In 2010 a book was released called “Heaven is for Real“. A wikipedia page describes the plot thus:
“The book documents the report of a near-death experience by Burpo’s then-four-year-old son, Colton. The book tells how the boy began saying he had visited heaven.”
And at the end of the page it says, “See Also”:
23 Minutes in Hell
90 Minutes in Heaven
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
Proof of Heaven
The book was immediately optioned to be made into a movie, which is being released this month, April 2014.
Heaven Is for Real
“A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.”
I used the word ‘immediately’ because the book was a runaway bestseller. It spent eight weeks at No. 1 in 2011. It’s been on the NY Times bestseller list for a total of 138 weeks.
This is incredible to me. That people in the first place would seek any information about God’s dwelling apart from God’s word is amazingly undiscerning. And to be attracted to such information from a four-year-old-boy is just beyond comprehension.
But I understand. I understand the attraction to wanting to see peeks of the other side. As Christians, we resist such thoughts and desires, because they aren’t profitable. When I was an unsaved person, though, I was intrigued by near-death experiences (NDEs).
Besides near-death experiences, there are now post-death experiences. Science and medicine has advanced to the point currently where doctors can put a person to death for a long period of time in order to operate or repair a body, and then bring them back to life in controlled circumstances.
I wasn’t saved until I was 43 years old. That is a lot of years as a teen and an adult to ponder the mysteries of the other side. And ponder I did. There is a certain logic to Christianity that the unsaved mind suppresses. (Romans 1:18). Intuitively it seemed that evolution would not have gone to all the trouble to evolve us bodily AND in addition, give us a mind, a conscience, and self-awareness. I wondered, what was the point of living 40, 50, 70 years and then…poof, nada? Obliteration? It didn’t seem likely.
Secondly, it seemed that every culture in the world since recorded time and history began has celebrated or worshiped a deity or deities. I often wondered, why are we all wired to worship? And which deity is the right one? There must be something to religion, if every culture from north to south, east to west, has worshiped someone or something.
Third, I always wondered why so many people reported having a near death experience, and why those experiences seemed so similar.
It was more than reasonable that religion was real, the other side was real, that heaven was real.
Then I became a Christian by God’s grace and the drawing of the Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 2:8, John 6:44). I learned through the bible that heaven IS real. I read what it looks like. I read who will go there. I read about worship there. All about heaven, it’s in the bible. How great and glorious God is to provide us this glimpse.
Four men went to heaven in visions and three came back authorized to tell about it. (Paul said he heard things he was forbidden to tell. 2 Corinthians 12:2. John also was told not to tell of one of the things he’d heard, the Seven Thunders, Revelation 10:1-7). Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John went to heaven in visions and were shown wonderful things. How glorious the Lord is to give us these peeks that are now recorded in His word! We can trust them.
And if you think about it, ONLY FOUR men were given visions of heaven. Job, who was called righteous by God, wasn’t escorted around heaven on a personal tour. King David, a man after God’s own heart, wasn’t given an individual advance visit. John the Baptist, whom Jesus said no other man born of woman had risen greater than, wasn’t given an opportunity to stroll around and take in the sights.
But four year old Colton Burpo was. He and his dad wrote “Heaven is for Real.” In Colton’s version, people had bodies. In the bible version, people haven’t been given their glorified body yet. That won’t happen until the rapture. And we’re supposed to believe the boy?
Dr Eben Alexander was given a tour. He wrote “Proof of Heaven.” Dr Alexander, a former surgeon, has been fired from multiple hospitals, is the subject of several malpractice suits, and is charged by doctors with lying in his book about the events leading up to his NDE, and others found discrepancies in his book on other matters. He is a Christ-rejecting pagan who believes in reincarnation. And HE was given a tour of heaven?
What near death experiences don’t tell us is, what heaven is like, because NONE of the people who claim to have gone there, really went there. The details of their trip contradict not only the bible, but they contradict each other. Any detail, glimpse, peek, or curiosity you have about heaven will not be satisfied in these books or movies. Though they may indeed have had some sort of experience, the details related to heaven are all untrue imaginings.
What NDEs do tell us is what we already know from the bible: the conscious mind continues.
There is no doubt that near death experiences happen. They are consistently reported by millions of people. Eight million people in the US alone have reported having such an experience. And most of them have similar elements. The NDE FAQ page defines those elements this way:
No two NDEs are exactly identical, but within a number of experiences a pattern becomes evident. Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Bruce Greyson argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one’s physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries. (source)
There is no doubt that in some of the NDEs, spiritual forces are at play. However, the fact of having a near death experience does not by default make the experience true. Here is the Stand to Reason blog explaining this very concept in their discussion of “Heaven is For Real“.
“What we can’t conclude from these experiences that appear to be real is that what they heard and learned during these experiences are necessarily true. An experience can be real without the conclusions of the experience being accurate. That happens to us all the time even in this life. We have an experience, but we’re mistaken about what we think about it. It can happen in death, too. After all, once we have evidence for a non-physical world, we have reason to believe from the Bible, which tells us about this world, that there are beings there that deceive us. There are also beings who tell us the truth. But which do people encounter in their near death experiences? It’s hard to tell.”
Yes, it’s hard to tell. And why would we even want to pursue such rabbit trails that lead only to the Valley of Humiliation and the Cliffs of Insanity? (apologies to John Bunyan and William Goldman)
All that NDEs can tell us is that the conscious mind continues (we already knew that) and people experience things after death (we already knew that too). Anything other than that are fanciful thoughts and images that have no place in biblical mind and a Jesus-loving heart.
As far as the movie Heaven is For Real goes, avoid it. Though ‘Christian’ movies that are made with Hollywood production values are rare these days, movies about the afterlife, the soul and angels are common. Interest in the topic of the afterlife among the unsaved (and unfortunately the saved) is what’s real. Look at this small list I gathered in just a short time:
Heaven Can Wait/remake of Here Comes Mr Jordan, Warren Beatty,
A Los Angeles Rams quarterback, accidentally taken away from his body by an over-anxious angel before he was supposed to die, comes back to life in the body of a recently-murdered millionaire. (God messes up, that wacky deity! Hijinks from heaven ensue)
All of Me, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin
A dying millionaire has her soul transferred into a younger, willing woman. But something goes wrong, and she finds herself in her lawyer’s body – together with the lawyer. (This movie presents God as a mess-up and violates John 10:12).
What Dreams May Come, Robin Williams
After dying in a car crash a man searches the afterlife for his wife. Chris Robin Williams) dies and awakens in Heaven, and learns that his immediate surroundings can be controlled by his imagination. He meets a man (Cuba Gooding Jr.) he recognizes as Albert, his friend and mentor from his medical residency, and the presence from his time as a “ghost” on Earth. Albert will guide and help in this new afterlife. Albert teaches Chris about his existence in Heaven, and how to shape his little corner, and to travel to others’ “dreams”. Meanwhile, Annie is unable to cope with the loss of her husband and decides to commit suicide. Chris, who is initially relieved that her suffering is done, grows angry when he learns that those who commit suicide go to Hell; this is not the result of a judgment made against them, but rather their own tendency to create “nightmare” afterlife worlds based on their pain. Chris is adamant that he will rescue Annie from Hell, despite Albert’s insistence that no one has ever succeeded in doing so. Albert agrees to find Chris a “tracker” to help search for Annie’s soul. (This movie teaches we are little gods and we create heaven and hell ourselves AND that we can re-write the rules of heaven. Additionally there is no marriage in heaven and our focus will be on Jesus, not our earthly wife).
Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep
In an afterlife resembling the present-day US, people must prove their worth by showing in court how they have demonstrated courage. (A works related salvation, and one which defendants argue with God, no less. Presenting God as less than the Holy and Righteous Judge).
Wings of Desire, Peter Falk
An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal. (Presented as a romantic, sensitive story, this one is right out of Genesis 6 with the unholy angels mating with women.)
It’s A Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart
An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed. (A person given visions of the future like John of Patmos was??)
Michael, John Travolta, Andie MacDowell
Frank Quinlan and Huey Driscoll, two reporters from a Chicago-based tabloid, along with Dorothy Winters, an ‘angel expert’, are asked to travel to rural Iowa to investigate a claim from an old woman that she shares her house with a real, live archangel named Michael. Upon arrival, they see that her claims are true – but Michael is not what they expected: he smokes, drinks beer, has a very active libido and has a rather colourful vocabulary. In fact, they would never believe it were it not for the two feathery wings protruding from his back. (This is obviously an unholy angel, presented as holy. What a blot on the name of Jesus and His heaven!)
In 2004 John Hagee Ministries put together a movie called “Escape From Hell.” In it, a psychiatrist who counsels people who have had near death experiences becomes consumed with learning whether there is an afterlife for real or not. He induces a medical death for himself and calls a friend to come revive him before it is too late. With that, he passes out and begins his tour. The doctrinal errors in this film are too numerous to mention, but a movie reviewer called CBC Pastor wrote this:
When we seek to add error to increase the scare effect, we deny the power of God’s Spirit to work through truth… Movies that stretch the truth to this level only hurt evangelism through those that will laugh themselves right out of our churches and ignore the truth of genuine warning.
That is exactly what these heaven tourism books and movies do. They deny the power of the Spirit to work through truth, and isn’t that how the Spirit promised to work? Through truth? Not through lies.
Here are some credible reviews and essays on heaven tourism. I’ll tell you ahead of time, they are all negative. I am purposely listing these in order to help you or to help you help a family member or friend who insists that these visions and trips to heaven are real. Heaven IS for real. I know this because Jesus told me so, not a little boy, or a disgraced doctor or a well-intentioned pastor or any man in the flesh. As Pastor Tim Challies succinctly said of Heaven is for Real,
“The point of it all is to encourage you that heaven is a real place. Colton went there and his experience now validates its existence“.
Ridiculous in the extreme, isn’t it?!
Heaven is For Real, book review by Tim Challies
Heaven Tourism, essay by Tim Challies
The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine , essay by Phil Johnson
To Heaven and Back, review by Randy Alcorn
The Berean Library, Heaven is for Real