Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo | An #EmptyShelfChallenge Book Review

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I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

I am easily intrigued and have actually watched those ridiculous YouTube videos “proving” how tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting are all really just setups. (In case your computer doesn’t have the sarcasm font installed, let me be clear: I don’t buy into that hysteria.)

That said… and I hesitate to make any firm accusations because I really do like to believe in people… I think Todd Burpo’s “Heaven is for Real” is a bit of a crock.

I had heard a lot about it and had absolutely no interest in reading it. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing that would, at best, leave me rolling my eyes – if not completely bothered.

Then, in a massive sale during which I picked up lots of great ebook titles by incredibly respectable artists, I saw it. From the publisher that offered me lots of Max Lucado books, the one that promotes Women of Faith and Beth Moore, that presents books from newer but trustworthy, Bible-preaching pastors whose podcasts I listen to frequently – there it was, for like $2.

Come to think of it, I haven’t heard a bunch of backlash – even from outspoken evangelical Christian organizations I can count on to raise red flags, I thought.

Then Kyle and I saw a movie, and there was the preview for a movie based on the same book. It was intriguing. The kid was cute, and how did he know those things if nobody told him?!

The book itself is a quick read. I find Burso to be a good storyteller, even if/before I grew curious about the story’s accuracy.


The medical events are weird. Not the missed diagnosis or the length of time the parents took to get help – we all make mistakes. But here is a preschooler “in the shadow of death”, doctors and nurses running in and out of the room unable to find what is wrong but unable to stabilize him as his little body rapidly fails him.

So then the hospital staff just wishes the family well and sends them on their way so they can drive to a different hospital. No medical transfer, no direct admission. Just, “no thanks,” we’ll try elsewhere,” and, “Ok, see you later then!” It just felt off.

As the story unfolded, I’ll admit I continued to enjoy the read. Colton sounded like a cute kid very near in age and curiosity to my own, the family very normal and relatable in their quest to understand what was going on in this unique, incredible apparent trip to Heaven and back.

But then there are the spiritual discrepancies – and not minutiae about whether or not there are dogs there, but big stuff – like blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus with (still blood-red) nail scars in his feet and hands. Palms, not wrists, mind you. Stories of kids with little wings and grown-ups (at varying ages) with bigger wings, watching us from above.

I don’t know what happened to this family. I’m not denying they had a tragedy, or even that they’ve had some really interesting conversations come from the experience. I don’t want to find out what arises from these trials first hand, so I am actually withholding some outright judgement and trying to think through it more :)

But the book felt like fiction. Like a work of fiction that maybe even exploited a child, to some extent. Full disclosure, I haven’t done any more research – watched any interviews with he kid or the parent, dug any further into scripture… but I wasn’t swayed.

I’m convinced Heaven is for real. I’m convinced many parts of the book describe it accurately, and most importantly describe a God who longs for us to know and connect with Him.

I just don’t think the book is for real.

Thoughts? I’m really anxious for good conversation on this one, with its millions of copies sold and big movie coming out soon!

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  1. Shelly February 4, 2014
    • Jennifer Kaufman February 5, 2014
  2. Rachel February 5, 2014
    • Jennifer Kaufman February 5, 2014