Stories about experiences of heaven have come and gone over the years. But none have so captivated public attention (or stirred so great a cloud of controversy) like Heaven Is for Real. Since its release in 2010, the book relating young Colton Burpo’s account of being in heaven during his emergency surgery at age four has sold millions of copies. There’s an app for it, a DVD study resource, a traveling live event ministry, and (coming soon) a major motion picture.
However, viewpoints are mixed among professing Christians on this topic. Nancy Guthrie, for one, sees accounts like Heaven Is for Real as unhelpful stories that actually diminish biblical faith rather than encouraging it. Her recent article titled, We Don't Have to Read the Book or See the Movie to Know Heaven Is Real asserts that these kinds of stories elevate claims of supernatural experience over the substance of the Scriptures.
Guthrie, who co-hosts the GriefShare video series for couples who have experienced the death of a child, declined Thomas Nelson’s (the publisher) request for her endorsement of Heaven Is for Real back in 2010. While tacitly acknowledging the obvious emotional appeal of such stories, she points out: “Jesus himself spoke [in Luke 16:19-31] of the uselessness of such testimony for generating genuine faith.”
Furthermore, Guthrie asserts that there are only five such testimonies recorded in Scripture that Christians are obligated to believe: Isaiah’s (Isa. 6), Ezekiel’s (Eze 40-48), Stephen’s (Acts 7:55-56), John’s (Rev. 1, 4), and Paul’s (2Cor 12:1-7). About these encounters Guthrie writes,
“These witnesses are clearly captivated by God alone. None of these testimonies focuses on meetings with other people who have died.”
“I certainly don’t see a false gospel in the Burpo’s account of Heaven. I rejoice that Jesus is portrayed as the only way to God, in keeping with John 14:6 and Acts 4:12. I could have wished for a greater emphasis on confession of sin and repentance, but on major biblical issues I don’t think [the book] contradicts Scripture. Yet on some details… I’m just… uncomfortable. I emphatically agree with the title: Heaven is for Real. Not because Colton Burpo [says he has] been there, but because the Bible says so.”
Finally, Michael Hyatt, a best-selling author (and the former CEO of Thomas Nelson) stated on his blog:
“Colton’s experiences are compelling. It is a book of hope that demonstrates this life is only part of the picture. This is a book you will want to read and pass on to others.”
What do you think? Do stories like Heaven Is for Real encourage or diminish biblical faith? Will you go to the movie and encourage others to see it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com