Heaven Is For Real: Book Review

Have you read this new book by Todd Burpo? This book tells the story of his son who died and went to heaven. I have personally not read this book,  but sat in a class several weeks ago at Concordia Seminary when it came up in our discussion of 1 Corinthians 15. Dr. Jeff Gibbs was our instructor for this class and shared with us that he wrote a review on this book. I recommend that you check out Jeff’s book review by CLICKING HERE. I believe that Dr. Gibbs handles this book review with grace while also holding to the integrity of scripture.

Besides suggesting this book review to you today, I do hope to draw attention to something that was mentioned in the review. How do we respond to people’s experiences in this Christian Life? For myself, I have a lot of profoundly weird and powerful stories that I certainly could tell you. I am sure that you do too and know of others who have power experiences. So, how are we to process our stories and experiences? I believe Dr. Gibbs offers a great insight in this review. He states, “When someone says they have had a spiritual experience, you never deny that something happened. But you always reserve the right to interpret it in light of Scripture.”

As Christians we can be tempted to interpret the Bible by our experiences, however, God forbid this temptation, for we do not want to be ensnared in Mysticism. On the other hand, we don’t want to harshly reject experiences because we can come across as insensitive jerks and we can also end up denying the reality that we are emotional and subjective beings. Things do happen; people have experiences. Rather, we don’t have to embrace the extremes. We don’t have to blindly accept nor harshly deny Christian experiences, but we get to assess them and interpret them in light of the Scriptures. Scripture interprets our life, we do not interpret the scriptures.

God’s Grace and Peace to you as the Word continually shapes, informs, ministers and interprets you.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


Heaven Is For Real: Book Review — 10 Comments

  1. In some ways, the “Comments” section is just as interesting as Dr. Gibbs’ review of the book. In fact, the comments are very informative. Some of the contributors seem to have elevated the book over scripture, one person even asserting that some have come to faith from reading it. Dr.Gibbs is taken to task by a pastor (unknown denomination) for his criticism of the book. The sincerity of the author and the experiences of his child notwithstanding, the book has the effect of elevating experience over doctrine. The result of this kind of thinking is an inward-lookingness, in fact a kind of modern gnosticism, or mysticism. We cannot know if this is from God, no matter what the author claims. Can God use it? Of course. But does the book present dangers? Dr. Gibbs has presented a balanced, even nuanced review–a valuable perspective–we would do well to read it.

  2. A few months ago while I was recovering from surgery, a fellow Lutheran gave me a copy of this book. I was ready to dismiss it out of hand, until I read Dr. Gibbs review of it. I especially appreciated his succinct way of stating his objections to the book. For example:

    1. ‘No way to verify the book’s claims’
    2. ‘Holy Scripture’s authority comes to be less important than the testimony of Colton Burpo’
    3. ‘This book wrongly assumes throughout that God’s purpose in sending His Son into the world to serve, suffer, die, and rise from the dead was so that when we die, we can “go to heaven.”

    As Dr. Gibbs states the 3rd objection is the most important. How many times have we heard from sunday school teachers, etc. that ‘Jesus died for our sins so that when we die we can be in heaven with Him.’ I’ve heard it a lot, especially in lay lead children’s sermons. If I hadn’t read his review, I don’t know if I would have picked up on this problem. Now, every time I say the Nicene Creed I’m reminded of the truth-‘I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.’

    My friend who gave me the book really didn’t understand why I objected to it. I tried to explain however, I don’t think I did a very good job of it.

  3. Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ) Is there a time dimension in heaven?

  4. If there is no way to verify the testimonies of those who have had near-death experiences, is speculation about the afterlife and what occurs in heaven and in hell a waste of time?

    I found it interesting that the dead grandpa knew everything about his grandson Colton when they first met in heaven. Colton stated that he saw his grandpa fighting the evil forces with a sword. How can humans possibly understand and be involved in a celestial war of angels versus demons that predates Adam.

    If the dead cannot hear our prayers and cannot intercede on our behalf, then would the dead also be unaware of this world and the actions of the people still living in it?

    How should Christians view near-death experiences of heaven and hell.

  5. Thanks for the link to this book review. It is excellent. I was also tempted to dismiss the book when asked to read it by a relative. I agree with Dr. Gibbs’ points, especially the reduction of the importance of scripture. Scripture is the sole source and norm of doctrine, not special private revelation – no matter how much we might want the special revelation to be true.

  6. Your posting and Dr. Gibb’s article are excellent and it reminded me of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the last 2 verses:

    And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

    Will Colton’s narrative (“…from the dead”) cause repentance and forgiveness in Jesus Christ? No, according to the Lord. He and we have “Moses and the Prophets” to be heard. Yes, Scripture is missing in the Colton narrative and specifically it is Law and Promise. There is no repentance. When young Colton does wrong in growing up, as we all do, will the message of the Gospel, of Christ Jesus’ atoning work be ministered to him unto a true repentance? I think that this book is the Protestant version of “ex opere operatum”, the work working itself, as written above: Jesus just validates my ticket to heaven. It’s not about faith, saving faith in the Savior.

  7. Review needs a couple points verified.

    1 Cor 15 speaks of death as enemy, but Paul also did see death as finish line to see Jesus. I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far, yet for your sakes, it is better to remain in the body.

    And Christ did speak of dying for glory (implied justification is necessarily first). I desire them to see My glory, the glory I had with You before the creation of the world.

  8. I see the book like Apocrypha and Luther. Not Scriptural, but can bring about discussion points from Scripture.

  9. It’s has been some time between now and reading the book. If I remember correctly there is a place where the boy prays for the lost Lutherans on a hill side church. I if anyone has talked about this? I find it odd that using search engines nobody has any thought on this. Peace be with you.

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