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“Heaven is for Real” Book Review

May 18, 2014

In an earlier post here, I reviewed the movie, “Heaven Is For Real”.  I found the movie fascinating (and well worth watching if you haven’t).  

The movie made me curious as to what else might be in the book, as well as to how closely the two matched up.  So part of this review will make some comparisons for those who have seen the movie but not read the book or vice-versa.

Overall, the two are pretty well aligned.  The main differences I’ve noted, without a deep analysis, are first that the book mostly by-passes the controversies generated in the local community and especially Todd Burpo’s church.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Todd Burpo is the father of the then-nearly-four-year-old Colton, who had a remarkable experience of what he repeatedly insisted was heaven.  This was when he was in surgery for a serious appendix rupture although it was never registered that his heart had stopped. Todd was already then, in March, 2003, the pastor of the relatively small Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska (population 1,762 in 2008 – p. 161).

The second difference of importance I noted was that the book is more explicit than the movie in both citations of numerous Scripture passages and in interpretations of them, along with a particular salvation theology.  It makes sense that in order for a feature movie to have broad appeal the latter element, particularly, would have to be toned down.  (The book had, by the way, been a #1 New York Times Bestseller, in the millions of copies sold.)

The book is indeed a good read.  It’s well enough written to draw one well into the story, probably even for those who may be skeptical about one element or another of it.  Personally, the main element I found to be not only questionable but highly so is the “reality” interpretations overlaid on Colton’s experience by himself, by his parents and no doubt similarly done by the publishers and many within a similar kind of Christian theological system.   The most apt brief phrase of caution to apply here may be the well-worn “map is not territory”.

In other words, Colton’s experiences provide further “data points” (parts of a map) about the nature of a full reality into which we see very dimly… as do literally thousands of similar reports from both children and adults all over the world.  But the data points do not all line up well as to indications of what the full reality (territory) is like.  That is, they do not when we try (probably too much) to relate them to our limited, earth-time-oriented frames of reference.  (This would include, and prominently so in the book, our religious understanding of a state of being or “place” to which we may pass after death….  And I am one who does believe firmly that our consciousness continues in some form after this eye-blink of universal time we’ve spent on earth).

It is actually evidence of the kind presented by Colton (a little at a time over a period of many months, and some beyond) that lends to my analytical side’s belief in “immortality of the soul” (or similar concepts).  My intuitive side concurs, and I need to have both in play before taking on a belief with confusing evidences.  There are actually a number of evidences, only some of them “religious” or “spiritual” in nature, that contribute to my belief, but not to be listed here.

Returning to our limited perspective, and my concern about the presentation of the meaning and implications of Colton’s experiences, in my movie review I included a section I will briefly quote from again, because of the vital importance I consider it to carry,

Who are glaringly “missing in action” as to taking NDE’s seriously and learning all we can from them are the bulk of Christians, especially leaders and scholars, AND the bulk of scientists (the main exceptions being some physicians, psychologists and others in the human sciences).  Doesn’t that indicate something significant?

I sure find it does: that there probably IS something very important being signaled by these experiences and by the fact that many serious investigators, including SOME religious and SOME “hard” scientists, are finding them well worthy of study. Seems to me the Church (in general), though seemingly very interested in visionary or other “spiritual” states, any possible glimpses “beyond the vale”, evidences of life beyond this one, etc. is curiously, and sadly, avoiding such probing!

Here are a few of many potential things to be gleaned from this book, which is certainly a heart-warming story on a human and family level, with at least glimpses of a deeper and complex spiritual reality.  These are in harmony with similar reports from a wide variety of people recorded and researched in some depth for a number of decades now:

1. We have a very partial and probably distorted view of just how our personal experiences in this life and beyond are constructed, including memories, feelings, intuitions, etc., that are built up into our beliefs and information filters.

2. The kinds of “unexplainable” experiences of Colton and many others point clearly to a difference between the physical brain and our minds which transcend the brain, both during our “normal” consciousness and, more poignantly, in rare (for most of us) “peak experiences” (so labeled by an early researcher in this area, psychologist Abraham Maslow).

3. There is a mixture of data from both the brain and the mind, in what I consider to be vast access to information on almost any focus of attention, that seems to mix together in ways that are so far little understood.  This is evidenced not only in spontaneous “NDE” or out-of-body type experiences, but also in purposely induced states of altered consciousness, including somewhat in the highly trained ones of technical “remote viewers”.

Here are a few things that I believe are not warranted conclusions from the amazing experiences of little Colton (or other similar experiencers): 

1. That correspondences between descriptions of “heaven” (or of “hell”, for the much smaller percentage of such experiences of the NDE type) and those from the Bible or other religious texts (such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead) necessarily indicates their literalness.  

2. That Colton’s (or others’) impressions and recollections after the event represent a “reality” on “the other side” (such as the age, appearance or interests and emotional states, etc. of others encountered there).  There are just too many other possible things going on to jump as readily to conclusions as the book tends to.  

3. That admission to heaven is based on belief in or acceptance of Jesus, with all who did not have such a belief (an undefined and nebulous concept) sent somewhere else, potentially to hell.  This is the strongly-implied conclusion of the Burpos, which is mirrored by millions of Christians in America.  And that despite the numerous biblical difficulties with such a view.  It represents one of the critical ways in which apparently a person even as young as Colton unknowingly combines brain-gathered information with mind-experienced information, creating a distorted conclusion.

In stating this last section, I realize that the Burpos seem to have taken care to discern between things Colton must have encountered for the first time “in heaven” vs. what he may have been exposed to at Church, home, etc.  And I will grant that they are probably correct in most or all such cases.  I’m not in much position to judge.

However, what Colton had as a genuine experience during a presumed NDE does not necessarily represent true “territory” in an actual afterlife, nor eternal truths about such a place.  It may be that he did not necessarily remember things he’d heard on earth and interject them into an altered-state experience.  Still, his mind, perhaps interacting with God’s Spirit (or Mind, or Universal Mind), could well have created what would be desired or in harmony with his previous or even future human experience.  And things like connecting (or re-connecting?) with an unknown and unborn sister (in one key segment of the story) have more than one possible explanation without denying them as valid experiences with real meaning.   

What were your reactions to either the book or the movie or both? Or to the points above? 


One Comment leave one →
  1. December 28, 2015 5:51 am

    Really Nice Review…I have ordered the book after reading the review

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