You may have heard of this book – it has spent at least ten weeks at the top of the New York Time’s best seller list for non-fiction. It’s only 150 pages long and is a very engaging and easy read. It chronicles in somewhat haphazard fashion the insights of 4-year old Colton Burpo during a three-minute visit to heaven as he underwent emergency surgery to save his life from a ruptured appendix that had gone undiagnosed for five days. In the months that followed his recovery (itself miraculous), his parents realize that Colton has seen and experienced heaven, and is able to substantiate this with information that he could not have possibly known otherwise.
How’s that for a simple premise?
That is really the crux of the book. At times it seems like a lot of filler around a few rather basic revelations. There are a few photos in the center of the book of people integral to the story.
As a theologian, I was naturally curious about the specific statements and assertions that were made about heaven. On the whole, I don’t see anything that specifically contradicts Scripture in any way, and most of what is presented does have some sort of Scriptural foundation, even if at times it seems somewhat stretched. I come away from the book willing to accept that Colton experienced Jesus and heaven for three minutes. That’s a blessing to this boy, his family, and Christians around the world who are apparently reading this book like crazy.
I don’t see any reason to discourage people from reading the book. If you like slice-of-life stories and are interested in Colton’s experiences, you should enjoy the book. I do have two specific complaints with the book. The first is that, in a couple of places the authors echo a mantra that is common in our culture today – the idea that the simple, child-like faith is all we need aspire to, and that the more complex world of theological wrangling is something that ought to be avoided. This is a tricky thing. Yes, our faith ought to be childlike, resting in the assurance of our salvation from sin and death through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. However, we are also exhorted repeatedly in Scripture to move intellectually beyond the basics of the faith in order to apply the faith more consistently to our lives. Baby food is important for babies, but as babies grow into children and then adults, they need heartier fare capable of sustaining their needs in the increasingly complex world they grow into.
As such, we need to be theologically intelligent and mature. “Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so” (with an emphasis on the latter portion). We need to be able to read and discern Scripture properly so that we know what the first part of that verse means, and what it should lead us to in our lives. That requires grounding in Scripture and some careful lines of theological inquiry and study.
My second complaint with the book is that while it quotes plenty of Scripture, primarily as support or validation of Colton’s experiences and reports, it doesn’t ultimately direct the reader back to Scripture as the authoritative source of information. The book wraps up sort of with agee-whiz-we-can’t-believe-this-all-happened-to-us sort of mentality. But that sort of amazement – as well as the reports of little Colton – all have a deeper context in Scripture.
It is in Scripture that we meet the God who reveals himself to us and outlines the proper relationship of all things. Without this context, what is the reader to make of Colton’s experience? Is it a bizarre anomaly (no, it isn’t). Is it necessarily authoritative and convincing in and of itself (no, it’s not). Colton’s experience appears to be one of a long line of divine revelations to unlikely people at unpredictable times. These revelations have consistency with one another and ultimately in the God who provides them, and we see in Scripture this laid out over and over and over again.
And it is Scripture that teaches us that whatever our individual experiences may or may not be, those experiences need to be vetted against the revelation of our creator God. It is in this context that our experiences take on proper meaning and significance, and it is this contextualization that helps to prevent us from taking the wrong things from our experiences. This is key in a culture that is obsessed primarily with individual relationships and experiences as the basis for truth and reality. Experience and relationship are good and wonderful, but they require a deeper context to make proper sense of them. This book doesn’t really provide that.
What it provides is an encouragement and hopefulness to those of us who already have faith and trust in Jesus Christ. It will not be very convincing to someone who isn’t already a believer. But it’s worth reading so you know what your friends and relatives might be reading, and it might give you the opportunity to talk with them about your faith in Jesus and trust in heaven. Heaven is indeed for real, and that’s something we never want to forget.