Heaven Is For Real vs. Bible 1/2

22 Apr

Heaven is for realA New York Times article from March 11, 2011 describes the Thomas Nelson broken sales records after publishing the book “Heaven is for Real.[1]  While there were initially in print only 40,000 copies, this book has gone back to press 22 times, now reaching 8 million printed copies. In a similar article[2] almost 3 years later, we follow its still continuing success on popular bestseller lists. With the TriStar Pictures movie version of this book, released on April 16, 2014 this story became a great deal of the western popular discussion about heaven and the life after life. In the following lines I will analyze some of the main ideas one can extract from reading this book and compare them to what some of the Biblical scholars have over centuries orderly summarized in doctrines of eschatology. After all the reasoning I will try to show how can we correctly understand what truly happened but also what meaning can Colton’s story have for you.

Heaven is for Real

Over 6000 Amazon customer reviews speak of the impact this publication had on peoples lives. To mention a few, B. Prickett wrote “This is a wonderful book. If you have any doubts about what happens after death, read this book. It will become clear to you.” or Sophia Maria Hall said, “We all need hope that there is better after the life we have here on this crazy earth…this is proof we are getting that!” Also, Cynthia Trueblood shared that “This book was written in an easy style and yet impacted my view of heaven profoundly!”[3] While one can find also more disapproving comments, those above do represent the majority. Words like “clear”, “proof” or “profound impact” are frequently used to describe the effect this material had on its readers and their view of heaven. Now, what does this book actually say about heaven? The main character, little boy named Colton does not provide any systematic overview, but rather talks through a series of short statements and comments. These depict a picture of heaven that consists of these rough strokes of a brush.

Intermediate State

The very existence of Colton’s vivid account would deny that when believers die they go into a state of unconscious “living” until Christ returns and raises them to eternal life (soul sleep). If that were true, Colton would simply wake up from a dreamless sleep. His experience affirms one of the traditional views in which the soul of a believer goes immediately into the presence of Christ (Phil. 1:23) (Duffield & Van Cleave 1983: 521).

In the prologue of the book, Colton says, “I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body” (Burpo 2010: xx). Wayne Grudem is one of the many theologians who defines death as “a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body.”(2.Cor. 5:8)(Grudem 1994: 816) Based on this, an image of a disembodied[4] Colton floating through the rooms of the hospital, seeing his father, mom and his own body fits quite well to yet another common understanding of Biblical data.

PopsHe also describes meeting there those who once lived on this Earth – Jesus, John the Baptist, Mary (the mother of Jesus), grandpa Pops, his unborn sister without a name and lots of kids. In Luke 23:43 Jesus says to the thief dying next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (TNIV, Luke 23:43). Grudem ascribes similar importance to Hebrews 12:23 stating, “that when Christians come together to worship they come not only into the presence of God in heaven, but also into the presence of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Grudem 1994: 817). Until now, there is no apparent discord with the popular doctrines and Colton’s narrative as he confirms his conscience existence amid a fellowship of spirits in the presence of God. The challenge arises when he mentions Pop’s new body.

Bodily Resurrection

The classical Christian position affirms the resurrection of bodies to their glorified state. Wright writes boldly, “There is no room for doubt as to what he (Paul in Romans 8:23) means: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life.” (Wright 2008: kindle location 2356). This walks hand in hand, with what Colton said about his grandpa: “He’s in heaven. He’s got a new body.” (Burpo 2010: 136). The problem is only with the timing.

Heaven is for real movieThe resurrection of bodies is expected to occur first after Christ’ second coming (1.Cor.15:22-23). Until then soul remains in an intermediate state characterized above. According to Colton’s testimony, he was in heaven in a body with small wings (Burpo 2010:72) although his original body was still in the operating room. Likewise, he spoke about his grandfather’s big wings, clothes and his new youthful body (Burpo 2010:121-122), while Pops old body seemed to be still buried in a cemetery, in Kansas. (Burpo 2010:135). Christ in being the first fruit of this resurrection did not leave one body behind, receiving a new one, but from death, his body was raised to life and transformed to glory. Altogether, the discrepancy of having two bodies represents a challenge to the classical Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection.
Perhaps Ludwig Feuerbach’s exceptional idea fits best to the above-mentioned perceptible angelic entity that could be somehow unembodied. He writes, “In heaven the Christian ceases to be a human being, he or she becomes an angel. Yet an angel is nothing but the personification of an abstracted Christian, dissociated from a human being and therefore the true and completed Christian, nothing but a Christian without flesh and blood, the Christian imagined as an independent being.” (Schwarz 2000: Kindle location 2027) Yet, this is a radical position, which only very few contemporary biblical scholars would hold. [5]

– written by Peter

[1]Bosman, J. (11th of March, 2011). The New York Times: Celestial Sales for Boy’s Tale of Heaven. Retrieved from (27th of January, 2014)
[2] (25th of November, 2013). PR Newswire: ‘Heaven Is for Real’ best seller sits on ‘The New York Times’ list for three consecutive years. Retrieved from (27th of January, 2014)
[3] Retrieved from (27th of January, 2014)
[4] Meaning “separated from a body” as opposed to “unknown”.
[5] “The afterlife is not some vague, spirited, disembodied, soulish existence. Jesus’ physical resurrection, prefiguring our own physical resurrection, shows that the eternal state, though transformed, remains material, substantive, corporeal.” (Ponsonby 2010: Heaven or Hell)
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Reasonable Faith, Reviews, Theology


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