Reading Heaven is for Real moved me. The simplicity of Colton Burpo’s faith in Jesus (and of his dad’s honest struggle) shines through on every page. It strikes me that imagination is a primary way that the Holy Spirit speaks to humankind, and I am grateful for it.
Though the picture that Colton presents is based on the Bible, there are things that he sees that clearly run through Western (and especially American) Christian lenses. For example, what would a Christian who believes in “soul sleep” (a view supported by much Scripture) make of this story? Or what about the claim that there are no elderly folks in heaven? Aboriginal Christians often picture heaven as the place where “everyone has white hair”–everyone is wise. The picture of everyone in their prime might say more about the overwhelming value of youth than the Bible’s teaching about heaven.
Social formation happens before we can even talk, and I think that this kind of formation happened in Colton’s case, too. This doesn’t mean that Colton’s experience is false, or that heaven is not real. But it does mean that we should hold all pictures of heaven loosely, because we don’t really understand–and as Pastor Todd admits, the Biblical pictures of heavenly realms are fragmentary.
I wish this picture of Heaven had been more connected to the Resurrection of the Dead. The book might leave the impression that the goal of the Christian life is to go to Heaven when we die. That’s part of the Biblical picture, but not the whole truth. I recommend NT Wright’s book Surprised by Hope as a beautiful and theologically robust supplement to a Christ-honouring story like this one.