Todd Burpo, with Lynn Vincent
Now, finally, thanks to Todd and Colton Burpo, we know a lot more about heaven than we did a few years ago! We know that we will have wings and will fly (though Jesus won’t). We know that infants (even miscarried babies) keep growing there, whereas older people revert to how they looked in early adulthood (but without glasses). We know that Gabriel sits at God’s left hand, that only Jesus gets to ride his horse. We even know what Jesus looks like.
We know all this because three-year-old Colton Burpo was there. He told his parents, and his dad (with help from a professional writer) shared this new information about heaven in a best-selling book.
Or do we really know all these things? The Bible reveals none of this, nor has it been confirmed by others coming back from heaven to tell us.
If that were the whole story, this book could be dismissed as pure fantasy. But there’s more to it. The book is written by a person with good credentials, a trusted Christian pastor. And little Colton actually learned many things about heaven that can be confirmed in Scripture, and about his great-grandfather and unborn sister, both of whom he met in heaven. He learned things that can be corroborated, things he couldn’t have learned any other way. (So at least the book claims.) That’s what makes this story so compelling, and to many readers, so convincing.
Not the Bible’s portrait
I remain skeptical. I cannot verify the credibility of the author, nor the accuracy of young Colton’s perceptions, memories, or reports. I do not mean to say that God could not or would not do the things Heaven is for Real claims God did for Colton and his family. God can and might. But we run huge risks when we claim to know details about heaven never revealed in Scripture, just because someone claimed to have been there and seen it for him- or herself. Reports of personal experiences, are simply not reliable guides to authentic knowledge of what only God can disclose. The portrait of heaven drawn in this book is attractive, but it is not the Bible’s portrait.
This is a book worth reading. It is a powerful and well-written story disclosing the adventures, struggles, questions, agony, faith, and perseverance of a family that almost lost a young child, yet also experienced God’s presence and miraculous intervention. In that sense, it’s a credible and inspiring story.
But don’t read it as evidence for details about what life in heaven is “really like.” It is tempting to do that, especially when the details are what we want to believe (especially the main point – that heaven is for real!). Going way beyond what Scripture reveals – just because someone claims to have experienced it – is a dangerous road to travel.
Did God “show up” in surprising and wonderful, even miraculous, ways for the Burpo family as they went through the ordeal of Colton’s near death? I have no reason at all to doubt it. Did God really take little Colton to heaven and give him a three-minute experience there before sending him back? Perhaps. Do we now have solid evidence for numerous claims about heaven the Bible never confirms? I, for one, say “no.”
If you say “yes,” I’m not worried that you’ll believe lots of inappropriate things about heaven. I am worried that you are adopting a very questionable approach to divine revelation, one that has proven dangerous throughout church history. Many others have claimed to know things about God’s eternal purposes and plans that are not found in Scripture based solely on personal revelations they say God gave them. We need to guard against claims like that.