By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
I have carefully read “Heaven Is For Real,” the popular book which is the story of a 4-year old boy who claims to have gone to heaven and back during surgery. While it is an interesting, and sometimes moving, book, there are good reasons to issue this warning about it. Before presenting some of these reasons, let me say plainly that I believe the main person of the book, Colton Burpo, and his parents are sincere, well-meaning Christians. But I believe they have been misled in their interpretation of Colton’s near-death experiences. I say “near-death experiences” because they do not claim, nor do his doctors and nurses claim, that Colton died. Rather, Colton and his parents claim that during surgery Colton had what some call an “out-of-body” experience. They believe his spirit or soul left his body and went to heaven, and then returned to his body.
The endorsements provoked a warning about “Heaven Is For Real.”
Consider these endorsements, found at the beginning of the book. My comments follow the endorsements.
“If heaven is something that intrigues you, or troubles you, if you wonder what our lives will be like, then I highly recommend this book.” (By Sheila Walsh)
“Take a journey with Colton and Todd (his dad) as they describe firsthand the wonders, mysteries, and majesty of heaven. It will make earth more meaningful and the future more hopeful.” (By Brady Boyd)
“Todd Burpo gives us a wonderful gift as he and his son lift the veil on eternity, allowing us a quick glimpse of what lies on the other side.” (By Dr. Everett Piper)
“Colton’s story could have been in the New Testament — but God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of a child, revealing some of the mysteries of heaven. The writing is compelling and the truth astonishing, creating a hunger for more.” (By Jo Anne Lyon)
Something important to consider about the foregoing endorsements of the book: they all violate an important principle of historic, orthodox Christianity, which is that everything God wants us to know about any subject concerning morality and doctrine is confined to the pages of the Bible. In other words, we do not need new revelations of any truth, for what the Bible reveals to us is sufficient for what we need to know about many subjects, including heaven.
The subject of heaven is thoroughly, though not exhaustively, dealt with in the Bible. The “Strongest Strong’s Concordance” says the word “heaven” is found 582 times in the King James Version. Whole books have been written on what the Bible says about heaven. Wilbur M. Smith’s lengthy book “The Biblical Doctrine Of Heaven” is an example. But this book, and its endorsements, make it sound as though we need more information than what God has made known to us in the Bible. The end result of this view is strange and dangerous doctrines being accepted by many well-meaning persons. Therefore, here is a link to a very important article about the sufficiency of the Bible’s teaching on any subject within its pages: http://www.gotquestions.org/sufficiency-of-Scripture.html.
Another important thing to consider about these endorsements is that they make the book sound much better than it is. In other words, the book promises much more than it delivers. Re-read this endorsement: “Take a journey with Colton and Todd (his dad) as they describe firsthand the wonders, mysteries, and majesty of heaven. It will make earth more meaningful and the future more hopeful.” (By Brady Boyd) The fact is, the Bible itself does a much better job of describing “the wonders, mysteries, and majesty of heaven.” Just read the Book of Revelation, and you will see what I mean.
Compared to God’s Word, the Bible, there is very little wonder, mystery, or majesty in this book. Are we to consider the following things to be “the wonders, mysteries, and majesty of heaven” ? All people in heaven having wings and halos? Jesus has a rainbow-colored horse? The Holy Spirit being “kind of blue” in color? Animals such as dogs, cats, and a friendly lion? Children without names? No old people in heaven? No one in heaven wearing glasses? Jesus not giving Colton Burpo a sword because “He said I’d be too dangerous.”
Another thing that strikes me is the fact that the book says very little about the God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, persons who, more than anything else in heaven, inspire awe and reverence. Nowhere in “Heaven Is For Real” do we read of the solemnity and majesty of the real heaven, such as we read about it, for example, in the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation. In the eigth verse of the fourth chapter of Revelation we read of some ceatures that “rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is and is to come.”
The circumstances that led to the writing of “Heaven Is For Real” made me decide to warn about the book.
What were the circumstances? Colton Burpo had been seriously ill for some days from a ruptured appendix, which had an effect, not only on his body, but, no doubt, also on his mind and emotions. Furthermore, he was under anesthesia during surgery. Therefore, his claimed trip to heaven could easily have been the result of the influences of these things on his mind and emotions.
The short time Colton Burpo claimed to have been in heaven makes the experience questionable.
In the book, Colton Burpo is said to have done many things during his out-of-body experience, which would have taken a considerable amount of time. But how much time did it take? The answer is found on page 76. Colton’s father asked him an important question: “Colton, you said you were in heaven and you did all these things…..a lot of things. How long were you gone? My little boy looked me right in the eye and didn’t hesitate. ‘Three minutes,’ he said.” This short period of time even puzzled his father, we read on pages 77 and 78. Therefore, we are told on page 78: “Maybe there is no time in heaven. At least not as we understand it.” But then on the same page he said, “As far as our clock goes he could’ve been right. For him to leave his body and return to it, he couldn’t have been gone long. Especially since we’d never received any kind of report saying Colton had ever been clinically dead.”
What did Colton claim to have done in such a short period of time? Here are some of the things: Visit with John the Baptist. (Page 63) Pet Jesus’s rainbow-colored horse, (Page 63) Go to school with Jesus as his teacher, who gave him homework to do. (page 71) Stay with “Pop,” who was his great-grandfather. (Page 86) Visit his sister who had died before birth. (pages 93 – 97) Sit on a chair close to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Interestingly, Colton said the Holy Spirit is “kind of blue.” (Page 102, 103) Visit with the angel Gabriel. (Page 101)
The truth is, it would have been impossible for Colton to have done all these things and more in 3 minutes. Frankly, I don’t believe they happened. I think he thinks they happened.
The age of Colton Burpo makes me warn about the book.
A careful reading of God’s Word reveals no examples of God using anyone so young as Colton Burpo as a messenger of wonderful, mysterious, and majestic truth. Instead, God used adults, sometimes young adults, and sometimes older adults, to make his truth known. The apostle John was an old man when he wrote the Book of Revelation. But Colton was only four years old when he claims to have gone to heaven and returned.
In chapter twelve of his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, the apostle Paul tells us, perhaps autobiographically, of a man who was caught up “to the third heaven,” which he also calls “paradise.” He tells us that, when there, that man “heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” My point is, whoever this person was, he was a man, not a 4-year old child. And what he heard, and presumably saw, in heaven, he was not allowed to reveal. But the endorsers of “Heaven Is For Real,” want us to believe a very young boy has been allowed to reveal “the wonders, mysteries, and majesty of heaven,” which have proven to be insignificant when compared to what the Bible says on the subject.
The gullibility of the Christian public provoked this warning about “Heaven Is For Real.”
No offense is intended to anyone, but the willingness of the general Christian public to accept such a book as this reveals an unfortunate level of gullibility among Christians. Too many Christians are willing to accept someone’s claims as fact and as truth, without comparing those claims with the one inspired and infallible book God has given us, which is the Bible.
This gullibility can be traced to some practical factors: 1) Many Christians do not read the Bible enough to know when someone’s experiences contradict Biblical teaching. 2) Many Christians do not believe the important truth that whatever God wants us to know about moral, doctrinal, and spiritual subjects is found in the Bible itself, and nowhere else. 3) Many Christians do not believe this about the Bible because they have not been taught it in their churches, or from Christian authors, or from radio and TV preachers. 4) Too many Bible-believing pastors do not indoctrinate their congregations in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, one of which is the important truth that whatever God wants us to know about moral, doctrinal, and spiritual subjects is found in the Bible itself, and nowhere else. In other words, pastors are largely responsible for the acceptance of books such as “Heaven Is For Real,” and “Jesus Calling.” This last book is a subject of one of my recent posts. Here is a link to it: https://biblicalsubjects.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/warnings-about-the-book-called-jesus-calling/