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Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo - An Assessment of the Book and the Film Version

By Edited Jun 30, 2016 2 2


I could not put down the book “Heaven is For Real,” and as a result I read all 154 pages in one sitting. It was recommended to me by a friend so I ordered it from the library and had to wait six weeks for it since it was in such great demand.

The author's son Colton, just prior to his 4th birthday, had a misdiagnosed ruptured appendix which resulted in seepage of poison into his abdominal cavity for five weeks before he was correctly diagnosed. He made an unexpected and fast recovery to the relief of his parents, a Protestant pastor and his teacher wife.

Gradually, Colton casually mentioned that Jesus had talked to him, that his sister in heaven whom he had never known had hugged him, and that his great grandfather (Pop) who died before he was born had talked to him. His parents were astounded at what he told them, and cautiously asked him questions which Colton freely answered.

He described how Jesus looked and dressed, described how people in heaven looked - all were young and no one wore glasses - and was able to say that Jesus sat to the right of his father's throne, although he had never been told that fact.

Whenever the family saw a picture of Jesus, they asked Colton if that was what Jesus looked like. He always said no until he was shown a picture painted by a young girl, Akiane Kramarik, who had visions of heaven since she was 4 and described heaven and Jesus the same way Colton did. He said to his father: "This one's right."

You may shed a few tears as I did if you read this book. You will have a renewed interest in death, dying and heaven. It will no longer frighten you. Many stories have been told about near-death experiences, but a 4-year-old's guileless account has a credibility far greater than any other.

When I checked whether Amazon had copies of this book for anyone interested, I came across a dissenting book entitled "Heaven Is For Real, The Book Isn't" by D. Eric Williams which apparently refutes the entire story told by the Burpo family. I leave it up to you whether you choose to believe Colton's stories about his short time in heaven.

Once the film was released, I was curious about what they would do with the story. Sorry to say, it did not receive good reviews. I do believe, however, that it provides an occasion to initiate dialogue on this topic among family and friends who otherwise might not have the opportunity.

The scenes showing Colton in heaven are too theatrical. Any attempt to portray a likeness of Jesus would have to fall flat, which it did. The scenery was obviously poorly hand-made. This lone episode detracted from the rest of the film, which promised to have some depth.

Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo played a believable part, aided by his fellow cast members Kelly Reilly and Conor Corum, who gave more than adequate performances as Todd’s wife and son, Sonja and Colton. The family is challenged by the disbelief of Pastor Todd’s parishioners, who are on the verge of firing him for the distractions that have occurred due to Colton’s tales.

To repeat, I loved the book but was disappointed in the film version, except for the fact that the story has been told, albeit falling on deaf ears in some quarters.



Aug 27, 2014 2:27pm
I did not read the book but I did watch the movie and I agree with your review. In addition, I agree with the sentiment of D. Eric Williams and others. In fact, I included a brief review of this movie in my article on religious films and I added a YouTube clip of Dr. John McArthur addressing this topic.

In short, Dr. McArthur said, "If a little boy saw Heaven he'd be there. . . .There's no biblical basis for anyone to die and come back. . . . The Apostle Paul is the only one that I know of on the pages of Holy Scripture who had a glimpse of Heaven other than the Lord Jesus, himself, who started from there . . . it (Burpo's account) can't be verified and it can't be reproduced. So what's the point of it? Anytime somebody says, 'My little boy went to Heaven and came back,' you can't verify it and you can't reproduce it, so it has no valid use. It doesn't prove anything except that some people take speculation too far. . . . The only thing that we know to be the description of Heaven is that which is contained in Scripture . . . we have no way to verify (Burpo's account). You can't verify that, you can't reproduce it, and a 4-year-old, why would God make a revelation that He wanted to communicate to the world through a 4-year-old . . . that feeds the idea that we have to have something more than Scripture or something other than Scripture is more important than Scripture . . .
Aug 31, 2014 11:30pm
I'm just starting Chapter 3 of the book and I'm glad to hear I didn't miss anything by not seeing the movie.
I think Introspective has made some valid comments. However, it's an interesting read and a gullible (my middle name) acceptance of Colton's experience.
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