By now, you probably have seen the new Heaven is for Real movie, read the book, or at least known someone who has.
The story of the Burpo family’s four-year old boy, Colton, whose near-death experience allegedly exposed him to Heaven, is creating huge discussion among Christians.
Many notable leaders, like John MacArthur have roundly criticized the work (and others like it). Still others say they find truth and comfort in the story, and they believe it really occurred. I wish to add my comments to the discussion here, and speak to each group.
To the critics…
One of the most popular Southern Baptist authors and pastors today is David Platt. In his “Secret Church” series, Platt shows no affinity for the Heaven is for Real book (and other works related to heaven-and-back experiences). Calling them “unbiblical,” Platt lets loose his antipathy for the works.
It is hard to find much fault in the Scriptural perspective of Platt and Dr. MacArthur. There may be room for improvement, however, on the presentation of their views.
It is my belief that we could take a more patient approach to those who like the Heaven is for Real works. After all, most who like them do because they like Heaven. Indeed many Godly brothers and sisters I know have been comforted by the book through seasons of deep grief.
To the celebrators…
I will be the first to admit that Heaven is for Real tells a compelling story. I, too, was drawn by the book and movie’s storyline, and who among us doesn’t appreciate children and glimpses of the glory of God?
At the same time, we have to ask ourselves: are we getting our perspective of Heaven more from a story like this or the Bible? Are we putting too much stock in the testimony of a four-year old who allegedly spent three minutes in heaven, more than we are the timeless Word of God?
No matter how much we like a work of art or movie, we must test all things in light of Scripture and hold fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21), even if that means not uncritically swallowing whole every word of the Burpo’s story.
To us commenters…
When talking about general reactions to Heaven is for Real, if I had to categorize myself with either of these groups, I would probably fall much more closely to the critics than the celebrators. I’d like to think, though, that I fall into a third category of those who merely wish to comment on the work, not snatch it out of people’s hands nor give it as a gift book to everyone and their dog.
Unlike Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven, which appears to be a sensationalized tale meant only to sell books, the Burpo family appears to be sincere and even has been reluctant to tell their story.
Only God knows for sure whether Colton, the young boy in question, caught a true glimpse of Heaven. And there are some amazing things Colton knew that are hard to explain, such as finding out about a sibling of his who died due to miscarriage that his parents had never mentioned.
Yet there are holes in the story and specifics that do not necessarily align with the Scriptures. For example, why would, as Colton attests, the Angel Gabriel be sitting at the “left-Hand of God”?
It also should slow down all who have near-death experiences from sharing their stories hastily to know that, of all of the Bible of those who died and came back (e.g. Lazarus, Eutychus), none of them speak about it. The Scriptures are painfully silent on these true death-and-resuscitation experiences, and where the Bible whispers, we should be careful not to shout.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the story, especially the movie, is that more time is spent on the details of what Heaven is like and looks like than is spent explaining how God gets us there. In other words, the movie was lacking in anything approaching a presentation of the Gospel.
Heaven is really real. Discernment is needed…
Time will tell if the Burpo’s story holds up and if those after this generation will lose interest. There will be other books and stories of those who experience the afterlife—Heaven and Hell. It is critical that Christians base our viewpoint, outlook and worldview on what the Bible says. It is equally critical that we do not add to what the Bible says (Rev. 22:19).
Evangelical Christians believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, that God has given us all the revelation we need. Whether you are a critic, celebrator or mere commenter on the Heaven is for Real story, let’s stand on God’s Word alone every day of life on this earth until we get to heaven for real.
Photo credit: Sony