We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What About the Book, "Heaven Is For Real"?

Pastor Todd Burpo’s book, “Heaven is For Real” — and the movie it spawned — are undoubtedly bringing in a lot of money for his family, and Christians seem to be the primary audience.  This, of course, just demonstrates that most Christians are woefully lacking in discernment.

In addition to the original book, there are also other books based on the same experience: “Heaven is For Real — for Kids,” and “Heaven Changes Everything.”  According to Todd, there is additional information about Colton’s experience in these books which is not in the original book. [Link gone by 7/10/18]

There have been many critics of Todd’s story of his son Colton’s near-death experience (NDE), and rightly so since there are some really problematic claims in the book.  The book is based on a claimed experience of Colton, and Todd would have us all give up what Scripture says and rely instead on an experience for truth.  In fact, Todd says if you criticize his story, then you are nothing but a “Pharisee.”  But is it really pharisaical to examine his story in light of the Scripture?  Of course not!  That was NOT the problem of the Pharisees.

G. Richard Fisher, in an article discussing many claims of so-called visits to heaven (Don Piper, Betty Malz, Emmanuel Swedenborg, Betty Eadie, Akiane Kramarik, et al), had this to say:

“There are so many…possibilities that can account for these heavenly tales. …[S]ome have been shown as fabrications and outright deceptions.  Others are mere hallucinations.  Some have definite medical explanation tied to brain activity or as a result of medication during surgery.  The heaven conjured up is always in synch with the person’s prior beliefs. … There can even be a demonic component — especially when false doctrine is espoused as being from the other side.  There is also the possibility of an overcharged imagination.

“We have to ask if this perhaps is the case of 4-year-old Colton Burpo who could have had seven years of coaching from an overzealous father.  Memories can be constructed and built, and can seem very real.  Now one knows for sure what kind of information was fed, even inadvertently, to young Burpo over those seven years, which was the time between surgery and the book making its way onto bookstore shelves.  Sometimes, if pondered long enough, imagination can seem like reality to a child.” (Personal Freedom Outreach’s “The Quarterly Journal, Oct-Dec 2011, editorial “Heaven is for real, but the stories are not.”)

While a lot of the claims for heaven are just silly, some of the more problematic claims in the book are:

Jesus had a rainbow horse — Scripture only has him with a white horse (Rev. 19).

Colton said Jesus has blue eyes; Jesus is a Jew and would have brown eyes.

Everyone in heaven has wings - including God the Father!  Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus have wings, even after the Resurrection, and Paul said that our bodies will be like Jesus’ body (Phil. 3:21).  Besides, our bodies will not rejoin our souls until after the Resurrection, so how could Colton see human bodies?

Gabriel sits on the left-hand side of God’s throne.  Not only that, but he is the one in heaven that most resembles God the Father.  Shouldn’t that description be for Jesus.  And if God is spirit (John 4:24) how did Colton see Him appearing as a man?

The Holy Spirit is blue and transparent.  The only color associated with the Holy Spirit in the Bible is white, as in coming in the form of a white dove.

Colton’s father, Todd, will fight monsters in the battle of Armageddon, and it would be with either a sword or a bow and arrow but Colton couldn’t remember which.

When his parents asked him what Jesus looked like, he pointed to a painting by Akiane, who claimed to have many visions of Jesus when she was young.

The story becomes problematic in that Todd also asked Colton for information about which the Bible is silent, including such things as what people look like in heaven, what Jesus looks like, who sits on the left side of God’s throne, what the Holy Spirit looks like, and what Satan looks like. …

“Assuming that Burpo’s account of his son’s NDE is accurate, it also seems that God allowed Colton to encounter certain people and have certain experiences.  Where the story becomes problematic is in mining Colton’s experience for extrabiblical information.  Moreover, there is no reason to suppose that the Lord would convey such details to a not-quite 4-year-old child in order to reveal to the world information He did not previously see fit to provide in Scripture.
J. Greg Sheryl, “Are Near-Death Experiences ‘Proof of Heaven’?”, PFO “The Quarterly Journal, April-June 2014.

One of the best reviews of this book which I came across is by Steve Parker.  He includes a lot more of the questionable and foolish claims about heaven, as well as some good commentary (and, no, I don’t agree with everything he says).

I also recommend the following reviews and commentaries for more information (and I don’t agree with everything these guys say either):

David Platt (video)

John MacArthur at Grace to You

John MacArthur at Answers In Genesis.

Tim Challies

Drew Dyck, CNN

Randy Alcorn

Erik Raymond

Timothy Hammons

Lyndon Unger

I want to close this article with the final paragraph of Steve Parker’s review:

There’s a lot more that could be said about this book. But the above will do. Heaven is for Real is simplistic, superficial, and naive. The most disturbing thing about this book is that it has become so popular – which doesn’t say much for the people that swallow it whole without a second thought – even to the extent of stating that they have had their faith strengthened by it. If this is all it takes to reaffirm faith then, to my mind, that faith is pretty fickle.”


Jack Morrow said...

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. II Peter 2:3 (NIV)

Is Burpo any relation to Harpo or Zeppo?

Richard Cheesman said...

The sad thing about books like these and many more is the fact that professing Christians absorb them without critical thinking. The ability to take a step back, compare with scripture seems to have all but disappeared amongst many in the churches today.

I've had people gush over this book, and the Shack, and others declaring them to hold profound truths and revelation. Suffice to say, I've managed to avoid reading them so far.

The other sad thing because of the lack of critical thinking is that to exercise said critical thought is deemed 'pharasaical', that we are to stop using our mind, to stop thinking too much. I've been called a pharisee, a legalist, a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit because I dared to compare things to scripture, to express a concern, or even (gasp) to judge something unbiblical.

I won't see the movie. In fact, I'd go as far as to say I won't see any Christian movie because, let's face it - the book really is better.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...



Anonymous said...

Books like this and "The Shack", show the deplorable state of professing Christianity and the utter lack of discernment by believers. I sadly know a few lovely believers who were taken in by one or the other of those books.

2 Peter 2:3 indeed, though I read NAS, I love that verse in the KJV: and they will "make merchandise of you". Actually I like it in the NIV too (as above).


Anonymous said...

That's a shame, Richard, that when you compare trends to Scripture, you're getting negative feedback from Christians. But just realize that sometimes people's pride is hurt--they may be embarrassed that you've caught them off guard and exposed their gullibility. Or that word of truth you spoke to them may sprout years later and lead them to abandon false teaching. You don't know what's going on in their minds, so keep bringing up the truth, always with humility and love because you don't want to be the Bible-thumping jerk everyone avoids ;)I'm just now starting to see how false some teachers are, after years of lauding Billy Graham, Tim Keller, and charismatic teachers, so don't be too discouraged if your friends remain a bit blind for a time. Just keep encouraging them to dig deeper into the Word. I'm annoyed by most movies, even "Christian" movies these days too.

Joe said...

The book represents nothing more than a childhood fantasy that emerged from a traumatic experience. The dad's reaction is a compound of wanting to believe his son and wanting to convert the experience into money.

That's my humble, but correct, opinion.

Anonymous said...

Well, today my husband and I briefly went in one of the "Christian" bookstores in our area... the sheer amount of heretical books for sale, including "Heaven is For Real", was mind numbing. What a discouragement to see...


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I've always said "Christian" book stores are minefields of heresy and all sorts of false teaching

Anonymous said...

Yes, Glenn, we know, you are absolutely right... and we've had some concerns about this store for years. But it was sad to see that it seems to have gone from bad to worse.


Anonymous said...

I don't know, no, I do know, that Mr. Unger doesn't really need me to defend him as he is right on where our Holy Scriptures are concerned. So with that said, I will choose to instead, extend a friendly warning concerning the state of much of the church today.

Like a worm wiggling on the end of a fish hook, we have gorged our starving apiritual appetites by lunging at that worm, swallowing the bait, hook, line and sinker.....the bait of false teachings tastes pretty good for awhile and our stomach acid loves the worm until the hook of deceit is revealed.....cutting us up inside. Then we cry out for healing, only to scurry to the same false teachers and preachers who are salivating to feed us with more worms/false teachings/lies from the pit of hell.

We, in the church, are hungry for experience and we flock to those who have had wild and crazy trips to the "third heaven, hell, and beyond." We love those books written by those who have gone to hell for 23, 38, 105 minutes, or have gone to heaven to see relatives, etc., etc., etc., (I had a women whom I was working for, overdose on drugs, only to visit heaven where she stated and I quote "Heaven is a victorian setting with model T's driving around and everyone is dressed in vintage clothing." And when I asked if she was a believer and follower of LORD Jesus Christ, she said, qoting again, "Oh, no."
But she has a testimony from an experience that she lived.....and freely shares it with others.

And so, in the western church, when the child (believer and follower of our LORD Jesus Christ) says, "The emperor has no clothes," or rephrased for a better understanding here, "These trips to heaven and hell are all false and we not to pleace our hope, trust, and faith is such things, as there is no Scriptural support and God's canon is closed; we dare not add to it as the end of Revelation reveals.....well, then my friends, you just may be asked to leave the current state of your church.

Oh, how we love our fairytales and the tale bearers. We lesser spiritual people as perscribed by the haughty and arrogant spiritual elite of our day, will just stick to the Bible, thank-you very much.

Anonymous said...

And another side not from Anon here.....how many of our church bulletins promote and encourage their congregations to spend money and attend this movie?

How many churches strongly encourage their congregations to test the spirits, anotherwords, test everything they see and read that is promoted in the name of Christianity in this day and age?

Is God, our Holy Father, really impressed that we seem to know than Him? Forgive us Father, for we know not what we do, in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Anonymous 8:40 AM,

What you say is essentially what this whole blog is about!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Christian Bookstores, Glen is "Right On Target" A few months ago I noticed a book by a Jerry D Brown, "A New Christianity" The author was associated with the Cult The Way International, whose founder was no friend of the Christian faith, as is evident from his book "Jesus Christ Is Not God" On pages 166-190 it's very clear he denies the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Trinity, Hell, and even quoted Victor Paul Wierwille, the founder of TWI I shared my concerned with the store owner, and he pulled the book. This book is published by TATE Christian Publishers. A few years back XULON Christian Publishers published a book by Keith Daniels, (Worshiping The One True God) another individual who was associated with the Way International. At least XULON pulled this book. http://childofgod.biz/12.html Both of these individuals are listed at the following Way off-shoots Here: http://cortright.org/behome.htm Many of these off-shoots have duped/deceived Christians, publishers, camps,music festivals, and so on. You can read where another of these off-shoots deceived a Christian school and it's administrator Here: http://stfonline.org/2013/06/26/a-biblical-unitarian-navigating-through-a-trinitarian-world Yes, many are being mislead by Christian bookstores (Not All), and Christian radio/TV. I am glad that many of the teachers of Word Faith, and others are being exposed, but the ones who talk like Evangelicals are the ones that also need to be exposed. Like the Irvin Baxter's, Ron Darts, and so on. Mr Dart airs on many Christian stations. He is an anti-Trinitarian, whose teachings are very similar to Herbert Armstrong. Many of these Armstrong's groups just like the Way International, also have confused Christians. Read this testimony Here:
http://bpnews.net/printerfriendly.asp?ID=18605 Not only are these groups attacking cardinal teachings of the faith, but 8 time Dove award winner, author of many well known Gospel songs, Joel Hemphill of the Hemphill's is doing the same thing. I remember singing his well known Sunday School song, "He's Still Working On Me" Mr Hemphill vehemently assails the Deity of Christ and the Trinity in his books, on tape, and he associates with the Atlanta Bible College folks(Church Of God General Conference). Please don't get this group confused with the Trinitarian Church of God Cleveland, or Church of God Anderson,and other Trinitarian COG. I thought the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Way, and other cults were bad in their attacks on Jesus, "HEMPHILL TRUMPS THEM" Yes, we hear many talk, sing, and preach about Jesus, but is it the Jesus of the Bible, the Historic Christian faith, and the Christian faith today?

Anonymous said...

My uncle saw 'aliens' come to get him before he died. Many people close to death see visions of things and I believe it is a real thing. However, I do not believe it is all from God. The bible talks about familiar spirits, demons, etc, yet we are to believe that people can't experience something like this? One of the greatest tricks of Satan was to convince people he didn't exist or that there is not a spiritual world. Did you ever notice that when Daniel had a vision he fell into what was like a deep sleep and he was sick afterwards? I am not saying it is connected, but do you know why this was? Now-a-days he would be said to have been hallucinating.

Thanks for the forewarning about this movie.

Anonymous said...

Pls check out Marci Preheim’s news about John MacArthur:
No words to describe the horror…

Jim Sarco

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I read that this week. Shocker.