Heaven is for Real
By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries
At one point, I thought being a movie reviewer would be an enjoyable career. What could be better than getting into movies for free? But, as a friend of mine whose job was to review movies for a Christian ministry said to me, "For every good movie you see, you have to watch ten really bad ones." No thanks. While movie reviews will never be a main focus of GotQuestions.org, we do receive a lot of questions about movies, especially ones that have any sort of a Christian theme or message. So, I have found myself doing a few movie reviews lately.
The book Heaven is for Real was released in 2010. Some report that it has been the best-selling Christian book, other than the Bible, in the past decade. The movie version of the story was released on April 16, 2014, right in the middle of Passion Week. I have not read the book, but the following is a review of the movie version.
Heaven is for Real is a clean, family-friendly movie.
I enjoyed how the movie portrayed Todd Burpo's spiritual struggles in the hospital chapel when it was unclear whether Colton would survive the emergency surgery.
The Burpo family is "real" throughout the movie. They struggle with finances, with relationships, with behavioral issues in their children, with issues at the church, etc., etc.
Todd Burpo and his wife do not know what to do with the things Colton tells them about what he saw. They are amazed, but skeptical. Their reactions are likely how most parents would react if their child told them of a vision of Heaven. They want to believe their child, but they struggle with how much of it is simply a result of the child's imagination.
While some of the things Colton claims to have seen are unbiblical (although from what I hear more so in the book than in the movie), I am far more concerned with the fact that the movie nowhere explains how to gain entrance into Heaven. In one scene, Todd Burpo is sitting in a cemetery with a woman from his church and she asks him if her son, who died in the war, is in Heaven. Todd's answer is essentially, "God loves your son more than you do, so of course he is in Heaven." Hopefully this is the result of Hollywood's editing and Pastor Burpo would in reality give a far more biblical answer than that.
The biblical inaccuracies of the vision of Heaven aside, if God were to give someone a vision of Heaven, His purpose in doing so would be to inform people of how beautiful it is AND to declare a clear message of how to get there. While the movie does not specifically say this, it would appear the message is, "Heaven is wonderful, and we all get to go there, so be comforted."
At GotQuestions.org, we allowed some advertisements for the Heaven is for Real movie. Some of the complaints we received were extreme. We were accused of abandoning the Word of God and embracing the vision of a 4-year old boy. We were accused of telling people to seek after visions and subjective experiences instead of studying the Bible. Several people commented that they used to trust GotQuestions.org, but can no longer do so. One person shared that he was praying for God to have mercy on our souls for promoting this heresy.
Why did we allow the Heaven is for Real advertisements? Because a lot of non-Christians visit our site and our hope was that the movie would get some people thinking about Heaven and eternity…and would then seek answers from us and other biblically-based ministries and/or churches. In no sense was us allowing the advertising an endorsement of everything the movie or book says. Our article on the recent rash of "I saw Heaven" books advocates biblical discernment and healthy skepticism — "Are books such as 90 Minutes in Heaven, Heaven is for Real, and 23 Minutes in Hell biblically sound?"
I also read the reviews of the book/movie from some Christian leaders whom I admire and respect. While I agree with their conclusions in regards to the unbiblical nature of some of what Colton Burpo claims to have seen, I do not understand the vitriolic nature of most of the reviews and comments. Do I think Jesus rides a rainbow-colored horse? No. Do I think the Holy Spirit is blue? No. Do I run screaming "HERESY!" when I hear such things coming from a 4-year old boy? No.
Unless the Burpo family made up the entire story in an attempt to capitalize financially on the popularity of "I saw Heaven" books, it appears what happened is that Colton Burpo had a near-death experience and God showed him some amazing things to comfort him, and then those things were misunderstood and filtered through the thoughts and experiences of a 4-year old boy. Heaven is for Real is a very interesting story. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Why the vitriol? Why the hatred? Is it due to jealousy of the sales success of the Heaven is for Real book? Is it due to jealousy towards the idea that God would give a 4-year old boy a vision of Heaven? It is possible that jealousy is present in some of those who have written extremely hostile reviews. But, it is not my place to question others' motives…just as it is not their place to question the honesty and integrity of the Burpo family.
In absolutely no sense is any aspect of our faith or understanding of Heaven to be based on any vision, near-death experience, or dream. Our faith, and every aspect of our doctrine, is to be based on, and in full agreement with, the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If you want a true vision of Heaven, read Isaiah 6 and Revelation 21-22.
In conclusion, Jesus providing comfort to a little boy who is near death sounds to me like exactly something He would do (Matthew 19:14). And, just as with all other 4-year olds, Colton's memories of what he saw, and how he interpreted what he saw, were not entirely accurate.
As with everything, compare what you read/see with Scripture, and if anything does not agree with the Word of God, reject it.
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Got-Questions? | Reviews-Critiques
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