Book review: Heaven is for Real

by Todd Burpo


Very cute. You’re going to love this adorable little heaven-traveler.

Colton was nearly four years old when a near-death experience awarded him a tour of heaven. The book is written by his father, a minister. In heaven, Colton met his great grandfather, a sister who died in the womb, and the angel Gabriel. His story is convincing and childlike. If Colton brought back any one special message from heaven, it would be that Jesus really, really loves little kids.

We do learn a little about what heaven is like. Everybody has wings and little lights over their heads. There are lots of colors there, lots of animals of every kind (including a lion!), and lots of swords. The swords are for the angels to keep Satan outside the pearly gates.

The first person to greet new arrivals into heaven is Jesus, and Jesus had plenty time to chat with Colton. Know why Jesus had to be crucified? Says Colton, “Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could go see his dad.”

There is one theme in the book that troubled me a bit. After Colton’s return from heaven, he would become very apprehensive at funerals, desperate to know if the fellow who died had “let Jesus into his heart.” Because, he knew, otherwise the man wouldn’t be going to heaven. The author’s comment? Man, those Sunday school teachers sure are doing a good job! That picture made me a little sad; a four-year-old boy hardly needs that kind of religion.

Many of the images described by Colton can be found in the book of Revelation. That’s a bit problematic in one sense. As a scholar of Revelation and first-century Jewish beliefs, I assure you that Revelation was never meant to describe “heaven.” Several passages in Revelation make it very clear that the Bible’s final book relates the Jewish expectation of a general bodily resurrection and a new earthly kingdom. Why, then, would I afford Burpo’s book five stars if it differs from my interpretation of scripture? Because Christianity is a growing religion! Colton’s experience is contemporary; it is indicative of today’s image of heaven, not yesterday’s. Today, we anticipate a different kind of reward. We now imagine the pearly gates welcoming us to heaven instead of to a new world power centered in a rebuilt Jerusalem. Colton’s heaven is warm and friendly, far better than Revelation ever imagined. I vote we let Colton rewrite the end of the Bible.

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