Author: Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
Publisher: W. Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson
Copyright: 2010, ISBN:  HIFR Ministries, Inc.
Cover: Thomas Nelson (copyright 2014)
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, August 4, 2014
Summary: Christian religious literature. Pastor Todd Burpo finds confirmation of his religious views after his son recovers from an operation.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is not about a near death experience. The book is about the miraculous recovery of Todd’s four-year-old son, Colton Burpo. Colton recovered from a ruptured appendix (appendicitis). Shortly after his recovery, Colton tells his parents that he went to heaven during the time he was on the operating table.
While the implications are that young Colton died while on the operating table there is nothing presented in the book that irrevocably supports such an event as fact. More to the point—the same point made in other reviews of near-death-experience (NDE) reports in this journal—Colton’s near-death-experience is most likely real to him, but it does not come close to being what a near-death experience is typically represented to be.
To be fair to the four-year-old Colton, Colton’s experience is reported by his father, Todd. Todd is a Christian pastor. The experiences reported by Colton, as told by his father, confirms the traditional, biblical narrative of Christian theology. Completely.
The only reason a comment is being made here about HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is an incident Todd relates that occurs early in the book. In his house one day, Todd Burpo is talking with his wife Sonja about a funeral service Todd is to conduct. It is the funeral of a man who was not a member of Todd’s congregation. Colton overhears the conversation about the upcoming funeral and interrupts to ask what a funeral is. After Todd explains that a funeral occurs when someone dies, Colton then asks, “Did the man have Jesus in his heart?”
An amazing question from a four year old. A question signifying a greater appreciation of the human experience than one would expect from even most adults. It is a question that logically—and even philosophically—can have only one of three possible answers:
“I don’t know what was in his heart. It is none of my business.”
“I don’t know what was in his heart. It is something between him and (his) God.”
“I don’t know what was in his heart. I know what is in my heart and my heart and faith tells me that I should say a service for this man.”
Todd Burpo reportedly answers his son’s question by saying, “I’ve talked to some of the family members, and they told me he did.”
This little incident reported in HEAVEN IS FOR REAL encapsulates everything many find so discomforting, and self-serving about organized religion. While Todd’s answer validates the idea of a Christian community, it invalidates the relationship between the individual and God.