July 8, 2011

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

You've probably heard of this book, maybe you've even seen the author and his son interviewed on TV. In case you haven't, it's the biographical account of a boy who claims to have visited heaven during an operation. As someone that struggles with doubt I was eager to read it. Not eager enough to spend money on it, but certainly eager enough to put it on hold at the library.

Todd Burpo is a Wesleyan pastor in a small Midwestern town. The first part of the book paints a picture of his family's life there, and the events that preceded his three year old son Colton's emergency surgery for a burst appendix. A few months after the surgery Colton startled his family by making comments about sitting in Jesus' lap and hearing the angels sing to him during the operation. He said he'd left his body and could see what his mother and father were doing in other rooms, things they'd thought they'd done in private.

In the time after he made those comments, the Burpos attempted to gently extract more information from their son about his miraculous visit, finding themselves astounded over and over as Colton described things outlined in scripture he hadn't yet been exposed to. He also claimed to have met a sister that had been miscarried (he hadn't been told about the miscarriage) and a grandfather. When shown different portraits of Jesus he said none of them were accurate until coming across the one by Akiane Kramarik, a girl from an atheist family who paints from dreams and visions of heaven she claims to experience.

I wanted this book to inspire me and to erase doubts from my mind, but unfortunately I can't say that happened. Maybe I'm overly skeptical, but some of the things Colton describes just seem too trite, like he's just describing cartoon scenes from a flannel board in Sunday School. The wounds he described on Jesus' hands and feet were not accurate as Science demands. The way he described the Trinity was not the complex mystery we try to wrap our minds around, but rather the actual division that compels Muslims to accuse us of polytheism.

At the same time, I've always felt that Heaven is likely a subjective experience. Maybe Colton saw things that way because that was how he understood them. Maybe an adult would see things different, more complex and less Nickelodeon. We can't really know, can we?

As a skeptic I also have to wonder how much of this was truly Colton's original experience and how much of it was generated by a desire to please or get attention. In his interviews he seems very bored with the whole thing, just muttering the answers he knows are expected of him, certainly understandable after having an experience like this dominate his childhood. Throughout the book Burpo recalls that he was very careful not to plant ideas or ask leading questions when discussing this with his son, but then went on to do exactly that more than once, and those are just the times he wrote about. I do believe there is a large core of truth, I'm just not so sure how much of it has been re-interpreted or overplayed as it has been extracted from the mind of a small child via his parents.

Who would I recommend this to? I would hesitate to recommend it to a non-believer because I'd be afraid it would come across as more cheesy than revolutionary. At the same time, it could very well open up a closed mind to new possibilities, I guess it depends on the mind. Here is a short interview with the Burpos.


  1. I struggle with things like this. Many times--especially as a child--I have had a hard time discerning between reality and a dream when looking back at something. And like you said, it'd be all to easy to ask leading questions. Kids pick up quickly what they're supposed to say and desire to please.

  2. Thanks for reviewing this honestly. I have been debating whether or not to read it because I, like you, get frustrated with people continuously bothering these little kids. It ruins whatever experience the did have - real or imaginary.


Thanks for joining our discussion of this book!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...