Heaven Is for Real, the story of four-year-old Colton Burpo, who allegedly traveled to Heaven and back, has mesmerized professing Christians since its publication in 2010. In two years it has sold 8 million copies and been translated into 30 different languages. Those who could not find satisfaction in what God’s Word shares about the life to come flocked to the young boy’s story in spite of the fact that Burpo’s claims about Heaven flatly contradicted the biblical text. The popularity of the book was an overt demonstration of how many Christians today allow experience to trump objective, biblical truth.
Like every good story, whether fiction or nonfiction, Heaven Is for Real now is slated to be made into a movie. The Christian Retailing website notes that not only is Greg Kinnear in negotiations to play the role of Colton Burpo’s father, Todd, but that the film will be co-produced by Joe Roth (Oz the Great and Powerful) and famed prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes.
Books claiming to peer into the afterlife often seem to rise to the top of the bestseller list. Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven still earns him speaking engagements from time to time, and who can forget Bill Wiese’s book about the place of eternal torment, 23 Minutes in Hell? It seems ironic, if not terribly regrettable, that Christians, who possess the infallible and sufficient Word of God, are the ones who are most often led astray by these fanciful fables.
Writing on the subject of such publications in October 2012, executive director of Grace To You, Phil Johnson, noted:
These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn’t even be necessary. No true evangelical ought to be tempted to give such tales any credence whatsoever, no matter how popular they become. One major, obvious problem is that these books don’t even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.
But the larger issue is one no authentic believer should miss: the whole premise behind every one of these books is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about heaven.
In an upcoming book dealing with this subject, John MacArthur says,
For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?” (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.
Yet, in a day of watered-down preaching and ear-tickling sermons emanating from the pulpit, Christians gladly and perhaps even unwittingly, forgo biblical authority for a good story. Toss in a bit of God and Jesus and that story is bound to earn its own display at the local Christian bookstore. Says Johnson,
Evangelical readers’ discernment skills are at an all-time low, and that is why books like these proliferate. Despite the high profile, high sales figures, and high dollar amounts Christian publishers can milk from a trend such as this, it doesn’t bode well for the future of Christian publishing—or for the future of the evangelical movement. (Source)
Indeed. Today’s professing Christian must revisit the practice of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) to search the Scriptures to see if such tales might be true and in alignment with the Word. Where the Word and the world disagree, the Christian must remain true to the Word.