Aaron Carlberg's Reviews > Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
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Dec 04, 13


For a while now people have been asking me to read and comment on the book Heaven is for Real written by Todd (not making up his last name) Burpo. For some reason, because I am a pastor, people think I am going to love this book about a little boy who went to heaven and met Jesus. Then Jesus sent him back (like you put your unfinished cookies back in the oven when they aren't finished).

Well, here goes…and don't hate me for being honest. I did not like this book what-so-ever.

This book plays into our current climate of people going to SPEND (pick your amount of time) minutes/hours/seconds IN (pick your place) heaven/hell/purgatory/Burger King in AN EFFORT TO (pick your reason) grow your faith/make you feel good/make some money. It is not just the writing style of an adult trying to sound like a kid who sounds like an adult trying to sound like a kid, it is the poor theology that people are so willing to buy into.

First, let me just say that Todd Burpo sounds like a Christian, I am not questioning his faith. But a bit more discernment may be in order…and the fact that we do not build theology based solely on our experience (especially that of a 4 year old). As an example, scripture teaches that Jesus won our victory on the cross, he said our sins were paid for, "it is finished." Yet Jesus still has to fight (pg136-139)? If Jesus is all-powerful what is the point of him handing out swords and bows and arrows?

It seems much of the book is written to fit into a particular mindset and belief structure. Colten (the boy) will say something and the dad will interpret it with a verse that seems to make it all make sense…but it doesn't! When trying to describe Jesus, Colton is convinced that his style from the 1st century has never changed. He has brown hair, a beard, white robe with a purple sash (Jesus is the only one who gets to wear purple by the way), a crown, and red marks in the center of his palms (even though that is not where the nails would have gone) and on his feet (page 65-66.)

This goes on and on…from people getting wings to God and Jesus apparently sitting in their big chairs all day (except when Jesus is going up and down like an elevator)...oh, I almost forgot; all Angels also have to carry swords to keep Satan out of heaven (Page 133).

I do not just want to blast the book, but this is the problem with what Christianity has become…according to the book the reason Jesus died on the cross was so that we could go to heaven.

Question, is that why Jesus died?

Modern Christianity makes salvation all about us, when salvation is about Jesus. Jesus died because we were so awful, our sin so great, that we destroyed everything. Jesus' death pays for our sin not so that we could go to heaven but so we could be a redeemed people living redeemed lives in Jesus' name. Jesus rose from the dead conquering our enemies of Satan, sin, and death. Jesus' death and resurrection are about life, bringing heaven to earth in how we, as God's people, live this life.

Never once did Jesus, in the scriptures, talk about the goal being to get out of here and go somewhere else. The purpose of His coming was to restore relationship between God and us again by removing what stood in the way, namely our sin.

As Christians we must get away from the idea that Jesus died so we could get out of this place and watch it burn. Jesus died AND ROSE; the heart that Jesus had for this world should burn in us with a passion and intensity to see the lost know Him.

Heaven IS for real, but heaven is NOT the point. The point is Jesus…that is what we should remember.
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Comments (showing 1-34)




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Mikayla In some ways I agree and disagree with this. I disagree with the fighting off Satan. The bows and having to fight Satan off makes sense. It says that Satan will be defeated and also that Jesus will return. But that hasn't happened yet. Satan isn't in hell yet. He has to be defeated. And since that hasn't happened it would make sense that he tries to get himself into heaven. In other ways I agree. Now a days people will just say their Christian, they believe in God and Heaven. But just because you say that and don't change your life doesn't mean anything. Accepting Him means changing your lifestyle. Not living for your self but living for God. And I think that's where people are going to get confused on this book. You can't just say one thing but not mean it.


message 33: by Aaron (new) - rated it 1 star

Aaron Carlberg We must be a people that have a biblical understanding and not a fiction (eg: this present darkness) or a Hollywood stylized (eg: Supernatural or Exorcist) perspective of the truth. Satan can't fight his way into heaven as if God was powerless to stop him and needs an army to protect Himself.

If you look at the book of Job, Satan has access to heaven but it is under God's discretion. God is BIG, Satan is small...and he is defeated. It is not some future victory for us, it was accomplished at the cross of Christ.

Matthew 28:18 is clear that Jesus has all authority and Colosians 1:10-14 is clear to remind us that we have been delivered (past tense) from the domain of darkness.

Colosians 2:13-15 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.


Loversinjapan um..... i agree with you to some extent but seriously. some of the stuff your saying does not make much sense. the last part didn't even have anything to do with the book!


message 31: by Aaron (last edited Jan 03, 2012 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Aaron Carlberg I can see how my review could be inferred that way; please know I was just rounding out the review in how most Christians tend to live their lives. I meant, in no way, to infer that Todd Burpo (or Colton) think all people should burn.

I also think that the modern Christian push to ask "are you going to heaven" misses the point of the Christian life or the fullness that Jesus offers. The life of Christ is MORE than Heaven (heaven is simply a by product of God's gracious blessing), our goal isn't to leave the world behind...it is to glorify God and live the life He calls us to here and now bringing heaven to earth by our actions as He allows us to partner with Him in redeeming His creation. We are citizens of another kingdom, but are ambassadors here, to this place that God loves (which means we should love it as well).


Haley Goodman I see where your coming from. But different people have their own experences with God and so on. Who are we to judge. This book touched my heart, not in a "i believe every word of it" since, but the heat renching lie story thats being told.


message 29: by Judy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy Desetti I loved your comments and wish I could hear some of your sermons. It appears your beliefs are similar to mine. Thanks for your thoughts.


message 28: by Aaron (new) - rated it 1 star

Aaron Carlberg You can go to ourelement.org and listen to any messages you would like :-)


message 27: by Judy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy Desetti Aaron wrote: "You can go to ourelement.org and listen to any messages you would like :-)"


Thanks. I will.


message 26: by Dave (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dave Courtney Just wanted to clarify, my opinions on the book withstanding. Colton's understanding (or relaying) of why Jesus died doesn't state that it's so we can go to Heaven. His actual statement says that it is so that we can go see His dad. This was actually one of the points of the book that carried over in to good theology. Jesus' ministry and death and resurrection was intended to point our attention and worship to the father.


message 25: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Winkler I don't think Burpo was trying to write a deep theological treatise. Why read so much into an innocent little book? My daughter picked this out for her grandfather and gave it to him yesterday for Father's Day. Dad lost his oldest daughter last year (ovarian cancer) and for the last two years he's been in and out of the hospital. --also he lived through a tornado destroying his house and lost a leg while being displaced from his home and living in a small apartment. Now he's lost all the toes on his remaining foot and doesn't know if he's going to be able to live at home after he leaves the hospital. He's very discouraged and depressed. This gift from his grandchild has encouraged him and so far I haven't found anything heretical in it. That's good enough for me. By the way--salvation is all about us. We're the ones Jesus died for. Our pain and suffering matters to him--our fear and doubt matters to him. The Holy Spirit--the Comforter--matters. My dad just lost a child and is facing his own mortality--right now being reassured that heaven is real is the point.


message 24: by Aaron (new) - rated it 1 star

Aaron Carlberg Katie, I know when things happen in our lives we want comfort and surety in a way we understand, but that doesn't always make it right. By making salvation about us we diminish the glory of God.

What I mean by that is GOD is the most GOD CENTERED being in the universe. God is more concerned about His glory than He is about anything else. Out of God's love for His glory He saves people. I am stealing from John Piper here:

• Why does God save us? So the glory of His grace might be praised (Eph 1:6)
• Why did God create people and call them? For His glory (Is 43:7)
• Why did God harden pharaohs heart and deliver Israel? That His name might be declared throughout the earth (Exod 9:16)
• Why did God spare Israel when they continuously rebelled against Him? For His names sake (Ezek 20:14, 1 Sam 8:4-6)
• Why did God bring the Israelites back from Babylonian captivity? For His name (Dan 9:17)
• Why did God send His son for us? So that we might glorify God for His mercy (Rom 15:8-9)

Yes, God saves us. Yes, Jesus died for us...but it was because of our sin that He had to die. The American ideal of making everything about us has left us with a therapeutic gospel that resembles little of what Jesus taught or the Apostles proclaimed.

Believe me, I agree with you that Burpo was NOT writing a deep theological treatise, unfortunately he wasn't writing about what people need to know either...namely Jesus. Heaven is a present and future reality centered on the person of Christ, not us...that gives me great comfort because if God did everything to make me happy, my life (and the rest of the world) would have turned out to be a much darker place.

I do not doubt Burpo's love for Jesus at all, I simply wish people would let the scriptures speak for themselves rather than trying to put our own veneer, dictated by our feelings and experiences, over the top of them.


message 23: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Winkler For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life. How can salvation not be about us? We are not meaningless. We are not cogs in a wheel. Jesus died for us--to save us. I'm so weak--I'm so unworthy but he died for me. For all of us. I am so amazed, astounded that the God of the universe cares about me, and this little boy in the book. Doesn't that boggle your mind? To say that He died for me and cares about having a relationship with me--how does that diminish his Glory? I never spoke about happiness--I spoke about encouragement. God cares for me and my dad, even in these dark times. He shows how he cares in a myriad of ways. In Christ, I can have hope and joy no matter what my circumstances. I totally agree that Jesus is the center. Furthermore, His glory can not be enhanced or diminished by what I say or do because it's full power, all the time! He doesn't need me, but hallelujah, he wants me.


message 22: by Aaron (new) - rated it 1 star

Aaron Carlberg I think, maybe, this has become an issue of semantics. In terms of communication people often times need to define their terms or they just go around in circles.

First, I did not mean to imply that we are cogs in a wheel, but neither is Jesus. He is not a stepping stone to our own self-fulfillment.

Second, yes salvation is for us individually (to be lived corporately)...it is FOR US, but it is not ABOUT us. I don't know if you see the difference. FOR US means it is a gift bestowed upon us by a gracious God...ABOUT US would mean that we are the center of God's universe (which is clearly NOT the case).

My problems with the book come down to this view that holds that it is about us (just like the book 90 Minutes in Heaven, where heaven wasn't about Jesus, it was about the guy who died). We need to make sure we understand that Salvation is a gift given to us (it keeps us humble).

Also, just like it is not "about" us, our salvation is also not "about" heaven. Again, if so, it would make Heaven the point (as this book does). As I said, heaven is not the point, Jesus is...Jesus always is.


message 21: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Winkler I agree that the problem is mainly semantics because I agree with everything you say here--clarifies it very much for me. Thanks for taking the time and for the good discussion. It is for us, not about us--nicely said and true.


message 20: by Jesseandcarley (new)

Jesseandcarley Love your review and your comments Aaron! Good sound doctrine and theology!


message 19: by Ami (new) - rated it 1 star

Ami Shirley Very well put! Thank you!


message 18: by Tara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tara I have to disagree on this point: "Modern Christianity makes salvation all about us, when salvation is about Jesus. Jesus died because we were so awful, our sin so great, that we destroyed everything. Jesus' death pays for our sin not so that we could go to heaven but so we could be a redeemed people living redeemed lives in Jesus' name."

God's gift to us is eternal life. Heaven is a main point. Our eternal life will be spent in heaven. God sacrificed his son for us--out of pure love for us. Salvation has everything to do with us! Parents love their children. They constantly care for and think about their children. We are children of God! We're not meaningless to God! As amazing as it is, God loves and cares for each of us.

I just don't understand how you feel Jesus' death doesn't directly deal with our eternal life and heaven--the gift that is only possible because of His dying on the cross. The dying on the cross that happened, all because God wants us to be with him.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

That has a lot to do with heaven. People are not wrong for focusing on this free gift that God has given us. Jesus'death pays for our sin so that we are allowed this close fellowship with God eternally. The book of John and the entire Bible hammers this point home.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." John 5:24

"I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." John 10:28

"And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day." John 6:39

"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." 1 John 5:11


message 17: by Aaron (new) - rated it 1 star

Aaron Carlberg Hi Tara,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would encourage you to read through the other comments people have posted and my replies to them, I think they will answer many of the things you said.

One of the things I said above is:
Salvation is for us individually (to be lived corporately)...it is FOR US, but it is not ABOUT us. FOR US means it is a gift bestowed upon us by a gracious God...ABOUT US would mean that we are the center of God's universe (which is clearly NOT the case).

Even the verses you quoted reinforce what I mean: "I give them eternal life," "I should lose nothing of all that he has given me," "God has given us eternal life," they all point back to God as the originator, it is about Him.

I also said above: GOD is the most GOD CENTERED being in the universe. God is more concerned about His glory than He is about anything else. Out of God's love for His glory He saves people. I am stealing from John Piper here:

• Why does God save us? So the glory of His grace might be praised (Eph 1:6)
• Why did God create people and call them? For His glory (Is 43:7)
• Why did God harden pharaohs heart and deliver Israel? That His name might be declared throughout the earth (Exod 9:16)
• Why did God spare Israel when they continuously rebelled against Him? For His names sake (Ezek 20:14, 1 Sam 8:4-6)
• Why did God bring the Israelites back from Babylonian captivity? For His name (Dan 9:17)
• Why did God send His son for us? So that we might glorify God for His mercy (Rom 15:8-9)

I DO believe in eternal life, but it starts the moment we believe and goes on into eternity. I do believe in a literal heaven that IS and WILL BE glorious, but that heaven is also about Jesus. His reign, His rule, His life, His hope, His words, and His people living as worshipers of Him. Salvation is not the bus ticket that gets out of this trailer park called earth and takes us to heaven, salvation is a gift bestowed on us by God because HE noticed our lost state and determined to save us. We now live lives that bring heaven to earth in how we live, love, worship, and glorify Him here and now.


Regina Mahaney I understand some of your concerns if someone reading this book was actually planning on basing their Christian Faith on the book but only one book, the Bible, is worth that. This book is very interesting read & I don't believe it was intended to win over scholars or those that think they know it all. God knows you wouldn't listen anyway. I think it was written to show what the child has reported. I read it that way and thought it to be interesting book but just a book & nothing to get all excited about or bent out of shape about.


message 15: by Hannah (new) - added it

Hannah Who knows? Maybe everyone's Heaven is a little different, and in this (fictional) case Colton's Heaven has angels with swords and a bearded Jesus.


Stephanie I hated, just hated this book too!! Love the review.


Amanda Goodness! Best review on this book, bar none. I'm a lapsed Catholic and mostly an agnostic at this point, but you almost make me wish otherwise.


Kimberlie Excellent review!


Alexis I can see that you had some strong thoughts about the book, but I think that you are overthinking things. The book is told in the father's perspective about how his son claims that while he is in the hospital, he had been to heaven. It's a story about a little boy who had a life changing experience, whether that be real or not. I just don't understand. Is your review blasting the book or the religion of Christianity itself?


Amanda Alexis wrote: "I can see that you had some strong thoughts about the book, but I think that you are overthinking things. The book is told in the father's perspective about how his son claims that while he is in t..."

He's a pastor. I think it's safe to assume he's not blasting Christianity.


Alexis I don't know, he was telling us all about the 'problem with modern day Christianity'. Please, elaborate on how it has changed.


Aaron Carlberg Alexis, thanks for commenting on the review, I appreciate your thoughts, but would disagree that I am over-thinking it. Too often we do not think enough about what we as people, and especially Christians, consume with our minds. There are many people today who are very sincere in many beliefs, but they are sincerely wrong.

I could take an extreme and say that anyone who would make themselves into a bomb to hurt other people (like happens in the middle-east today) may be sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. When we back off from an extreme to an issue like Heaven, it still evokes a lot of emotion because it is a part of a believers hope, but it is NOT where our hope lies. Our hope lies in Jesus alone.

You asked what a problem with "modern day Christianity" is? There are plenty, and if we as Christians aren't willing to be honest about them, how can we ever hope to speak truth into others lives?

I'll give you a couple of examples.
Modern day Christianity has made the point of believing in Jesus to have "fire insurance," or to save ourselves from hell. In the scriptures Jesus never spoke about being raptured out of this place, Jesus spoke about the RENEWAL of all things. That God has made this place, He has called it "good," and He will redeem it. He calls us, as His followers, to be part of that redemptive work in the world.
Modern Christianity likes to use phrases like "accept Jesus into your heart," like we need to accept Him as if WE are the ones who need to be appeased. The truth in the scriptures is that it is Jesus, through His death and resurrection, who has accepted us! Christianity is not about God appeasing us, it is about life lived in surrender to Jesus.
Modern Christianity is constantly trying to put times on when Jesus will return and what Heaven actually looks like (which is what Colton does in the book). The Apostles Paul went into Heaven (2 Cor 12) and he didn't even try to describe it. Jesus Himself would not even put on date on His return.

Please understand that I am not saying Christianity is bad, it is wonderful; I believe that we as Christians must live lives that redeem the name "Christian." I am also not questioning the Burpo's faith in Jesus. I simply believe a hyperwesterized and hyperliteral look at the book of revelation does nothing but detract who the book of Revelation was written about: Jesus. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ...not the revelation of Heaven, pearly gates, or multicolored horses.

I think when the body of Christ truly centers itself around Jesus first, not heaven and certainly not ourselves, we will have true and lasting unity.


message 7: by Michele (new)

Michele "It is poor theology" - Yes!


message 6: by Michele (new)

Michele (Psst: Aaron, GR says you're not accepting messages so just thought I'd let you know that there's a typo in your website URL in your profile. You have http://www.ourlement.org but I think it should be http://www.ourelement.org ?)


Alexis Aaron wrote: "Alexis, thanks for commenting on the review, I appreciate your thoughts, but would disagree that I am over-thinking it. Too often we do not think enough about what we as people, and especially Chri..."
I can see where you are coming from, but know that all Christians are not like that. Not everybody claims to believe in the Holy Spirit just to be saved from Hell. There are good Christians out there, people that actually believe and care.


Aaron Carlberg I re-read what I wrote to make I didn't say the words that "everybody" only believes to be saved from Hell (sometimes I never know what I say - haha). Focusing on Heaven or Hell are both not the point, the point is Jesus. That is the only thing I was really trying to say. This is why when we center around Jesus first, unity will follow in the body of Christ.


Kirsten Agreed. The point is Jesus! What worries me is that soooo many people I know love this book. It made me realize they are very "I" centered Christians. Scary


message 2: by Tina (new) - rated it 1 star

Tina Axell Thank you, Aaron, for an intelligent view on Christianity. I think the reason there are so many extremists out there today is because people take the bible literally, as a child would, rather than deciphering the messages presented. "Jesus' death and resurrection are about life, bringing heaven to earth in how we, as God's people, live this life." That's exactly it! And thank you for providing your website!


Leslie Thank you! You gave a great review. I am glad I was not alone in questioning this book.


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