it’s very interesting that he was forbidden to tell anything about it (2 Corinthians 12:2). The third heaven, according to ancient models, was beyond the sight of human beings. It was the dwelling place of God and his attendant heavenly beings whom He would send to protect Israel and the righteous. "...and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter."

    The ultimate antithesis in refution of this book, where a Christian is finding more substance in a toddlers view of heaven than the sure word of Scripture is what I mentioned before... “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:27-31 ESV)

    This is just the type of story that Jesus tells us will not help those back on earth, in the flesh. If people don’t believe God’s Word, they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.

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