Heaven is for Real: Another Really Big Waste of Time

Original Opinion Piece for August 28 (’14)


Heaven_Is_For_real_movie_review_

Mohammed is not God’s prophet, and neither is this kid….

It’s one of the latest best-sellers at those Christian book stores that increasingly look less like a Christian book store.  Heaven is for Real tells the tale of a little boy who visits Heaven, talks with Jesus, sees grand visions (including Jesus on a rainbow horse), and is sent back to the rest of us.  Whether any of the above sounds ridiculous is a bit beside the point.  It has sold 8,000,000 copies and 1,000,000 ebooks and was released as a major motion picture a few months ago (April).  While Christians and “seekers” flocked to read it, I wish they hadn’t due to three dangerous reasons: the boy’s claim is unprovable, his claim runs against biblical concepts, and his claim adds zero to what Scripture has already said and to the assurance that is already yours in Christ.

First, his claim is unprovable.  At the time of the visit to Heaven, Colton Burpo was four years old.  Hardly a credible witness, though this alone would not rule out the possibility of his testimony being true.  His family says that Colton’s post-operative discussions with them were stunning.  He told them things about their family and past he could not have known.  Moreover, Colton claimed personal visits with Jesus in Heaven, seeing Mary and others in Heaven.

The scientific method is a wonderful thing.  We use it in the court of law to establish truth from falsehood.  As Jean Luc Picard said in “The Measure of a Man“, “Your honor, the courtroom is a crucible; in it, we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a purer product: the observe_report_dualtruth, for all time.”  The scientific method begins with observation, proceeds to hypothesizing, then testing/experimenting, analyzing data, then giving a conclusion about the original hypothesis if at all possible.  Colton’s claim cannot even pass the first test: observation.  It is impossible to know whether Colton is lying, deceived, or just wrong based solely on his testimony.  Assuming he really did receive a vision, and assuming his family was not lying that Colton really did suddenly and truthfully know things he could not have known about their family history, this does not prove such knowledge came from the Father, Son, or Spirit while he was in Heaven.  Even Scripture itself affirms the need for two or three witnesses for the truth of a matter to be verified and then accepted (Dt 17:6; 19:15; Mt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1, etc.).  Therefore, I reject Colton’s claims regardless of what source he says gave the experience.  It is also worth pointing out that Colton is de facto aligning himself with critical elements of the prophetic and/or apostolic office: personal visitation or vision of the risen Jesus, spectacular gifts (in this case, gifts of otherwise-impossible insight), and new revelation (who he sees, what they say, etc.).  While he never claims his “revelation” on par with written Scripture, he and his father achieve such results, especially when people accept what he says as truth.  But Colton isn’t a prophet or Apostle.  They all had public and verifiable demonstrations proving their office and had their word taken as the Lord’s.

Second, Colton’s story runs against biblical concepts of life here and life there.  A few citations and comments.  Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “It is appointed a man once to die and after that comes judgment.”  While Colton isn’t claiming to have died per se (more of an out-of-body or near-death experience), these verses are relevant.  The expected pattern is clear: you live, you die, you’re judged.  There is no description of a separation of soul from body possible apart from death (cf. 2 Cor 5:8 in which Paul is speaking of death, not a near-death or an out-of-body experience).

lazarus

Lazarus had to balance really still for hours for the artist to make this.

Additionally, the passage of Jesus raising Lazarus is, indeed, an interesting passage.  Just where was Lazarus during this time?  John 11:15, 23-27, and 40-42 indicate this entire incident occurred so others would believe in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, not so questions like this could be answered.  The issue was faith, not location.  We ought to keep it focused on faith in the Messiah as our Life lest we increase faith in all the wrong things.  Aside from these verses, there are no biblical reasons to think an experience like Colton’s is possible, and these passages clearly do not support Colton’s claims.  1 Samuel 28 (Saul and the Medium at Endor) also does not support Colton.  While this text may teach the possibility of communicating with the dead (and that is not proven), it does not prove we can—somehow—travel to Heaven, speak with Jesus, see fantastic visions of others and hear what they say, then come back to speak the Lord’s encouragement to others.  Therefore, I reject Colton’s claims because, as a Protestant, my only rule given to direct me how to glorify and enjoy the Lord is the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (WSC Q/A 2). Anything beyond this is not required and of questionable worth.  As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may 21449-mercybe complete, equipped for every good work.”  Where does Colton’s book fit into that picture?

Third and last, Colton’s book adds nothing to Scripture’s account.  In fact, I think it detracts from the beauty of Heaven portrayed by verified prophets like Isaiah (Is 6), John (Rev 21-22), and Paul (2 Cor 12).  Each prophet speaks of the holiness of God, their utter unworthiness, and the immensity of the grace of God towards them.  (It should be noted that 2 Corinthians 12 is not Paul’s claim to have been whisked to Heaven or to have had an out-of-body experience; he simply claims to have received a revelation/vision and not to know how it was received.)  How is the holiness of God preserved by Colton?  How is his mercy in the Cross of Christ magnified?  Not only is Colton completely unnecessary when the argument is framed in this way, but his account diminishes Scripture’s closed and final authority to speak on matters as serious as eternity, Heaven and Hell, and God’s purposes for mankind.

securedownload-1-300x199The emotional, sentimental hype of Colton’s story, artfully scripted (this is not a slam) by his father, and promoted by marketers would’ve achieved millions of sells alone.  However, Christians, don’t buy the hype.  It’s a waste of time.  The glorious visions of Heaven are given us in Scripture.  Is God’s finished word through verified spokesman insufficient for you (2 Pet 1:21)?  I can’t help thinking some purchased and read the book because of a need to strengthen a weak faith.  Did they already have assurance of all they needed from the written Word?  Again, in such cases, why was the Scripture not enough?

I hope Colton rejects what he thinks he saw and embraces as his only rule the Protestant Scriptures.  I hope all Christians everywhere become so thoroughly acquainted with these 66 books that they never waver from them.  Stories like Colton’s will come again.  Will we be ready to detect them as the fraudulent, deficient works they are?

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5 thoughts on “Heaven is for Real: Another Really Big Waste of Time

  1. Hi, (me again!) Just saw this post and couldn’t resist commenting once more. I’m just curious, did you actually read the book, or are you just reacting to the “hype” of the “Christian” publishing industry and the movie that came out?

    I only ask because it just happens that I ended having a friend of the family give us a copy of this book about a year ago. And truthfully, this is NOT the kind of book I would’ve picked up by choice, and I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes about it after we got it. Many times. It was the kind of thing where hey, I’m gonna go sit on the can for a while, need something to read…. uh… ok this’ll do. (I’m not kidding!) I only read through it cuz I had nothing else within reach. But after doing so, I admit, I was intrigued. And by the end, my conclusion was this: this kid had a vision of some kind, that he wasn’t lying (How do you suppose a four year old would come up with all the stuff he said? Or be able to recognize a dead relative from a picture of him when he was a young man?)

    Maybe you don’t believe in “NDE”s whatsoever, which I guess means that everyone who’s ever had such an experience is either lying or deceived by fallen spirits… (and I’ve actually listened to dozens and dozens of such accounts) And maybe that was what it was, a demonic deception of a little boy. I don’t think so though, and I’d have to say that your points about how his account runs counter to the bible or the gospel is actually pretty weak. Remember, the kid was FOUR, so the idea that you would somehow expect him to wake up and start relating things as though he had just graduated seminary or something, seems a bit far-fetched!

    What I DO agree with you, however, is that sadly, it’s the way that the dad absorbed/interpreted everything, and put it into the book (Honestly, the book contains more of the Dad’s own “contextualization” and commentary than just the straight account of what his son saw and said…) and yes, turned it into a “product” to be sold as a book, and then as a movie, etc., subjecting it to the less-than-solidly-Biblical editorial process of big publishing and Hollywood. But hey, the dad is a professional pastor after all, so I wasn’t at all shocked that he would turn around and do such a thing. So yeah, I think the book/movie/”hype” is actually pretty disgusting, but that doesn’t mean the kid’s story was ultimately a lie, or a demonic encounter, but perhaps the selling-out and watering down of the story was how the Enemy attempted to do “damage control”, I dunno…

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    • Hi again!

      I don’t believe in NDE’s, no. However, concluding that everyone who had such an experience is either lying or deceived by fallen spirits is unfair to my argument and, if I heard someone else say that, I would say is unfair to the person who had such an experience. I’m not denying an experience happened. I’m denying it is logically or biblically sound to jump to an impossible-to-prove point that it must be from God. They may simply be mistaken. Or maybe it really is from God. Many have been the former, and the latter is not possible to prove using the only true standard for me, the Protestant Scriptures. I say “Protestant” because I do not accept the Apocrypha.

      At the end of the day, I think I have less of a problem with Colton’s claims (which really, as I think you [kind of?] agreed with me, are mostly his father’s claims) and more of a problem with what was done to them/with them. There are exceedingly few places in Scripture where this kind of experience is addressed—if at all—and those must be dealt with on sound exegetical grounds. I tried to do so briefly, which at times feels like eating a steak in 3 seconds: silly to try. I don’t find my arguments as weak as you, but of course, they’re my arguments, so that’s natural! Again, I’ve tried to make the biblical case that such experiences were never normal and should not be expected; my argument was never that Colton should’ve awakened with seminary-graduate level understanding. Yes, he was four. That alone should cause us to pause. There is no place anywhere in Scripture were a four year-old is given incredible visions or knowledge. Christ was twelve before he went to the Temple, and the priests and teachers were amazed at his wisdom. That’s about the closest I can think of, and he was God.

      We certainly agree on the marketing aspect. My overall point, which I think was clearly stated, is that such events are dangerous for three reasons, not that they were always in every place false. After all, I can’t demonstrably prove that either. I am amazed that such events are not reported (that I can find) amidst the persecuted Christian community, but tend to come from westernized countries. I don’t know what to make of that; just an observation.

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      • Should note: I edited my comment above after posting it.

        If you’d like to write a post for us on a given subject, I’d be happy to entertain the notion.

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      • I agree, we cannot simply accept everyone’s story right off the bat simply because they say they saw heaven, or Jesus, or anything else, because we know that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. But I don’t quite get it when you say “They may simply be mistaken. Or maybe it really is from God” Mistaken? like, they just got confused and didn’t really see anything, but only woke up and thought they did? Also… Maybe it really was from God.? I think that’s the only point I would push for to at least just be “left on the table”. It’s not even an issue where we’d have to “decide once and for all!” whether it was true or not, it’s not like our salvation hangs in the balance! BUT, at the same time, I’d be a lot more cautious before making such assumptions like “God wouldn’t give a four year old a vision, cuz we don’t see it in the Bible!” Yikes… I guess you better hope that your own children (if/when you do have them) don’t ever come to you and claim to have talked directly to Jesus, cuz I’d be nervous about how you’d be inclined to respond!

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  2. If they did, I’d ask them what they saw or heard and if anything contradicted the written word, I would tell them they were wrong without hesitation. This is the standard the Scripture gives us. After all, if we’ll do that with adults who tell us God wants them to be rich and happy, we should do it with children, too.

    Of course, I’d be gentle and kind and loving, but it would have to be done.

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