A Review of Heaven is For Real. By Todd Burpo.
Thomas Nelson, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
OK, first a few confessions. I do not normally read books like this. Even worse yet, I had never even heard of this book until this afternoon when I was handed a copy of it. And with the front cover telling me it was a “#1 New York Times Bestseller” I was even more dubious.
And the subject matter was potentially troublesome for me as well. As I told the friend who gave me the book, this is a common theme found in heaps of recent books – including plenty of non-Christian books. New Agers and others quite like to write about near-death and/or after-life experiences.
Often it is all sweetness and light – indeed, plenty of light and no darkness. There is only God and/or heaven, but no Satan and/or hell. Everyone ends up in a wonderful afterlife, and so on. So there are plenty of non-Christian counterfeits concerning all this out there.
But this is a specifically Christian book written by a specifically Christian author, telling the story about his 4-year-old son’s trip to heaven and back. And it is a moving story. Anyone who has a child who is on the verge of death will be powerfully impacted by such a tale.
Mind you, a more academically-minded person – such as myself – might prefer a more scholarly treatment of the subject, such as Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland’s 1992 volume, Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson). But this is a personal story which any believer should appreciate and resonate with.
It tells of how little Colton nearly died from a ruptured appendix and was taken to heaven by Jesus while his parents prayed and fretted, and while the doctors operated – twice. Young Colton surprises his parents a few months later by speaking about being with Jesus, seeing lost loved ones, and describing things he could not have known about.
This brief volume (160 pages) which can be read in an hour, tells the inspirational story of how and what he experienced in his time in heaven. The crux of the story could probably have been told in 25 pages, but it works OK as a story that is worth being told in a bit more detail.
The boy describes things that he was totally without any earthly knowledge about. For example he talks about being with his second sister in heaven. This completely stuns the parents, who never told him about an earlier miscarriage of a baby girl. He even knew she did not have a name, as the parents had not named her.
Then there is the recurring theme of how incredibly much Jesus loves children, and how he offers them special care and attention. This of course reflects what we know about Jesus during his earthly sojourn. And it offers real hope and comfort for those who have lost loved ones to an early death.
And then came the simple yet profound message as to why Jesus died on the cross: he did this “so we could go to see his Dad”. His pastor father, who of course knew his theology, was so moved by this: “In my mind’s eye, I saw Jesus, with Colton on his lap, brushing past all the seminary degrees, knocking down theological treatises stacked high as skyscrapers, and boiling down fancy words like propitiation and soteriology to something a child could understand: ‘I had to die on the cross so that people on earth could come see my Dad’.”
Of course it goes without saying that sceptics, naturalists, atheists, and others with a closed reductionist worldview – including liberal Christians – will find this all too much. But a theist always insists that life is much more than the material world, and that the naturalist and unbeliever are effectively blinded as to ultimate reality.
Jesus of course said the same. Those who refuse to believe, who refuse to humble themselves, and refuse to countenance experiences other than their own narrow range of material, physical reality, will simply not get it. Jesus said we have to come to him as a child, humbling ourselves, and renouncing our pride.
Until we do, we will just not be in a position to receive spiritual truths and perceive supernatural reality. The atheist world is a very narrow little world where the rest of reality is denied and scoffed at. As I often tell the hyper-rationalists, sceptics, and naturalists who come to debate me, they are like the person born blind arguing with the normal person describing the wonders of a rainbow or the beauties of a sunset.
Their narrow limited world just cannot get something like colour. In the same way, the naturalist just cannot get that there is a much greater world than the material world, and they will never be able to perceive spiritual truths and realities if they cling to this reductionism.
Indeed, it is not just the case of being like a person born colour-blind. It is more like a person being born blind, never having seen anything. They can only go on their other senses, seeking to make sense of a dimension of reality they have never experienced.
They can either take the word of those who have experienced it – those born with sight – or they can simply remain in their disbelief and mock those who dare to describe a richer, fuller reality. At the end of the day we must choose whether we will acknowledge that we do not have all the answers and do not know all things, or whether we will remain in our arrogance – and spiritual blindness.
But even non-believers, if they are even slightly open to greater realities, may find this book to be of value. So the non-Christian can read it, and perhaps perceive a slightly bigger and deeper world than what they are used to. And the believer can read it and be reminded in a very real and powerful way of the unseen realities we all say we believe in, but so often don’t actually seem to.
So I recommend this book. It certainly is not a work on apologetics – even though I have chosen to give it a very slim apologetics spin in this review. But it will remind all Christians that this world isn’t our real home, and it will hopefully provoke some non-believers to reconsider their closed reductionist worldview.