28 March 2011

Heaven is For Real

Heaven is for real. I know that for certain. And not because some kid told me, but because Jesus Christ said so.

It seems like well over a year now since I first heard about Colton, the boy who supposedly visited Heaven at the age of 4 while undergoing an operation, and whose father decided to put the story into print. I dismissed it at the time because, well, I'm a Christian. I don't need some random child to come along and prove Heaven to me. I have the Bible, and that is more than enough for me. If Paul wasn't allowed to detail his visit to Heaven (2 Cor. 12:1-3), why would I choose to listen to this child's story (or the stories of others who make the same false claims)? And if I choose to put my hope into the story of a mere human, a child no less, then I have some serious issues with my faith, and I better be on my knees repenting rather than reading light-hearted tales of people walking around as perpetual 30 year olds with wings.

Lately, though, this story has seen a resurgence. Todd Burpo, Colton's father and author of the book Heaven is Real has been making the publicity circuits and self-professed Christians, true to form, are latching onto this thing like they do with every new rage that comes along. Whether its bold beauty queens, child pop stars, or the latest trip to the great beyond, "Christians" today will promote just about anything. They did it with Don Piper and his supposed trip to Heaven as detailed in his farce book 90 Minutes in Heaven, and they're doing it again. Honestly, would it hurt us to exercise even one iota of discernment? But I digress...

I've been a little surprised, and extremely disappointed, in the response of many self-professed believers to this latest claim. "But it's so biblical," I hear. Really? If that's true, then why do you need this book? If this book matches up with the holy Word of God, then why isn't Scripture enough for you? Where did God go wrong in writing His book that makes this story so much better? Why would you rather build your idea of Heaven on the claims of a child than on the words of Jesus Christ? And while you're at it, could you please show me the Bible verse that says that we will all have wings in Heaven? Because I can't find it.

Admittedly, I've largely ignored this latest fascination, but I was still glad to see Tim Challies, Mr. Book Reviewer himself, post a review today about Heaven is For Real. Below are just a few excerpts.
Now, what do I do with a book like this one? It seems to me that there are only a couple of options available to me. I can accept it, agreeing that this little boy is legitimate—he went to heaven and is now telling the tale for our edification. Or I can reject what this boy is saying—he did not go to heaven and this book is fictitious. If I go with this second option (which is exactly what I am doing) I now have two choices before me: either the boy (and/or his parents) is a liar or he genuinely believes he experienced something that he did not actually experience. I know which way I would lean, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.
[T]he Bible gives us no indication whatsoever that God will work in this way and that he will call one of us to heaven and then cause us to return. It is for man to die once and then the resurrection. To allow a man (or a boy) to experience heaven and then to bring him back would not be grace but cruelty. The only biblical example we have of a man being caught up to heaven is Paul and it’s very interesting that he was forbidden to tell anything about it. And the reason he even mentioned this experience was not to offer encouragement that heaven exists, but to serve as a part of his “gospel boasting.” He saw heaven and was told to say nothing about it. This was a unique experience in a unique time and for a unique reason. 
If hope is to be found in any person, it will be found in the person of Christ. It is the Spirit working through the Word who will give us confidence in our faith. And what is faith? It is simply believing that what God says in his Word is true. We do not need tales of heaven or stories of those who claim to be there.
Read Challies' entire review here
I think Challies hits a bullseye in his brief review of this book, and I encourage you to visit his site and read the rest of it. The bottom line is, in whom does your confidence lie, God or man? With that, I'll leave you the final words of Challies' review:
If you struggle believing what the Bible says, but learn to find security in the testimony of a toddler, well, I feel sorry for you. And I do not mean this in a condescending way. If God’s Word is not sufficient for you, if the testimony of his Spirit, given to believers, is not enough for you, you will not find any true hope in the unproven tales of a child. This hope may last for a moment, but it will not sustain you, it will not bless you, in those times when hope is waning and times are hard.
So reject this book. Do not read it. Do not believe it. And do not feel guilty doing so.

4 comments:

  1. I have been quite bothered by all the brouhaha surrounding this book, knowing it is telling a false story. What is even more disturbing is how many Christians are eating this stuff up! And the is another boy with the same story.

    Sorry, but I don't buy it, and I wish no one else would. Thank you for this post and the link to Challies' review.

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  2. Hi Glenn,
    As I said, I was trying to ignore it, because it seemed like old news. But with so many Christians as you say "eating this up" something had to be said. I was glad that Challies reviewed the book, because I have no desire to even glance at it in the bookstore!

    Don Piper achieved the same celebrity with his false story, and he's still living off of it. He came to Indianapolis about a year or so ago and all the Christians flocked to hear him speak and then gushed about it for some time afterward.

    I admit, it absolutely baffles me sometimes how people fall for this stuff. But then, I too have been deceived in the past, and the great deceiver is VERY busy these days!

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  3. hi Erin! I appreciate the passion that comes through in your writing. I, too, read this book and have a different perspective than you so i thought i would share it.

    I actually found the book to be filled with Truth! The Bible speaks time and time again of us needing to have faith like a little child and of Jesus' love for the little children. He even goes so far as to say: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children." Matt 11:25. So Jesus himself says that things will be revealed to little children that even the wisest of adults will not be privy to. I think it is important to recognize the significance that children play in Jesus' perspective and give them their due credit. That's not to say that this alone is argument enough to validate a little boy's journey to heaven, but I do believe it is a vital piece in the argument.

    I also think it is not fair to make the assumption that no one could have a Heaven experience in our lifetime. After all, in John 14: 12-14, Jesus says that believers will actually be able to do greater works than even he did! ("Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.") That's quite a remarkable statement, to think that Jesus Himself is stating that we will do GREATER things than Him!

    I would therefore certainly not put it past Him to reveal Heaven to a little child through such a miraculous event as the boy's father describes.

    And lastly, even if you do not believe in the heavenly experience described in the book, it also has great merit in its examples of the power of prayer and of a church community walking alongside a hurting family in a time of crisis, both very important aspects of the Christian walk. After all, even Jesus surrounded Himself with community on this earth.

    Those are my thoughts... :)

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  4. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, however I think you can guess that I would readily disagree! To begin with, if the book aligns with Scripture, then why do we need it? Why isn’t God’s Word enough?

    Secondly, you mentioned Matthew 11:25. It’s important to note the context of this verse. Jesus is speaking of the Jewish leaders when He references the “wise and understanding” and is speaking of believers when he says “little children.” It is a wonderful use of sarcasm, actually! Jesus is saying that the truth has been hidden from these religious leaders who consider themselves to be wise and instead it is those who were aware of their dependence on Him who were coming in faith. Intellectual pride that willfully rejects Jesus and truth will be shut out of the Kingdom. Those who are wholly dependent upon God, however, the "little children," will be welcomed. This verse compares the false gospel of salvation by works and the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith.

    I agree with you that Jesus most certainly showed a heart for children, but there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that children,or anyone for that matter,would be privy to extrabibilical revelation upon the close of the canon. We are, in fact, warned against adding to Scripture, and that is what these false claims are doing. Either Scripture is enough for you or it is not. Either God’s Word brings you encouragement (for the Christian anyway) regarding eternal life, or it does not. But do not insult the Word of God by supplementing it with the word of men, or in this case, the word of a child.

    You also mentioned John 14:12-14, where Jesus says, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” This verse is speaking of the extent of the works of those who believe in Christ, not indicating that believers would do works of greater power. We can see this illustrated in Acts as the early church grows even amidst persecution. After all, what greater work can there be than the spreading of the Gospel?! If believers are to do works of greater power than Christ, then why are the dead not being raised today? Signs and wonders were a gift given to the early church for the laying of the Church’s foundation. They did not have a Bible on the bookshelf for easy reference. But today we have graciously been given God’s Holy Word, and for those of us here in America, it is readily accessible to us to read anytime without fear of persecution. Again I have to ask, why isn’t that enough?

    I think it would be beneficial for you to read the review written by Tim Challies that I link to in this post. He makes some very good points and arguments against the validity of this book. Perhaps this book illustrates, as you say an example of “the power of prayer and of a church community walking alongside a hurting family in a time of crisis...even Jesus surrounded Himself with community on this earth.” We hear a lot about “community” these days, especially from the liberal, emergent churches which preach a false gospel of social justice. And while Christians are certainly called to be in fellowship with other believers it is important to remember that the Gospel--the most important thing in this world--is something that must be received by the individual. A community cannot repent for you and a community cannot bring you to faith in Jesus Christ. Only God can save, and He saves individuals, not communities. It’s wonderful that this book is so heartwarming, we all love a feel-good, warm-fuzzy story from time to time. I find it hard to swallow, however, when it is surrounded by false claims that denigrate the authority of Scripture as the final Word of God.

    In the end, the important thing is for us to be discerning. As we walk through these last of the last days, false teachers and false teachings are rising up all around us. It is important for Christians to be grounded in Scripture, because that is the only Truth upon which we can firmly stand.

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