Heaven is for Real: Review

imageAs a pastor, I try to read books that my members are likely reading.  And while among Pastor types the book of interest in recent times has been Rob Bell’s Love Wins, among laity another book seems to be the buzz.  It is the one I am asked about more often than any other.  That book is Heaven is for Real.

The official website summarizes the book this way:

Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how "reaaally big" God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit "shoots down power" from heaven to help us.

I must admit that often when I read a book that is very popular in the Christian church at large, I am terrified at what is being served and devoured.  Usually these books are far from sound teaching.  Usually reading one of these books brings out the apologist in me arguing for the faith revealed in the Scriptures as opposed to what is presented in the book.

imageThis book surprisingly did not spur me on to such a defense.  While of course I can not verify whether this boy was gathered to God and his people for those few moments, I can say that most of what he “saw’ is thoroughly scriptural.  Perhaps the real value to me as a pastor was reading how a young boy describes the things he saw.  It is always as a parent and pastor a struggle to explain things faithfully while using the limited language of children.  For instance, Colton says Jesus had markers to his dad at one point.  After some questioning, Colton explains that he had markers on his hands and feet.  He was referring to the scars made by the nails.

Is there any danger in this book?  There are a few things Colton says that are not attested in the scriptures.  He says humans have wings (although make clear that they are not angels).  He suggests that his miscarried sister is in heaven.  He says that no one is old.  While none of these things are attested in the scripture, none of them are contradicted either.  There are a few deficiencies like little talk of the resurrection of the body.  But again he does not specifically deny such a teaching, he just does not mention it.

Perhaps the only real danger is the one inherent any time someone claims to have received revelation from God apart from his Word.  In the case of reading this book, it can leave the reader wanting a similar experience to be sure of their faith.  Or one can simply put their trust in Colton himself and his story.  And that is dangerous, because we could find out in a couple years that Colton and his Dad made all this up to sell a book (I do not believe this will happen, but it must be said to remind us of the fragile nature of the words of any human in comparison to God’s Word).  Only the Word of God can truly be our source of confidence.

As a pastor I have talked to several people who claimed to have a supernatural experience.  They have said that they have talked to Jesus, were rescued from danger by an angel, etc.  To them, I say the same thing I say about this book.  Unless what is revealed stands in contradiction to the word of God, I have no reason to doubt what they have said.  Perhaps God has chosen to comfort them in some miraculous way in his perfect knowledge of their needs.  But if there experience draws them away from the Word written or the Word incarnate Jesus, then it must be left behind as given from a different spirit.

Whether Colton went or not, Heaven is for real.  I know this because the Spirit has convicted me of the truth of his Word.  But that does not mean that he did not have a vision or spend time with God.  We just must make sure our trust rests first on Christ and the Scriptures in which he is revealed.  That is how we know what is truly real.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 at 11:55 am and is filed under Book Reviews, Theology and Practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Heaven is for Real: Review”

  1. tom Says:

    Phil,

    I have not read the book but appreciate your thoughts on it. My question/comment is this: isn’t one of the dangers of this book the idea that “heaven is what it is all about” or “heaven is the point” when Scripture itself speaks very little about heaven (and honestly has little concern about the intermediate state) and is vastly more concerned with the eternal state? Might a book like this, once again, misguide readers into the line of thinking: “heaven is going to be awesome” or “heaven is such a wonderful place” or “i can’t wait to get to heaven”. Truth be told, like you mentioned, we know very, very little about the time between when we die and when our souls and bodies are reunited to spend eternity with God in the eternal state and yet books like this just expound on an area of our Christianity that Scripture is pretty silent on and as a Christian my true joy is not found in being in heaven but ultimately having a new, transformed, redeemed, physical body reunited with my soul to live forever and ever in the eternal kingdom of God.

    I know this may sound as if i am nitpicking on this cute little kid but just as much as the “Left Behind” books have been disastrous for the church, in my opinion, so are books that spend their time trying to get us excited about a place that takes up very little written space in Scripture.

    I believe in heaven. But I don’t believe it is the main point. I believe, like N.T. Wright, that the point Scripture is interested in is NOT: life after death; but RATHER: life after life after death.

    Thoughts?

  2. Philip Hoppe Says:

    Tom, I think this book assumes that there is no interim state. Throughout history some have speculated that there is no conscious interim state but that one is “fast-forwarded” to Judgment day immediately at death. They argue this happens based on their understanding that time does not exist outside of the created world. This is not my understanding but not one I would vigorously argue with as long as one understands and confesses the material existence of a new heaven and earth which is ushered in by the bodily return of Christ to the earth. What the boy describes is truly in line with what you would call life after life after death and not the interim state. I would think that he would not think of heaven as a temporary location until the resurrection but would tend to think when one dies they are zapped right to the new heaven and earth. Does that make sense?

  3. tom Says:

    Phil,

    That view, to be quite honest, is one that I am not familiar with…thanks for filling me in. Like you, it is not one, in my understanding of scripture, that I could hold to by any stretch of the imagination.

    If one is “zapped” (nice theological word by the way! 🙂 )right to the new heaven and new earth at their death….how has the resurrection of their bodies played out? In other words, their physical body has, already, been raised from the dead and has been reunited with their soul?

    Again, I am uncomfortable with the big emphasis on “heaven” b/c even when talking about the new heaven and new earth we are talking about the “eternal state” and not the idea of “heaven” that is uppermost in most peoples minds.

    Heaven, to me, must be differentiated from “eternal state” otherwise we just create, not only confusion for people, but an unbiblical picture of what is really going on.

    I am assuming that when you wrote, “I would think that he would not think of heaven as a temporary location until the resurrection” you meant to say, “I would think that he would think of heaven as a temporary location until the resurrection”…which is great, at least he realizes it is not permanent. However, but if then he simply believes they are transported to the new heaven and new earth when they die…then he seems to be by-passing the “temporary” place altogether. So I am a little confused as to what he is trying to say.

    Obviously, I think, i am not arguing against you….b/c it sounds like there is much agreement between you and I on this subject….I just want to give people the true biblical hope that we have and call it and name it what it really is.

    I write passionately about this b/c this is an area that I have been wrestling with and working through for the last several years and what I have come to view scripture as saying about these things is so different than what I grew up hearing and believing. And what I believe now is much more freeing, liberating, hopeful and, again, in my understanding, scriptural (not that there isn’t room for learning, growth, and humility).

    Thanks for the conversation.

  4. Weslie Odom Says:

    Hello Rev. Hoppe,

    I have not read the book, but did listen to an interview with the boy and his family on a morning talk show months ago. Several excerpts were read from the book, and, if I remember correctly, there were some blatant dispensationalist ideas that Colton “saw” in heaven. Did I not hear correctly, or is that in the book?

    Thank you.

  5. Philip Hoppe Says:

    Weslie-
    Do you remember any specifics? The only thing I can remember that even sound like dispensationalism is that he tells his dad that their is a final spiritual battle coming. But that is thoroughly scriptural if not mixed with all sorts of other garbage. I could have missed some other things but do not think I did. Let me know if you remember anything else. And thanks for reading the blog.
    Pastor Hoppe

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