Spirit & Truth # 234
“Heaven (Really) Is For Real”
By Rev. Greg Smith
I don’t do book reviews very often, but there’s one book that everyone’s been talking about lately, and I wanted to share my thoughts. Rev. Todd Burpo’s new book, Heaven is For Real, written with Lynn Vincent, is the account of his four-year-old son Colton’s near death experience, and the things Colton says he saw in heaven. Everywhere I turn, people have been asking me, “Have you read it?” Or, having assumed that I have read it, they have asked me for a pastor’s perspective. So I finally gave in. I’m a slow reader, but even as such, the 154 pages went by quickly. Burpo’s narrative flows smoothly and enjoyably, making the book a pleasurable read.
The remarkable thing about Colton’s story is that it happened to such a small child. When he began sharing with his parents the things he had seen in heaven, he related details that no child of his age would know just from reading the Bible or listening in Sunday school. A few things he told even taught his pastor father a thing or two. How could Colton know these things, unless he really had had a direct experience of heaven?
I won’t ruin the book for you, but one example is that he met his great-grandfather in heaven, a man named Pop, whom Colton had never met in life. When Colton shared this with his parents, they showed him pictures of Pop when he was an old man. The boy said that Pop didn’t look like that. But later, when Colton saw a group picture that included his great-grandfather in it at the age of 29, the boy said, “How did you get a picture of Pop?”[i] Colton also told his parents, “I have two sisters.” They asked what he meant, for his sister Cassie was the only sister he had ever known. Colton replied, “I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”[ii] The Burpos had never told Colton about their miscarriage, but Colton said he spent time with his dark-haired sister, and later cried because he missed her.
While there were a few elements of Colton’s story that made me raise an eyebrow (Pop had wings—a detail of the afterlife that the Bible never mentions,[iii] and the angel Gabriel has a seat on the left side of God[iv]) these are not impossibilities. Just because the Bible doesn’t mention them, that doesn’t make it false. Though some things in the book aren’t specifically outlined in scripture, I could find nothing that contracted the Bible. Colton’s perspective on the coming battle of Armageddon certainly was chilling, and his understanding of things like the Trinity and Satan, gleaned from this near-death experience, were far beyond what a normal child of his age should grasp.
The most important thing I found in the book was greater Colton’s account of the pearly gates or streets of gold. It was his newfound concern, almost obsession, that people have Jesus in their heart. Attending a funeral for a stranger, Colton nearly had a crying fit, asking, “Did that man have Jesus?” Colton insisted, “He can’t get into heaven if he didn’t have Jesus in his heart!”[v] To me, this is the gold nugget of Burpo’s book. Yes, eventually he answers the question whether or not there are animals in heaven (read the book to find out). But most important is the question whether or not you will be there. And that depends on whether or not you have Jesus in your heart.