A Biblical Examination of “Heaven is for Real”
by Jamie Smith
Heaven Is For Real ” A Little Boy”s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back is a sales phenomena; a 2010 New York Times bestselling Christian book, which according to the publisher”s own website (Thomas Nelson Publishing) has sold over 6 million copies worldwide; a recent article in the Daily Mail (8/5/2014) put sales of the book at 10 million. In fact, sales of the book have been so successful that it has recently been given the full “Hollywood treatment” by TriStar Pictures (owned by Sony) and made into a big-budget motion picture starring Greg Kinnear (star of movies such as You”ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan, As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Green Zone with Matt Damon).
Heaven Is For Real is already a huge box office success in America with ticket sales in excess of $21.5 million from its opening weekend over Easter 2014. Soon the whole world will know the story of a little boy called Colton Burpo. So just what is his story? For those whom have not read the book here is a brief synopsis.
Colton Burpo, age three, complains of stomach pains and has a high fever. His parents, Todd (an evangelical pastor) and Sonja Burpo, take him to a hospital where the doctor fails to diagnose the cause of their son”s symptoms. Colton”s symptoms continue to get worse, so his parents take him to a second hospital where he is diagnosed with a ruptured appendix and requires urgent surgery.
After a very trying time Colton makes a full recovery, but not long after the surgery Colton tells his parents that he saw them praying for him outside the operating room. In response to being asked how he could see them, Colton replies:
Cause I could see you €¦ I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body. And I saw you and mommy. You were in a little room by yourself, praying; and mommy was in a different room, and she was praying and talking on the phone (page 20-21).
Colton then shares over a period of approximately three years his account of what he saw and experienced when he visited heaven whilst his body lay on the operating table, and even speaks about things that happened before his birth; things Colton could not naturally know about. Colton”s parents are challenged to examine the meaning of these remarkable events.
On the back cover of Heaven Is For Real the following claim is made:
Heaven Is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child.
That is quite a claim to make, and I know a number of Christians who have read the book and concluded that the account recorded is genuine, biblical and therefore “of God”. If that is true, I thought to myself, praise the Lord! I hope the book sells a further 6 million copies and the movie is more successful than all the Star Wars films put together; it is about time Hollywood portrayed something really and truly Christian!
But of course we as Christians are not supposed to just take another Christian”s word for anything; we are not supposed to just accept someone else”s opinion, and no one should just accept my opinion for anything. The Bereans were commended in the New Testament for not just accepting what the apostle Paul preached to them in Thessalonica, but instead they searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul preached was true (Acts 17:11). We should do the same with everything. We are instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to:
Test all things; hold fast what is good.
We should test all things, not just the things we might presume to be questionable, but even the things we might presume to be right, true and “of God”. If something is right, true and “of God” then it will stand up to being tested.
That is what I set out to do when reading Heaven Is For Real, but hoping in my heart of hearts that it would stand up to being tested against the Word of God and its content would prove to be right, true and “of God”. The following is what I found.
The first thing I want to say is that having read the book I found myself wanting to believe that the whole of Colton”s account is genuine, and by that I mean “of God”. The story told in the book is certainly genuinely heart-wrenching and you cannot help feeling for the family on an emotional level. The book portrays the whole family as being genuine and sincere. Of course, I guess the cynic may argue that that is to be completely expected when Colton Burpo”s father Todd is one of the authors; after all, why would a father write a book about his family that puts them in anything but a good light?
Having spoken to Christians who had read the book before me, I got the distinct impression that a number of them had accepted the whole of Colton”s account as being genuinely “of God” because of how genuine and sincere the Burpo family appear in the book. Whilst I have no reason to question the genuineness or sincerity of the Burpo family, sincerity is not the litmus test Christians are instructed to use when testing all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Truth is the litmus test; specifically how an experience or teaching matches up to the truth found in the Word of God. For example, I know Mormons, Muslims, JW”s, Buddhists and atheists who are outwardly warm, genuine and sincere both in themselves and about what they believe. In reality however, when held up to the light of Scripture, they all have one thing in common: They are all sincerely wrong; none of them have the truth.
No matter how much we may want to believe something is genuine, no matter how much we may connect with something on an emotional level, we need something more objective, trustworthy and infallible than our own opinion or emotions to measure experiences against. We need something outside of ourselves. We need the Word of God.
It is not until chapter three that we read of Colton complaining of tummy ache. The first two Chapters basically introduce the reader to the Burpo family, and in particular the difficult seven month period prior to Colton falling ill when the father, Todd, suffers a serious leg break, two separate surgeries and a cancer scare; all of which put the family under severe financial strain as they try to survive on Todd”s small salary as a church pastor, and try to keep afloat their small family garage door business.
Colton”s tummy ache goes away, but then returns in chapter four, only this time with vomiting every half hour. Todd describes the anguish at seeing his child ill in a way that every parent can sympathise and empathise with. On page 21 he writes:
My heart hurt for my son.
Chapter five (grimly titled SHADOW OF DEATH) describes how, in spite of being in hospital, Colton”s condition gets worse. Todd Burpo describes in a very human way the increasing anxiety experienced by him and his wife Sonja as they try to put their trust in the doctors whilst the doctors are seemingly unable to stop their son”s condition worsening.
Chapter six recounts their eventual decision to move Colton to another hospital, the Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte. The sense of increasing panic and fear experienced by Todd and Sonja Burpo is palpable and something I think every parent can relate to. You cannot help but warm to them as human beings, be moved by their honesty in recounting their fear and anxiety, and mentally put yourself in their predicament as parents and wonder how you would respond yourself to being in their position (whilst praying you never will be).
The emotional connection felt by the reader with the Burpo family increases as chapter seven tells us about Sonja”s miscarriage before having Colton; the emotional pain felt by Todd and Sonja at losing a baby (at eight weeks) and then the fear and uncertainty of whether they should try for another, but then the joy of Sonja giving birth to Colton. However, as Colton”s condition worsens and becomes obviously life threatening, Todd admits the thought forming in his mind:
Are you going to take this child too God? (page 36).
Chapter eight finally reveals the diagnosis: A ruptured appendix that needs emergency surgery. Poison has been filling Colton”s little body for five days and the surgeon says it is very serious and gives no assurance that Colton will be OK. It is at this point that Todd loses his composure and cries out to God:
Where are you? Is this how you treat your pastors? Is it even worth it to serve you? (page 39).
Chapter nine sees Colton out of surgery, but not out of the woods yet. Colton”s organs have been poisoned and need time to recover. He has a tube inserted into his abdomen and a manual pump attached so the remaining fluid can be pumped from his little body twice a day.
Chapter ten begins with a little light at the end of the dark tunnel. A week after the emergency appendectomy they are told that Colton is well enough to go home. However, in a scene reminiscent of a TV hospital drama they are stopped at the elevator by the doctor waving a sheet of paper and yelling they cannot go. The sheet of paper contains the result of a last-minute blood test, which has revealed a dangerous increase in Colton”s white blood cell count. The doctor”s diagnosis is it is likely another abscess and Colton therefore needs further urgent surgery. The family”s roller-coaster ride of emotions continues.
After the second emergency surgery Colton is placed in intensive care and the “wait-and-see cycle” begins all over again for parents who are already physically and emotionally drained. Todd and Sonja very understandably ask:
When can Colton get out of here? When can we go home and be normal again? (page 49).
As the reader, being emotionally carried along with their roller-coater ride, you wonder the same thing. Unfortunately, the roller-coaster ride is not quite finished yet; there are another few more twists and turns to endure.
Following Colton”s second piece of emergency surgery it becomes clear that he is suffering from acute constipation. By the fourth day after surgery he can only lie on the hospital bed, writhing in constipation pain. The doctor says they have done all they can do for Colton and suggest his parents transfer him to another hospital. And just when they thought it could not get any worse, it did: A freak spring snow storm hits which prevents them from even attempting to move Colton to another hospital.
It is at this point that we hear of their church gathering to have a prayer meeting for Colton. That same evening Colton was able to use the bathroom and immediately began to feel better. In the words of Todd:
In less than twelve hours, we had cycled from completely desperate to completely normal (page 51).
Thirty six hours later they were finally back at home with Colton on the mend. As I came to the end of chapter ten I found myself silently mouthing the words, “Thank you Lord” for keeping Colton safe.
Chapter eleven reveals the financial price paid by the family for Colton”s illness. Just one of the medical bills received is for $34000, and whilst their medical insurance would cover the majority of it, they still could not afford to pay the $3200 excess. But then cheques start coming in the post, all with cards and notes saying things like:
God put it on my heart to send you this (page 55).
Praise the Lord for the way He provides through the generosity of His children.
Eyewitness to heaven
It is not until chapter twelve that we start to read about Colton starting to reveal to his parents detail of his heavenly experiences whilst under anaesthetic during his first piece of emergency surgery, but by this time you are completely emotionally invested in the family. Let us face it, after reading eleven chapters of their roller-coaster seventeen day ordeal with Colton, you would have to be the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz not to be emotionally invested in the Burpo”s account. But I am convinced this is where the problem lies with how most people treat the following sixteen chapters of the book. They are so emotionally invested in the Burpo”s traumatic account that they judge the experiences described by Colton on an emotional level rather than against the Word of God. It is an easy thing to do, but nevertheless fogs their judgment.
A perfect example of this is illustrated by a forward written in the book by Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendant of the Wesleyan Church where Todd Burpo is a pastor. Clearly even if Jo Anne Lyon does not know the Burpo”s well personally, she will undoubtedly know people who do know them personally, and their story will have been the talking point of their church life for a long, long time. In her forward she writes:
Colton”s story could have been in the New Testament.
This declaration causes me serious concern. Yes, part of Colton”s story could have been in the New Testament, but equally there are parts of his story that are most definitely extra-biblical (i.e. descriptions that go beyond what is stated in the Bible) and even more disturbingly, some parts are even counter-biblical (i.e. descriptions that contradict what is stated in the Bible). When held up to the light of the New Testament we clearly see that Colton”s story is a mixture; not all of his account is biblical and we must “Test all things” against the word of God.
It is clear from what else Jo Anne Lyon writes in her forward that she is more than willing to accept the extra-biblical parts of Colton”s story as being further divine revelation from God. She writes:
God has chosen to speak to us in the twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of a child, revealing some of the mysteries of heaven.
Would God really use a three year old child to reveal new information about the afterlife that He has not already revealed to us in His Word? I find nothing in Scripture to explain why God would do that. In fact the Bible tells us that God has delivered to us the faith “Once for all” (Jude 3), meaning it was not partially revealed to the first century church, only to need further revelation to later generations of Christians; it is not a developing revelation as some would suggest. Psalm 12:6 confirms the “words of the Lord are pure words” and Proverbs 30:5-6 declares:
5 Every word of God is pure; he is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. 6 Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
Does it really sound like God has left His Word unfinished, to have the gaps filled in by further divine revelation?
The Bible repeatedly warns about those who would claim to have other/new revelations from God. The Bible ends with a warning and a curse to those who try to add to or take away from God”s book (Revelation 22:18-19). Jo Anne Lyon is therefore walking on very thin ice by suggesting that God would use a three year old boy to provide new revelation about heaven to His people.
Furthermore, if Colton Burpo”s experience of heaven is real, why do elements of his account contradict what is already in the Word of God? That is a question I found no one in the book asking, and it is a question that needs to be asked: “Test all things” is the instruction God gives us.
That is exactly what I have tried to do when examining the content of the book. As difficult as it was, I put aside the emotional connection I felt for the family as a result of following the Burpo”s journey through such a traumatic ordeal, and suppressed my desire for it all to be real and of “of God”. I set my mind to “Test all things” contained in the book in accordance with God”s instruction.
Colton”s traumatic illness occurred in March 2003, shortly before his fourth birthday in the May. It is now July 2003 and the whole family is driving to see Sonja”s brother in South Dakota. Shortly after stopping to fill up with fuel Todd notices that if they made a left turn it would take them passed the Great Plains Regional Medical Center where they had spent (in their own words) “fifteen nightmarish days in March”.
Todd turns to Colton in the backseat of the car and jokingly asks him if he wants to go back to hospital, to which Colton replies with a definitive no and suggests they should send Cassie (his older sister) this time instead. Sonja then asks Colton if he remembers the hospital, to which he replies:
Yes, mommy, I remember. That”s where the angels sang to me.
Somewhat surprised at this answer, Todd asks Colton what the angels sang to him, to which Colton answers:
Well, they sang “Jesus Loves Me” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” €¦ I asked them to sing “We Will Rock You”, but they wouldn”t sing that.
Colton then goes on to explain that Jesus had the angels sing to him because he was scared and they made him feel better. He also said he was sat on Jesus” lap. Colton”s dad then asks where he was when he saw Jesus. Colton replies:
At the hospital. You know, when Dr. O”Holleran was working on me… When I was with Jesus, you were praying, and Mommy was talking on the phone €¦ I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body. And I saw you and Mommy. You were in a little room by yourself, praying; and Mommy was in a different room, and she was praying and talking on the phone.
The understandable question immediately forming in the minds of Colton”s parents was: How could he know this stuff?
A week later back at home Colton volunteered:
Hey, Dad, did you know Jesus has a horse?… A rainbow horse. I got to pet him. There”s lots of colours (page 63).
Todd asks where there are lots of colours, to which Colton replies:
In heaven, Dad. That”s where all the rainbow colours are.
Todd admits in the book that up until this point he has assumed Colton had experienced some sort of “divine visitation. Maybe Jesus and the angels had appeared to him in hospital”. But based on this new information being offered by his son he suddenly realises that his son is talking about having actually visited heaven. He then goes on to write:
I began to wrap my mind around the possibility that this was real €¦ He [Colton] had authenticated that by telling us things he couldn”t have known. It dawned on me that maybe we”d been given a gift and that out job now was to unwrap it, slowly, carefully, and see what was inside (page 64).
He also repeats this later in the book:
He [Colton] had authenticated his experience by telling me things he could not otherwise have known (page 77).
It is clear from this admission from Todd that he had just accepted his son”s experience based on the word of knowledge he had given regarding where he and his wife were at the time of Colton being in surgery; he had allowed this supernatural knowledge to authenticate his son”s experience. This is dangerous and not the way in which God tells is to “Test all things” in accordance with His Word. As difficult as it is, as a father, as a church pastor, as just a believer in Christ, Todd should have at that early stage done what John instructs us to do:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
His son very clearly knew things that could only have been revealed to him supernaturally, but to automatically assume it was revealed to him by God without being prepared to “test the spirits” is very, very dangerous.
Todd does question Colton further, but it is clear from his above declaration that his further questions were not intended to “test the spirits” and the origin of the apparent knowledge his son had. If he had, the conversation that followed contained more than enough warning signals for anyone prepared to “Test all things“.
Todd asks Colton to describe Jesus, to which Colton explains that He has brown hair, a beard, pretty eyes and wore a white robe with a purple sash and a golden crown. The crown he wore apparently had a pink diamond in the middle of it. Most of what Colton describes so far could be regarded as being biblical from what we know Scripture already says, or what we can comfortably assume from knowing Jesus” ethnicity as a Jew. Some is perhaps extra-biblical (like the pink diamond in Jesus” crown); it is all information Colton could have stored up in his mind from Bible stories his parents could have read to him, and listened to at Sunday school. But then Colton volunteers something else:
Jesus had markers.
In response to his dad asking him where Jesus had markers, Colton points to the top of his feet and holds out his right hand, palm up and points to the centre of his palm. Now at this stage I have to confess that my reaction was very different to that of Todd Burpo. Todd”s reaction is recorded on page 67:
He [Colton] saw this. He had to have. We know where the nails were driven when Jesus was crucified €¦ Catholic kids grow up with that image, but Protestant kids €¦ (italics in original).
Nail marks in the centre of Christ”s palms? That certainly is a Catholic image, but not reality. Catholic paintings and statues depict Christ being nailed to the cross in the middle of the palm, and indeed the demonically inspired “stigmata” wounds experienced by some Catholics are always in the centre of the palm, but the simple fact is that a nail through the middle of the palm would not be sufficient to hold most of the weight of a man on a cross. The nail would tear through the hand. The Romans would have known this from experience and therefore Jesus would have been nailed to the cross by the nails being hammered in the lower wrist, in a place between the wrist bones called the “space of destot”.
This location would allow the nails to support the weight of an adult man in a way that a nail through the centre of the palm would not, because the ligaments which join the eight wrist bones (carpal bones) are thicker and stronger than those which connect the bones of the palm (metacarpal bones).
For a church pastor raised in a Christian family (as he states in the book) Todd”s ignorance over how Jesus was nailed to the cross is staggering; ignorance that prevents him from being able (or willing) to properly “test the spirits” behind his son”s experience.
If Colton really had seen the Jesus of the Bible, why would Jesus manifest Himself in a way that is only supported by Catholic imagery? The question has to be honestly asked: Did Colton meet a different Jesus?
Wings and halos
Having already accepted that his son has met with Jesus in heaven, he moves on to asking about what people look like in heaven. Colton informs his dad that:
Everybody”s got wings (page 72).
He then goes on to explain that everyone has wings and the wings are of varying size. In fact, whilst everyone flew in heaven, Jesus is the only person in heaven who does not have wings, because:
Jesus just went up and down like an elevator.
He then adds:
Everyone kind of looks like angels in heaven €¦ All the people have a light above their head (page 73).
At this stage I want to point out something that Todd Burpo does time and time again when his son tells him of his experience in heaven. Colton reveals to his dad four things:
1. Everyone in heaven has wings, apart from Jesus
2. Jesus just goes up and down without wings (like and elevator)
3. Everyone looks like angels in heaven
4. Everyone in heaven has a light above their heads
In response to being told these supernatural revelations Todd recalls a scene from the book of Acts (Acts 1:9-11) where Jesus” disciples witness Him ascend into heaven (obviously without wings). Acts 1:9-11 confirms that Jesus could effectively “fly” without wings, so this part of Colton”s account could be regarded as being in accordance with what the Bible states. But recalling Acts 1:9-11 clearly distracts Todd from honestly “Testing all things” that Colton describes; the obvious extra-biblical stuff Colton describes.
What about Colton”s claim that everyone has wings (of varying sizes), everyone looks like angels and everyone has a light above their heads? In Todd”s mind because part of what Colton says can be substantiated by Scripture, then all of what Colton says about his experience must be true.
He does then explain that he racked his brain for what he knew about angels and light and then recalls a number of occasions “when angels turn up, they”re sometimes dazzlingly bright”. However, it is clear from the Bible passages he quotes that he has already decided that all of what Colton has described is biblical. For example, he recalls Matthew 28:3 when an angel appears to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb of Jesus and:
His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.
He then recalls Acts 6:15 where Stephen is stoned to death but those sat on the Jewish court:
Saw his face as the face of an angel.
Todd even then admits that he could not “remember angels having lights over their heads specifically ” or halos, as some would call them”, but nevertheless in his own mind he has recalled sufficient Scripture to authenticate all his son”s claims. On the basis of the Bible verses that came to mind he accepted without any further testing or investigation that everyone in heaven look like angels and have wings and have lights (halos) above their heads. Does anyone else have a problem with any of that?
The Bible tells us that the resurrection of believers’ transformed physical bodies is yet to take place and provides no description of what form those now in Heaven take (to which Colton refers to seeing and talking with). There is certainly no mention of the Saints in heaven having wings (or halos).
In fact, other than the descriptive visions of the heavenly creatures known as cherubim and seraphim (Ezekiel 10:5), and the decorative designs in the Temple and upon the Mercy Seat, even angels that appear to humanity are never described as having wings. Colton”s description is most definitely extra-biblical at best.
And halos!? Do the Saints in heaven turn Catholic??
Halos have absolutely no biblical basis and the Bible verses Todd quotes in an attempt to justify his son”s claims are misguided at best and dishonest at worst. Halos are both pagan and non-Christian and originated with the Hellenists three centuries before the birth of Christ, and are prevalent in Roman Catholic imagery. Interestingly, we read Todd stating on page 152:
A lot of our Catholic friends have asked whether Colton saw Mary, the mother of Jesus. The answer to that is yes. He saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times, standing beside Jesus. “She still loves him like a mom,” Colton said.
The descriptions of Mary, Jesus” “markers” and halos all sit very comfortably with Roman Catholicism. This fact alone should concern any Bible-believing Christian reading Colton”s account of heaven.
Rather than being a cause for concern, Todd uses his son”s Catholic extra-biblical claims about halos to authenticate the claim of another young child; the young daughter of one of their friends, who claimed to see halos above the heads of certain people at her church. Todd wonders whether his friend”s daughter has seen the halos because, like Colton, she has a childlike faith. He then quotes Matthew 18:3-4 as if finding biblical justification:
Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
This verse has absolutely nothing to do with gullibly accepting extra-biblical and counter-biblical experiences. This verse refers to having a child-like saving faith in Jesus. I begin to wonder what this church pastor is teaching his flock, let alone his children.
Interestingly, there are examples of professing believers apparently sporting halos on earth, but these individuals are people that no Bible believing Christian should want to be associated with, or emulate. One such man is William Branham. When Branham was born it was said that a halo of light shone over his head; a halo that continued to appear over his head from time to time throughout his ministry, such as the one apparently captured in the photograph below.
I will come back to this man later.
Speaking with the dead
On page 86 we read of a conversation between Todd and Colton in which Colton asks:
Dad, you had a grandpa named Pop, didn”t you?
A conversation then ensues in which it is clear that Colton met his dad”s grandpa whilst in heaven; a man who died when Todd was not much older than Colton, so Colton had never met personally on earth. According to Colton, Pop has really big wings and they spent time together in heaven.
Later in the book we find Todd showing Colton a photo of Pop at the age of 61 and telling him this is how he remembers Pop. Colton looks at the photo and says:
Dad, nobody”s old in heaven. And nobody wears glasses (page 121).
Sometime later Todd manages to procure from his mother a photo of Pop aged 29. He shows Colton the photo, which Colton immediately recognises as the man he met in heaven who introduced himself as Pop:
How did you get a picture of Pop?
Not only has Colton spoken with his dead great-grandfather, but we also find out that Colton had contact with a dead sister. On page 94 we read of Colton making yet another astonishing claim in a very matter-of-fact way that would appear to authenticate his story of visiting heaven. He says to his mum:
Mommy, I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy didn”t you?
Sonja asked Colton who told him she had a baby die in her tummy, to which Colton replies:
She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy… It”s okay. God adopted her… In heaven, this little girl ran up to me, and she wouldn”t stop hugging me €¦ She doesn”t have a name. You guys didn”t name her… She said she just can”t wait for you and Daddy to get to heaven.
Sonja Burpo had indeed had a miscarriage in between giving birth to their eldest daughter Cassie and giving birth to Colton, and they had not named the child because they had not known whether it had been a boy or a girl.
So here we have Colton describing (with remarkable and supernatural ability) accounts of conversations with dead relatives in heaven. I am not suggesting that miscarried children are not in heaven; I have experienced the pain of this personally and believe there is a strong biblical case for children who die prior to the age of personal responsibility (whenever that may be) going to heaven.
My issue with Colton having direct contact with his miscarried sister (and indeed his great-grandfather) is threefold. Firstly there is absolutely no example in Scripture of someone visiting heaven and having contact with a dead loved-one. This therefore makes Colton”s experience extra-biblical. Secondly, contrary to what I believe the Word of God does say on the subject, Todd states:
Even though the Bible is largely silent on this point, we had accepted it on faith. But now, we had an eyewitness (page 97).
Todd unquestioningly accepts his young son”s story as an “eyewitness” account and therefore bases his understanding and faith on that, rather than the Word of God. A jaw-dropping admission for any Christian let alone a church pastor. But then on page 62 we have Todd confessing that:
If he [Colton] had really has seen Jesus and the angels, I wanted to become the student, not the teacher!
Todd, father and church pastor, wants to become student to his four year old son. Does anyone else have a problem with that? I am pretty sure God does:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Thirdly, and even more importantly, Colton”s experience contravenes a direct commandment of God, thus making it counter-biblical (i.e. contrary to what the Bible states). Deuteronomy 18:11 forbids contact with the dead. It is called necromancy and is associated with the occult practices of mediums and spiritists:
10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead (emphasis added).
As Colton says that his sister immediately recognised him and cannot wait for her Mommy and Daddy to get to heaven (and his great-grandfather Pop also recognised him ” page 103) the strong suggestion is that those in heaven have some kind of knowledge of what is happening on earth. However, the Bible makes absolutely no suggestion that that is the case, meaning Colton”s claim is extra-biblical at best.
I was also very concerned to read later in the book how Colton became extremely disturbed and inconsolable at missing his sister in heaven and how his story about his dead sister affected other people. There is an account in the book of how Colton became inconsolable and disturbed about missing his dead sister whilst being babysat by a family friend. Colton cried out:
I miss her so much €¦ I don”t understand why my sister is dead €¦ I don”t know why she”s in heaven and not here (page 129).
Colton then proceeds to tell his confused babysitter the whole story of how he visited heaven and met his dead sister.
First of all, if Colton visiting heaven and meeting his dead sister really was a gift from God, why would God allow the little boy to be so disturbed and confused by the event afterwards? After all, 1 Corinthians 14:33 declares:
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.
It is very clear from the account of Colton”s experience that he was confused and not at peace.
Secondly, we read the following about the young babysitter:
Ali had grown up in a Christian home but had entertained the same doubts as so many of us do: for example, how did we know any one religion is different from any other? But Colton”s story about his sister strengthened her Christian faith (emphasis added).
I genuinely doubt whether anyone”s Christian faith could really be strengthened by the extra-biblical story of a three year old, who is inconsolably upset and confused at missing his dead sister. No doubt the young babysitter was affected emotionally by seeing Colton so upset and hearing his story, but Romans 10:17 tells us that:
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Faith does not come from hearing the extra-biblical and counter-biblical testimony of a disturbed toddler. But then this is not the only time that hearing the Word of God is substituted for hearing about Colton”s experience. For example, the unusual nature of Colton”s recovery had not gone unnoticed by at least some of the medical staff at the hospital and a nurse approached Todd and said:
€¦ seeing your boy the way he is today, this is a miracle. There has to be a God, because this is a miracle (page 148)
Todd responded by telling the nurse that the church had been praying for Colton and that he believes God answered their prayers, but then went no further. He writes:
€¦ she didn”t need a sermon ” she”d already seen one.
She had witnessed a miracle without a shadow of a doubt, but she still needed to hear the Word of God, she needed to hear about Jesus, she needed to hear why she needed Jesus, but Todd felt that the nurse seeing his son was a sermon in itself and enough. It was not.
Consider the story Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man, who has died, is in a place of torment and suffering terrible remorse. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers so they would not end up in the same place as him, because they would certainly take notice of an “eyewitness”. In response:
Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”30 And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.””
Abraham said if the rich man”s brothers would not heed the warning of the prophets (i.e. what was written down in the Old Testament) then they would not take any notice of an “eyewitness”. In the same way, Colton Burpo”s “eyewitness” account of heaven should not be regarded as a replacement for preaching the Word of God.
I found further evidence that Todd views Colton”s experience as somehow superseding the need for the Word of God on page 111 when discussing Good Friday with Cassie and Colton. He asks Cassie if she knew what Good Friday was and she responds:
That”s the day Jesus died on the cross.
All good so far. Todd then asks Cassie if she knew why Jesus died on the cross, but Cassie could not answer that question. A seven year old girl, raised by a Christian pastor in a Christian home and she does not know why Jesus died on the cross! Just what has she been taught by her parents and Sunday school teachers? But of course Colton can answer the question, because he has been to heaven and Jesus has told him personally why he died on the cross. He proudly declares:
Well, Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could go see his Dad.
In response to this Todd writes:
In my mind”s eye, I saw Jesus, with Colton on his lap, brushing past all the seminary degrees, knocking down theological treatises stacked high as skyscrapers, and boiling down fancy words like propitiation and soteriology to something a child could understand: “I had to die on the cross so that people on earth could come see my Dad” (italics in original).
The way in which he describes his son brushing past seminary degrees and knocking down theological treatises, and boiling down fancy words like propitiation and soteriology, plays down the importance of doctrine and places his son”s extra-biblical and counter-biblical experience above biblical doctrine. There is a word for that: Mysticism.
Doctrine is just a word used to describe biblical knowledge; knowledge that is the very foundation of our Christian faith and deemed important enough by God for Him to inspire men to write down and preserve for us. Doctrine is for every Christian, not just those who choose to study theology at Bible seminary.
Whilst Todd is prepared to accept his son”s description of why Christ died without question, the reality is that it boils it down way too much. Christ did not die so people could come see His Dad. Christ died on the cross so we could be forgiven for our sins and be reconciled to Him and avoid eternal punishment. Whilst Christ died for the whole world, it is only effectual for those who believe on Him and make Him their Lord and Saviour:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Nowhere in the book is the requirement given for getting to heaven.
Throne of God
This is another perfect example of how Colton”s account is a mixture of being biblical, extra-biblical and counter-biblical. Todd asks Colton if he has seen the Throne of God. Colton says yes, so Todd asks him which side of God”s Throne Jesus sits on. Granted, Colton has a 50-50 chance of getting this correct, but he does nevertheless get the answer correct by stating Jesus sits on the right side of God”s Throne. Todd recalls Hebrews 12:2:
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Todd then decides to test his son”s story ” about time! ” by asking Colton the question: Who sits on the other side of God”s Throne? Colton replies:
Oh, that”s easy, Dad. That”s where the angel Gabriel is. He”s really nice (page 101).
Todd”s response to this answer is:
Gabriel. That makes sense.
Then, as a way of biblically authenticating his son”s answer, Todd recalls to mind the story of John the Baptist and the moment when Gabriel arrives to deliver the news of his coming birth as recorded in Luke 1. He specifically recalls Luke 1:19 in which Gabriel declares:
I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
Can you see what Todd Burpo has done here? Something he does time and time again throughout his book. He misapplies and takes out of context a Bible verse as a way of authenticating the extra-biblical information his son has told him as a way of trying to make it biblical! The reality is that Luke 1:19 says nothing about Gabriel sitting at the left hand of God; it says he “stands in the presence of God“, which is what the angels do!
There is absolutely no reference in the Bible about who sits at the left hand of God, yet Todd accepts his son”s claim without question and misuses the Word of God in an attempt to authenticate his son”s claim.
The gates of heaven
A further, but very simple, example of Colton”s account being both extra-biblical and counter-biblical is his description of the gates of heaven, which he describes as follows:
They were made of gold and there were pearls on them (page 105).
In contrast, Revelation 21:21 says:
The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
According to the Word of God each individual gate is made of an individual pearl (or at least the twelve gates of the new eternal Jerusalem that will come out of heaven). There is no mention of the gates being made of gold with multiple pearls on them, as Colton describes. As with so much of Colton”s account, his description sounds biblical, but in reality is not.
Therefore, how could Colton have seen these gates? His description of them is counter-biblical.
The Holy Spirit
Did you know the Holy Spirit is blue?
That is not a comment on the Holy Spirit”s melancholy mood. On page 102-103 of the book Colton describes how he was given a little chair to sit next to the Holy Spirit, of whom Colton says:
He”s kind of blue.
Colton says he was sitting beside the Holy Spirit because he was praying for his dad. Colton telling his dad that he was praying for him in heaven caused Todd to recall Hebrews 12:1 as biblical justification, which declares:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses €¦ let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
That is exactly how Todd quotes Hebrews 12:1 in his book; he completely erases the middle part, which declares:
€¦let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.
So, not only does he miss a significant section out of the verse, but he also uses it completely out of context by suggesting it is referring to a “cloud of witnesses” praying for us on earth. It disturbs me all the way through the book how Todd seems to mix up and so easily confuse biblical doctrine with Catholic dogma, because it is the Roman Catholic Church that teaches we can ask the Saints in heaven to pray for us and uses Hebrews 12:1 as a so-called “proof text” for that unbiblical practice; Catholicism teaches that the Saints in heaven can act as “intercessors” for us before God, because a Saint, who is glorified in heaven, has more “direct access” to God than we do. Therefore, if a Saint in heaven delivers a prayer to God on our behalf, it is more effective than us praying to God directly. This is blatantly unbiblical, because Hebrews 4:16 tells us we can “come boldly to the throne of grace“. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 2:5 declares:
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.
Our only mediator is Jesus!
Regarding Todd”s use of Hebrews 12:1, taken in context this verse directly follows a list of Old Testament people who are noted for their faithfulness to God. The “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us refers to the Old Testament saints and their legacy and example that permeates the Church, giving us encouragement to live as we should. It is not suggesting that they are in heaven praying for us.
In addition to the Holy Spirit being “kind of blue”, Colton also seems to get confused between the Holy Spirit being a person and a kind of impersonal force used by Jesus. For example, whilst Colton claims to have sat next to the Holy Spirit, he also claims:
I”ve seen power shot down to Daddy €¦ Jesus shoots down power for Daddy when he”s talking €¦ When he”s telling Bible stories to people (page 125).
Prepare for war
On page 136 we read of Colton telling his Dad:
There”s going to be a war, and it”s going to destroy this world. Jesus and the angels and the good people are going to fight against Satan and the monsters and the bad people. I saw it €¦ the women and the children got to stand back and watch. So I stood back and watched €¦ But the men, they had to fight. And Dad, I watched you. You have to fight too.
Todd asks Colton when he sees him in heaven what is he is fighting the monsters with, to which Colton answers:
You either get a sword or a bow and arrow, but I don”t remember which (page 138).
Todd immediately decides that his son is describing the battle of Armageddon and recalls to mind Revelation 20:1-3 and 7-10 as biblical verification. This is where Todd gets things very confused, because Revelation 20:1-3 describes Jesus casting the Devil into the bottomless pit as a result of Him defeating the Antichrist and the False Prophet at the battle of Armageddon (which is referenced back in Revelation 16:16, not in Revelation 20). Todd then jumps forward one thousand years by quoting Revelation 20:7-10, which describes the Devil being temporarily released from his thousand year bondage:
7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.
This is not the battle of Armageddon. The battle of Armageddon takes place one thousand years prior to the gathering of the nations by the Devil described in Revelation 20:7-10.
Revelation 20:9 says:
They [the nations gathered by the Devil] went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city [Jerusalem].
Even accepting for a moment Todd”s assumption that the saints referred to in the above passage are Christians, does Revelation 20 say there will be a huge battle waged between God and Christians and the Devil and his “monsters”, as Colton says? NO. The second part of verse nine tells us what happens:
And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.
God destroys the gathered armies of the nations all on His own without any help from the saints (whoever you believe the saints are referenced in Revelation 20).
But what of the battle of Armageddon itself? Do Christians have to fight in that? After all (even though Todd did not quote it) Revelation 19:11-14 describes King Jesus riding out with the “armies of heaven” following him:
And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses (Revelation 19:14).
The following verse gives the answer:
15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (Revelation 19:15).
It is King Jesus whom defeats the gathered armies of the Antichrist. There is absolutely no mention of the “armies of heaven” doing anything other than following their king at the battle of Armageddon. King Jesus defeats all before Him at the Battle of Armageddon without the help of anyone.
Bearing in mind the epilogue of the book informs us that Todd graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University summa cum laude (i.e. “with the highest distinction”) with a BA in Theology, it beggars belief that he would so readily accept without question his son”s claim that he will fight in an End Times war and try to use the passages in Revelation that he quotes as biblical verification. One can therefore only conclude that he has some pre-existing belief that he will be a “warrior” for God doing battle in an End Times war; a belief that Colton was merely reaffirming and providing a little more revelation on.
There is absolutely nothing in Scripture to suggest that Christians will do battle at the end of the age with Jesus against Satan and his army. In fact, the only suggestion of such a thing is propagated by the “Dominionist” teaching of “Joel”s Army”, which teaches that a future generation of “super-Christians” will perform “signs and wonders” and will usher in God”s kingdom by supernatural military force.
This teaching is born out of the “Manifest Sons of God” heresy and is based on a total misinterpretation of Joel 2, which when prophetically referring to an army in fact describes a demonic army of avenging locusts, and is further referenced as such in Revelation 9!
Jesus does not need us to fight the Devil for Him or with Him. He has already won the victory. Colton is describing, and his dad is blindly accepting, a vision of something completely counter-biblical. But hey, if he said he saw it then it must be true, right?
The only fight we as believers are told to fight is described in 1 Timothy 6:12:
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
We are to fight the good fight of faith.
The only sword God will ever give a believer is the one referenced in Ephesians 6:17, which is the Word of God.
The only way we are to engage the Devil in battle is with the Word of God, not swords and bows and arrows. Fighting the Devil with the Word of God enables us to resist the Devil (James 4:7).
The face of Jesus
All the way through the book we read of Todd and Sonja showing Colton various pictures of Jesus and asking him if it is a true likeness of Him. Colton consistently says no, but almost three years after the surgery some friends of the Burpo”s forward to them an email about a report CNN had run in December 2006. Todd writes:
The story was about a young Lithuanian-American girl named Akiane Kramarik, who lived in Idaho. Twelve years old at the time of the CNN segment, Akiane (pronounced AH-KEE-AHNA) had begun having “visions” of heaven at the age of four, the email said. Her descriptions of heaven sounded remarkably like Colton”s €¦ (page 142).
Akiane Kramarik was born 9/7/1994. She has a truly remarkable gift for someone so young; a talent she says was given to her during her visit to heaven. She has painted portraits of Jesus based on her “visions” of Him in heaven. Todd was therefore interested in seeing Colton”s reaction to seeing Akiane”s portrait.
He had shown Colton so many different pictures and portraits of Jesus that Colton had rejected that he showed Colton Akiane”s painting with:
Take a look at this €¦ What”s wrong with this one? (page 144).
Colton looked at the picture in silence, but eventually said:
Dad, that”s the right one (page 145).
Knowing how many pictures Colton had rejected, Todd and Sonja now believed they had seen the face of Jesus.
Instead of validating the authenticity of either Colton”s or Akiane”s experiences by comparing them against what the Bible says, many people, including Colton”s parents, have unquestioningly accepted both accounts as being genuine based on the similarities between the two accounts. This is a very unreliable and unbiblical way of examining these children”s accounts of visiting heaven.
Let us consider Akiane”s paintings of Jesus against what the Bible says. First of all, if God wanted us to know in any detail what Jesus looked like He would have given us a description in His Word, but He did not. In fact, the best description of Jesus found in the Bible is in Isaiah:
He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2).
Therefore, Akiane”s paintings of Jesus are extra-biblical because they go way beyond any description provided in the Bible.
Secondly, let us consider what Exodus 20:4-5 says:
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.
God absolutely forbids any attempt at making an image of Him, and that includes the image of Jesus, whether in art, statues or movies for that matter. Why does God forbid it? Verse five provides the answer. It invariably leads to idolatry, which in turn breeds superstition and occultism. Is not Roman Catholicism a perfect example of that in practice?
Because of Exodus 20:4-5 we can say with authority that Akiane”s portraits of Jesus are counter-biblical. We are to believe in Jesus by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
What Akiane says about the Jesus she met with is very telling. On her own website www.akiane.com (where her paintings are advertised for sale for between $10000 and $3million), at the age of 16 she said:
Jesus shared with us: “I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to my Father, but through me.” I feel that he invited us to participate in the divinity. Each of us is one of kind [sic] original path to the way of truth and light, and without our individual love and effort we cannot understand and reach God.
This is a subtle, but significant misquoting of John 14:6 where Jesus declares He is the way, the truth and the life, not light. Just an innocent mistake? Not a chance. This is a commonly misquoted verse by the New Age Movement, which follows a Jesus who, just like the Jesus Akiane met, invites people to participate in their divinity. No wonder there is a gushing endorsement from Oprah Winfrey on Akiane”s website!
It does not take much delving into the New Age Movement to expose the concept of their occult “light-god”. A best selling New Age book in the 1990″s was Embraced by the Light by Betty Edie. The concept of light is a cornerstone to New Age thinking.
The popular New Age prayer called The Great Invocation by Alice Bailey (originally published by Lucifer Publishing), begins with the words:
From the point of Light within the mind of God let Light stream forth into the minds of men. Let Light descend on Earth.
The prayer then ends with the words:
Let Light and love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.
Marilyn Ferguson (1938-2008), author, editor and public speaker, published in 1980 her best-selling New Age guide-book The Aquarian Conspiracy, in which she is quoted as saying about the New Age concept of “light”:
Always, the vision of evolution toward the light. Light is the oldest and most pervasive metaphor in spiritual experience. We speak of enlightenment, the city of light, the light of the word, children of light, the “white-light experience” (page 385).
The popular New Age publication New Dawn time and time again makes reference to the “light”. The following quote is just typical of the material published in New Dawn:
The great spiritual teachers tell us that the chaos of the modern age is merely part of the natural order, that out of this chaos, a new age of harmony and grace will emerge. Many of us are moving beyond this phase in the cycle, realigning ourselves with spirit and feeling the great call to the light. We are planting the seeds for the world to come (Sharron Rose, “2012: A Time Odyssey”, No. 106, Jan-Feb 2008).
Akiane changing the word of John 14:6 from “life” to “light” is no coincidence.
Furthermore, the Jesus of the Bible did not come for people to “participate in the divinity”. In the New Age Movement, man is divine and the New Age Jesus is not the way, he merely has the “Christ consciousness”; a form of divinity that anyone can participate in. The New Age Jesus encourages man to connect and participate in their own divinity.
Akiane paints the portrait of the Jesus she met; the same Jesus Colton recognised as meeting. Akiane paints the portrait of the New Age Jesus, not the Jesus of the Bible.
Even by the end of the book I still found myself liking the Burpo family; I laughed out loud at reading in the epilogue that sister Cassie wanted to call the book: He”s Back, but He”s No Angel.
But no matter how much I warmed to the Burpo family I also found them to be frighteningly na ¯ve in the way they did not “Test all things” that their son claimed against the Word of God. They were prepared to accept or overlook the extra-biblical and counter-biblical issues on the strength of the words of knowledge Colton told them. Were they right to do this? After all, Colton passed the Deuteronomy 18 test:
When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18:22).
A word of knowledge that could only be known through supernatural means is no different to a prophecy and should be tested in the same way. What Colton was able to tell his parents about his miscarried sister and great grandpa Pop passes the Deuteronomy 18 test.
So what now? He should be tested against Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which tells us that even if what is prophesied comes true, we should not judge the authenticity of the prophet just by the fact that what they said comes true. Deuteronomy 13 tells us that we should judge that persons authenticity by what he teaches, not by the “signs and wonders”. What does Colton teach?
Jesus has a pet rainbow horse.
People in heaven have wings and halos and look like angels.
Jesus” “markers” are in the middle of the palm of His hands.
Believers will fight in an End Times war against the Devil with swords and bows and arrows.
The Holy Spirit is “kind of blue” and God “shoots” Him down to people.
The angel Gabriel sits at the left hand of God.
These are the things taught by Colton Burpo. These are the things that cause him to fail the Deuteronomy 13 test. These are the reasons why we should seriously question the origin of his experiences and “Test the spirits“, no matter how much we want to believe; I want to believe Colton”s account, but the Word of God will not allow me to do that.
Colton is without doubt able to tell people remarkable things that he would not normally know; words of knowledge that could only be made known to him by supernatural means. But so could the man I mentioned earlier, William Branham, and his “visions” started at the age of three!
The things Branham did are very well documented and certainly were both impressive and undeniably supernatural. He would call out words of knowledge that were incredibly accurate. He would take hold of a persons hand, tell them their name and the illness they were suffering from, and then heal them from it.
However, what Branham taught and believed was plainly occult. He believed in three Bibles: the Scriptures, the Zodiac and the pyramids ” he preached that all three were equal revelations from God. He believed he was the seventh angel of the book of Revelation and Elijah the prophet. He denied that Eve ate the fruit from the tree. Instead he taught his “Serpent Seed” doctrine that Eve had sex with Satan, which produced Cain, which is where the lost come from. What Branham preached was without doubt “another gospel” which opened him up to receiving “another spirit”, as Paul warned about in 2 Corinthians 11:4:
For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!
William Branham deceived ” and continues to deceive many years after his death – thousands upon thousands of professing Christians, not because the warning signs were not there for all to see, but because Christians chose to ignore the warning signs (i.e. the extra-biblical and counter-biblical things he said and taught) in order to accept the amazing supernatural stuff he could do. Why is it any different with the experience of this little boy Colton? Why do so many Christians put up with the obvious extra-biblical and counter-biblical nonsense he claims? The answer is because of the amazing supernatural stuff he can also do; the words of knowledge he is able to give are used to validate and authenticate his claimed experience of heaven, in spite of much of what he says about that experience is extra-biblical or even counter-biblical. That is exactly how thousands upon thousands of professing Christians to this day still believe William Branham was a true believer and a genuine prophet of Yahweh. They validate the man”s ministry by the supernatural stuff he could very clearly do. Just like Colton”s parents did (see pages 64 and 77), millions of people have validated Colton Burpo”s account of heaven by the words of knowledge he has been able to give.
Some reading this article may be wondering why God would allow false prophets like Colton Burpo and William Branham to perform real “signs and wonders”? Deuteronomy 13:3 gives us the answer:
You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (emphasis added).
God allows false prophets (for now) in order to test our loyalty and obedience to Him and His Word. This is no trivial matter, because it is God who tests them. God was first and foremost testing Colton”s father, Todd. I cannot say why, but it is clear He did and Todd failed; he has failed his son.
Is this because Todd Burpo is following a false doctrine of some kind, which has left his family open to spiritual deception? I cannot say for sure, but there has to be some reason why a child of professing Christian parents would have such an experience.
What I can say for sure is that one of the producers of the movie Heaven Is For Real is T. D. Jakes, bishop/chief pastor of The Potters House 30000 strong mega-church in America. This is a man who denies the doctrine of the Trinity and has made millions of dollars through his preaching of the Word Faith heresy.
Jakes makes no effort to separate himself from other false teachers. He regularly appears with Benny Hinn, and his Mega-Fest 2004 Conference included Word Faith heretics such as Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyer. He has also been associated with Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, Jesse Duplantis and Oral Roberts. Hardly the kind of man you would want producing a Christian film.
So many Christians seem to take the attitude that because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they are immune from the threat of being deceived. But if that is true why would there be so much warning in Scripture about the threat of being deceived. Why warn of something that cannot happen? John warned:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
If it were not possible to be deceived by demonic spirits, why would we need to test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God?
Jesus warned His disciples not to be deceived; warning in fact that shortly before His return the deception will be so great that even the elect will succumb to it:
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many (Matthew 24:4-5).
For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).
Peter warned the Church:
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Paul warned the Church of the dangers of being deceived:
3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (Galatians 6:7).
Paul exhorted believers to:
Test all things; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Why would we need to test all things if all things experienced by believers are always only good? The answer is obvious, yet many believers have the attitude that deception is “for other people”. But the question is: Which other people?
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
It is absolutely clear that Christians can be deceived, and that a sign of Jesus” Second Coming getting closer will be that believers will be deceived.
Literally millions of Christians have already been deceived by the book and no doubt millions more (and non-Christians) will be deceived by the movie, and will draw their understanding of heaven from Colton Burpo”s false account instead of the Word of God. Perhaps there are some reading who disagree with that statement. If so, who do they think bought the six million copies of the book, or the $21million worth of cinema tickets on just the opening weekend of the movie in America? The very intention for the book to change our understanding of heaven is declared for all to see on the back cover, which says:
Heaven Is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child.
This would not be the first time Christians have based their understanding of a Christian doctrine from extra-biblical writings and a Hollywood movie. How many Christians went to see Mel Gibson”s The Passion of Christ and were emotionally affected by it and came out of the cinema declaring it was biblically sound in spite of the movie containing numerous historical and biblical inaccuracies and was based on the visions of two Catholic mystics called Anne Catherine Emmerich (8/9/1774-9/2/1824) and Mary of Agreda (died 1665)? That fact is no secret. Gibson acknowledges that the writings of these two women were important to the journey that led him to make the film. Just like Heaven Is For Real, Mel Gibson”s The Passion of Christ is a mixture. Parts are biblical, parts are extra-biblical and parts are counter-biblical.
Heaven is for real, but a biblical examination of Colton Burpo”s account exposes it not to be real, or at least not really from God. It is a mixture of the biblical, the extra-biblical and counter-biblical.
Proverbs 30:5-6 declares
5 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. 6 Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
The extra-biblical parts of Colton Burpo”s account do what God forbids: They add to the Word of God. These parts, combined with the counter-biblical parts of his account, find Colton”s account to be a lie.
Even if everything about his account could be verified in Scripture it still would not guarantee his experience was genuine, but the extra-biblical and counter-biblical descriptions guarantee that Colton”s account is not real, or at least not really from God. One would have to ignore the Word of God to conclude otherwise and that would mean failing the test put in place by God in Deuteronomy 13; something I do not want anyone to do:
For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 13:3).
I want Colton Burpo”s account to be real, but I want to be obedient to God”s Word more.