Heaven Is For Real

Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.

Reviewed by Dr. Jeff Gibbs, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

Holding a copy of this book is a bit like drawing close to Mom or Apple Pie.  It’s a bright yellow, easy-to-read paperback with a cute photo of a little boy on the front:  “#1 New York Times Bestseller, Over Two Million Copies in Print.”  It is a sincere account, in a Christian father’s first-person voice. Here’s a summary of its story.

In an opening prologue, the reader learns that the family’s younger child (a son, Colton) recently almost died after an undiagnosed ruptured appendix.  We also hear briefly the book’s main claim: this little boy made a trip to heaven, and has returned with reliable knowledge of what heaven is like.  The story then flashes back in time to tell of earlier months for the Burpo family.  Illness, stresses in ministry (Mr. Burpo is a Wesleyan pastor), and times of difficulty seemed to be over for the family.  The story draws you in; you identify with the Burpos.  It’s not hard to imagine being their friend.

Colton’s illness then is described, and death looms.  The family is in anguish; sincere, real anguish.  Mercifully, the little boy lives, and the family seems to be out of the woods; even their medical bills shrink as Christians generously help.  It’s a good story, and there is no reason to doubt its sincerity.  Thus far chapters 1 to 11.

In chapter 12-27, the book finally develops the claim that has turned it into a sensation.  Gradually, the father’s voice tells how Colton’s statements about the afterlife lead him and his wife to conclude that their son has been in heaven, has seen Jesus and other people, and is now a reliable source of information, including new information that has not been revealed in Scripture (like the “fact” that the angel Gabriel sits on a throne on the left hand of God the Father, with Jesus enthroned on the right).  In a brief epilogue, Rev. Burpo describes how the book came to be written, and how its title was chosen; Colton said, “I want them to know that heaven is for real.”  And the book ends there.

Many people will simply dismiss this book.  That would be a mistake; we should only dismiss things that make no substantial claims, or that pose no real threats.  Because of the claims made in this book, we should take it very seriously, and read it with our best Christian understanding and faith.  For that reason, I have concluded that this book is seriously flawed, and offers little if any positive or lasting contribution to Christian understanding.  In fact, there are aspects of the book which, if people accept and believe them, will distract readers from crucially important Biblical ways of thinking and living.  I can offer three brief criticisms of this book.  In doing so, I plead with my reader not to think that I am doubting the sincerity of the author or his family.  But here is where this book misses the mark.

In the first place, there is no effort to verify the book’s claims.  Do not dismiss me as some secular skeptic!  Consider that less than a week before I read Heaven is For Real, the world was hearing the story of John Paul II’s beatification by the Church of Rome.  Part of this process (at which Lutherans look askance, of course) is required verification that a miracle was performed through the saintly mediation of John Paul II after his death.  The Church of Rome takes this with great seriousness; it is too important not to do so.  The church extensively investigates all purported miracles.  Not surprisingly, they discover many obviously false (though perhaps sincere) claims.  But this is the point:  it is so important that they take it seriously, and they investigate all such claims with a kind of holy skepticism.

By remarkable contrast, Heaven is For Real asks us to take the extraordinary claims put forward in the book at face value.  In fact, the story is told so sincerely and with such genuine familial love that one feels almost guilty for asking for some sort of verifying investigation.  These are, however, important matters!  Remarkably, over and over Rev. Burpo validates some insight about “heaven” from his young son with the statement, “There’s no way he could have known that!”  These matters are too important for that kind of approach.  I am not questioning Burpo’s sincerity; the 8th Commandment demands that I conclude that he believes what he is writing.  Nevertheless, as I read Heaven is For Real, I recalled the wise counsel of a veteran pastor from decades ago:  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.

That brings me to my second Christian criticism.  In this well-meaning narrative, Holy Scripture’s authority comes to be less important than the testimony of Colton Burpo.  His father tells how he (and others) came to believe in God’s promises more strongly than ever before.  But apparently, the testimony of the prophets and apostles and Christ himself in Scripture was not enough.  The convictions that God hears the prayers of His Christians (p.84), that God helps his pastors with power when they preach (p.126), and that Christianity itself is true (p.130) are all established as certain through Colton’s testimony about heaven—how shaky a foundation for the saints of the Lord!

In the third place, and most foundationally, 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.”  To be sure, there is sufficient testimony in Scripture to say that when a believer dies, his soul goes to rest with Christ.  But as every writing in the New Testament shows, Scripture reveals very little of what “heaven” is like, and (more importantly), “heaven” is not the great hope and promise of the Christian message at all!  Rather, the return of Christ in glory is the time when God’s good work, begun in us, will come to completion (Phil 1:6), and the creation itself will be set free from decay into the glorious freedom bestowed on God’s children (Romans 8).

The book actually narrates one grotesque example of what can logically happen when “dying and going to heaven” is made the greatest good.  Young Colton has just articulated this view:  “Jesus died on the cross so we could to see his Dad” (p.111).  Several weeks later, when Rev. Burpo is trying to teach his son not to run out into traffic, he tells him, “You could die!”  Colton smiled and replies, “Oh, good!  That means I get to go back to heaven!”  The father has no real answer, except to say that he wants to die first.  In the reality created by this way of thinking, death is your best friend.  In the reality created by the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, death is an evil invader, and the last enemy that the Lord Jesus will one day fully overthrow (1 Cor 15).

As N. T. Wright, the great New Testament scholar has quipped, “I’m not against heaven; but it’s not the end of the world!”  It is the Easter season.  Christ did not rise from the dead so that when we die, our souls could go to be in heaven.  No.  Christ died and rose, ascended and will come again, in order to renew the creation, and “on the Last Day He will raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true.”  There is not one crumb, not one word in Heaven is For Real that God’s full plan of salvation in Christ means eternal life now, and on the last day, full bodily holiness and immortality for all believers and for the whole cosmos.  There is no appreciation for the importance of our bodies, and of God’s promise in Christ to redeem them and raise us to everlasting life.  In brief, the best response to this book might be simply to confess the words of the Nicene Creed:  “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world (Greek, “age”) to come.”


Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs is Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary. He has authored several books on the Gospel of Matthew, including a nearly-completed three volume commentary.





96 responses to “Heaven Is For Real”

  1. pete lange Avatar
    pete lange

    i could tell just by the title of the book that you weren’t going to be a big fan…

  2. Tim Koch Avatar
    Tim Koch

    Dr. Gibbs,
    Thanks for taking the time to review this book. This book, and others (e.g., Love Wins, and to a lesser extent The Shack) do make claims about Christianity that should be addressed rather than dismissed. There is a part of me that wants to read these books and run them through the theological filters and lenses that the Seminary has equipped me with, but sometimes I debate as to whether it is worth my time to read it. And there are other times when I don’t want to “support” the book by spending my money on it. However, if I wait until I can snag it from the library, I will be a year or so late to the discussion. Furthermore, no individual can keep up with all the books that make all the claims about Christianity. I guess that why Christians are part of a community and share “Life Together.” We can build off the work of others, like directing a parishioner to your review of a book that I don’t intend to reed. I found your review to be helpful, timely, and a time/money-saving measure for me. So, for all of that, thanks again.
    Regarding the actual review of the book, I did appreciate the emphasis on acknowledging the sincerity of the claims while unabashedly using Scripture as the lens by which to interpret them.

  3. Alan Hald Avatar
    Alan Hald

    Dr. Gibbs,

    Thank you for taking the time to review this very popular book. It was recently suggested to me by a friend who said it increased her confidence in the reality of heaven. Although I understood the sentiment, I found it a disturbing one for many of the reasons you outlined in your review.

    While I agree with the vast majority of the things you mentioned, I must disagree with at least one point. While scripture makes it clear that death is an invader, Paul himself said “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” because death meant being with Jesus “which is by far better.” Colton’s comment about death (however bluntly put) is quite in line with Paul’s views regardless of his dad’s failure to come up with a strong response. To die IS gain.

    1. Sean McCoy Avatar
      Sean McCoy

      I’m not sure I would go too far with aligning what Paul is saying in Philippians 1 with what the Colton says about death. The contexts are extremely different: Colton is being taught not to run in the street – Paul is in jail and uncertain whether he is to be put to death or not. In Paul’s context, he’s trying to give assurance to the Philippians that their prayers for his deliverance will be answered, either by his release or in death. Yes, Paul says that, in Christ, to die is to gain, but he also then expresses his desire to remain with them and goes on to exhort them to live a life worthy of the Gospel. I read what Paul is saying here as “For to me (ie: for Paul and my current situation) to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In this way, Paul is saying that because he has been arrested for the spreading the Gospel, to be released and live is to spread the Gospel more and to die for the same Gospel is fulfilling the command to take up his cross and follow Him. For Colton’s context, running out in the street and getting hit by a car wouldn’t necessarily be “to gain” in this regard.

    2. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      Dr. Gibbs (who has not yet caught up to commenting on blog posts) asked this to be posted–sounds like Sean has been a good student, though!:

      Dear Alan:

      Thanks very much for writing. I think it is important to read Phil 1:23 in its context. Paul is not discussing the goal of the Christian life, or final salvation, or anything like that. He is in prison, and he is an apostle–which means he has been persecuted, beaten, and rejected over and over again. As he contemplates the days ahead, he is faced, he says, with two good choices. To live on would be fruitful labor on behalf of his beloved fellow Christians. To die, on the other hand is gain, and in some sense far better. But in what sense? The entire structure of Paul’s thought looks forward with longing to the return of Christ when the good work that God has begun in Christ will be brought to completion (Phil 1:6). His goal toward which he presses is not dying and going to heaven, but the resurrection of the body, which he has not yet attained, but which he anticipates eagerly when Christ returns from heaven (Phil 3). Phil 1:23 cannot be allowed somehow to trump or overturn the major strokes of Paul’s thought, especially his teaching about death as an enemy in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.

      Death cannot separate us from Christ. Nothing can (except unbelief). And, yes, to die in the Lord is a blessed rest and “better” presumably becasue there is no more danger or toil or temptation. But when we have died, we are not fully human–we are not the body-and-soul-knit-together creatures that God desires us to be. As Dr. Francis Pieper describes in the first volume of his Christian Dogmatics, death is a fearful tearing asunder of our human nature.

      Ah, well–I get too excited about these things. I hope that some of what I’ve said makes sense. Oh, for the day when all will be made clear, in the light of Christ’s return! In Him, Jeff Gibbs

    3. Alan Hald Avatar
      Alan Hald

      You don’t have to go to the context to glean what Paul means when he says ‘to die is gain’ as he makes it perfectly clear in verse 23 “I desire to depart and be with Christ which is by far better” Colton’s response could certainly be seen as flippant and the dad could have given a much better answer (possibly something echoing Paul’s own sentiment that it’s better he remains for the sake of others), but I stand by my initial assertion that Colton’s view of death is in line with Paul’s. To try and ‘contextualize’ Paul’s comments to mean something less than what they clearly state is inaccurate.

    4. Alan Hald Avatar
      Alan Hald

      Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your very thoughtful response. You were quite clear in what you said 🙂 I should make it clear that I think Colton’s view of LIFE doesn’t match Paul’s and this is where the dad could have had a teaching moment. And I also agree with everything you state about the circumstances of Paul’s life when he made the comment, which necessarily gives context to what he says about death.

      Much of what I’m stating is seasoned by things I’ve recently learned about the reality of heaven and how first century Christians seemed to have a very different view of death than we do today. That Colton’s comments don’t bear the weight of authority or the theological background of Paul’s is without question. But in his childish way, he still seems to be closer to the truth than most of what we see in our culture today. Our culture is obsessed with avoiding death (or even the thought of it). But the truth sets us free, which is why I get so excited about the fact that we get to be with Christ when we die “which is by far better”

      Until that day!

    5. AJ Avatar

      Hey, great discussion. Alan, I appreciate your perspective.

      Just a real quick thought though, re: Alan’s comment;

      I think we can see why keeping Dr. Gibbs’ emphasis (er… I mean St. Paul’s emphasis,) on the day of the resurrection instead of on the intermediate period can be seen even in the closing comment that Alan just posted: “Until that day!”

      “Until that day” is certainly a Christian thought and is a source of joy and a great thing to think of… but not if when we say “until that day!” we mean “the day of our deaths”. We do not point forward with joy to that day, and cry with joy about its coming, and pray that it would come with haste. The very idea of that seems odd, and SHOULD seem odd.

      Instead, “Until that day!” is a phrase that only makes sense if we’re talking about the day of the resurrection to come, where death is no more.

      I don’t want to nit pick or be all modern and semantic, but I certainly think this is really important: All of our phrasing and language and the ways that we refer to death are all emphasizing and aiming at (and hoping in) the wrong thing if death is seen “as gain” in the way I think you are meaning it. And while I am sure that you have a proper understanding that the resurrection of the dead (and not the intermediate period) is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan, many many people in our congregations do not. That is why it is all the more important that we point to the hope that St. Paul also points to: creation the way God intended for it to be, and as it will be, at the return of Christ. In THAT light, we certainly can say “until that day”.

    6. Kathie Kirschenmann Avatar
      Kathie Kirschenmann

      I would like to ask Dr. Gibbs if when Paul days “to die is gain” would he bed talking about dying to self? When we “die” to our sinful self and live in faith which comes by grace, the we are “living for Christ.”

  4. Alan Hald Avatar
    Alan Hald


    Thanks for your response. Ahh! Ok, I see the distinction being made and how my previous posts could seem to be saying the wrong thing. I don’t look forward to death, I look forward to being with Christ. My hope isn’t in death but in Christ and His resurrection. I can see how that distinction could be lost in the book being reviewed and why it’s important to point it out.

    Am I tracking now?

    Thanks again,

  5. T Ann Avatar
    T Ann

    While all you say is true…..and the boy’s account is simple…..but then when Christians first come to faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit…..majority of them are “Babes” in the faith and are not straight out of seminary or 40 days in the desert being taught personally by the Lord Jesus……thus they are to go from the “milk” of the word to the “meat”. This is the work of the Holy Spirit,enticing the new “babe in the faith” to study Holy Scripture with a hunger for more growth in understanding. I have discovered in the 50+ years in the LCMS…that many old fogies my age are still “babes” on the “milk”. Finally, God can use even this book to bring people to him, do you not agree? as HE IS the author and perfector of our faith” Many tmes men mean stuff for evil, but God uses it for “good”.

    1. Glen Wurdeman Avatar
      Glen Wurdeman

      It is true that “men mean stuff for evil, but God uses it for ‘good,’” but certainly that does not suggest that we should shrink from calling evil what it is or that we should not mark and avoid it. Indeed, to the extent that God may use false teaching for good, it would happen because, in response to that false teaching, godly men have spoken clearly against it, and people are thus saved or strengthened in their faith!

  6. Megan Avatar

    The father tries to get Colton’s account as word for word accurate as if Colton were telling you about it. It’s not going to be completely theologically in line with LCMS doctrine because one its coming from a 4 year old, and two Todd Burpo isn’t from the LCMS. To a 4 year old looking forward to going be with Christ and to be able to see His Dad (God) can be equated to looking forward the final resurrection. The final battle between Christ and Satan is mentioned along with who wins in the end. To me this is a mention of God’s ultimate plan for salvation. Burpo does in numerous places compare Colton’s account to scripture. I don’t think the point of the book was to teach theology but to give a testimony. I also think most people are drawn to it for comfort, as I am. That they will not only be able to meet Christ and God physically face to face one day, but will also be reunited with their loved ones who have passed before us.

    1. Lorrie Avatar

      Yes, yes, yes!!! So well said!! So many broken Christians out there including myself dealing with our calling and death! I just lost my Mother and so much want to spread His word but am not very capable right now! I pray for the lost when I can but I’m lost myself without my Mom! If the God given strength of a 4 year old can pull non believers in…whatever it takes!! HE is with us in unlimited forms!! I am so thankful for what has been and yet to come and Our Lord and Savior to be #1 on my bucket list and #1 in my life!! Can’t wait to see the movie and in His word I find strength, not that of sceptics! Scripture is our sword of Life!!

  7. Jeff Kloha Avatar
    Jeff Kloha

    From Jeff Gibbs (who still hasn’t figured out how to comment):

    Dear Megan:

    Thank you very much for your comment. Let me say again, in no way am I questioning Rev. Burpo’s love for his son, or his sincere motives in writing. The entire purpose of the book, however, is to teach and to proclaim truth. Nowhere in the book does the author say, “Now, you have to take my son’s words with a grain of salt; after all, he’s just a child and he might have gotten it wrong.” The book’s entire premise is that the important thing is dying and going to heaven. If Rev. Burpo had wanted to remind his readers that the great hope of the Bible is the return of Jesus on the Last Day, he would have done so.

    Obviously, the book is not “theology” in one sense. But just as every Christian—including you and me—is a theologian, so also the purpose of a testimony is to testify—to the truth.

    The Bible, as far as I know, is silent on the question of whether, in the interim state (that is, in heaven) we will know one another. The closest things to this I can think of is the fact that the living creature and the 24 elders are praising God and the Lamb in Revelation 4-5, and the parable of Lazarus the Rich Man (Luke 16). The Bible is virtually silent on what it is like to be a human being whose redeemed body and soul have been separated from each other.

    I, too, am seeking comfort in the face of death. Three members of our small congregation have died in the last two weeks. My aged father is in the hospital; thankfully, now, he seems to be improving. God’s plan is for us to be fully human, body and soul together. I am very encouraged by Paul’s promise that those who have died in the Lord before us will rise first, and as he says, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:18

  8. John Rasmussen Avatar
    John Rasmussen

    Thanks for the review! I’ve had three or four people at church ask me if I’ve read the book, and one person even offer to buy me a copy. This is a good opportunity to gently lead people toward a more biblical understanding of eternal life.

  9. Matthew Synnott Avatar
    Matthew Synnott

    I am with John on this one. I am thankful to have this review, and point people towards this review. Like John, I’ve had various people ask me about this book while on vicarage (and someone bought it for me as a gift). One thought:

    There was something else I found quite troubling about this book. I can’t find the page numbers, but it went like this: “Boy if we could just believe like a child…get past all of these big words like ‘justification,’ ‘propitiation,’ etc and keep the Gospel simple and childlike. Jesus died so when I die can see his dad.”

    Dr. Gibbs (or Dr. Kloha mediating for Dr. Gibbs), perhaps you could comment more on Burpo’s understanding of how he is interpreting Jesus’ “believe like child?” I see a law/gospel confusion in this approach that is not good for people who are filled years of life experiences, sins, and doubts that weigh heavy.

    1. Matthew Synnott Avatar
      Matthew Synnott

      Pardon the grammatical revision:

      Dr. Gibbs (or Dr. Kloha mediating for Dr. Gibbs), perhaps you could comment more on Burpo’s understanding of how he is interpreting Jesus’ “believe like a child?” I see a law/gospel confusion in this approach that is not good for people who are filled with years of life experiences, sins, and doubts that weigh heavy.

      1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
        Jeff gibbs

        Matt: You have put your finger on an important mistake in the book; there was not space in the review for it, but you’re absolutely right. Rev. Burpo makes the modern mistake of thinking that “turn and become like children” (Matt 18:2-3) means to be someone like this: “lack of guile,” “lack of an agenda,” “unself-conscious honesty,” “to be willing to accept reality and call things what they are, even when it is hard” (pages 74-75). This is the farthest thing from what Jesus meant! In the Old Testament, in ancient Judaism, and in the Greco-Roman world, children are not positive role models. They should be cared for and trained, of course. But this is precisely because they are helpless, unwise, irrational, ignorance, and dependent. This is what it means to “become like children”–only people are are like this . . . and who acknowledge it . . . will enter the reign of heaven on the Last Day. Jeff G.

  10. Book Review: “Heaven is for Real” « Faith Lutheran Church, Johnstown Colorado Avatar

    […] studies at Concordia Seminary has written an excellent review of this book, which can be found here:https://concordiatheology.org/2011/05/heaven-is-for-real Comments are […]

  11. Lee Handrich Gsellman Avatar
    Lee Handrich Gsellman

    My reason for reading this book was strictly because one of my grandsons, a public high school junior, gave it to me to consider after he wrote a book report for class. (This followed a report on Grapes of Wrath). What a wonderful opportunity to share faith, be challenged in my own relationship with Jesus, and connect even more with the younger generation we are losing from our churches. I have been blessed to be a Christian (LCMS variety) for 70 years, and I fear that sometimes our knee-jerk rigidity frightens people away from God’s Family.

    1. Dr. K. Schmidt Avatar
      Dr. K. Schmidt

      Well stated. When one considers the growth of such literature, films, and other forms of expression, it would seem appropriate to conclude there is increased social interest in the afterlife. Instead of dismissing the book, why not see t as an opportunity for outreach and teaching the Gospel? Will there be a need for clarifications and corrections? Of course, but to dismiss it entirely will do little more than push people away. Contextualizing is the point.

  12. demotivator Avatar


    […]Concordia Theology » Heaven Is For Real[…]…

  13. Matt Priem Avatar
    Matt Priem

    Thanks for a great review, and for the emphasis on pastoral approach as well. I’m wondering what resources, if any, we have (other than, you know, the Bible) to offer in place of this book? Are there any good books on dying and heaven out there? Anybody want to translate the Ars Moriendi?

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      Hello Matt — As it happens, we just finished recording another “In the Word” video-based Bible study on 1 Corinthians 15 and the resurrection, featuring Dr. Gibbs. Maybe we’ll have it out before Christmas, or if not that soon sometime in January. Dr. Gibbs also has several articles in the Concordia Journal on preaching the resurrection at funerals. You can access them online by following these instructions:


      Just log in and search for “Jeffrey Gibbs”

    2. WTBA Avatar

      Might not be exactly along the lines you were thinking of, but it belongs to works referred to as “ars moriendi” : http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Consolations-Trials-Oppress-Stuggle/dp/1606086642.

  14. Jeff gibbs Avatar
    Jeff gibbs

    For Matt, and others: N. T. Wright has a very small book (76 pages) titled, “For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed” (Morehouse, 2003) which is extremely helpful and (not surprisingly) very readable. One could give it to an interested lay person, or use it as a short class discussion resource.

  15. Pam Avatar

    Sadly like all critics that pull apart movies and books I find that unless God himself says this book is wrong then I will feel this article is just a humans opinion. We as human beings unless you have been to heaven really do not know what to expect and everything you know is in the Bible. I know that if we do not view heaven as a true believer then we question everything. I read the book and sometimes when a book makes you feel good when so many things dont maybe just leaving it alone and just letting others look forward to heaven would be a great idea. To many humans on this earth always have to question everything when God said we are not to judge but so many do and so many analyze everything and make statements. We are all human and only God knows the truth and God says if something that isnt wrong makes us happy then we should be thankful.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Pam:
      Thanks very much for writing. It would be helpful to me if you could be more specific where you see my review has made a mistake. None of us is above error; as you said rightly, only God is! God does ask us, however, to test the spirits and see whether they are from God (1 John), and the only way we can do that is by reference to the Scriptures themselves.

  16. Mike Avatar

    Am I the only one who has a problem with the idea of teaching children that heaven is like a revolving door where people can come and go for some undisclosed reason is dangerous? I do not think that it is healthy, much less biblically sound to suggest that if one fails to get it right the first time, we get sent back for “overs.”

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Mike:
      You make an obviously good point. As far as I know, there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that this is a “normal” thing. We do have, of course, people who died and were brought back to this mortal existence–Lazarus comes to mind (John 11). But we have no reports of any “reports about heaven.” Thanks very much for writing!

  17. Aaron Kalbas Avatar
    Aaron Kalbas

    On the mark!

    It facinates me (actually scares me) how often I have to teach and then re-teach what our hope is as Christians. Good thing I love being a pastor! 🙂 Thank you so much Dr. Gibbs for the review. Sorry I am so late to the discussion.

  18. Denise Churchill Avatar
    Denise Churchill

    It seems to me the two scriptures in the Bible that are most often overlooked have to do with logs (our own sin/spiritual blindness) in our eyes while throwing stones (false or accurate accusations) at others. The most conveniently quoted scripture is about “testing the spirits.” However, it was not meant to become a license to pass judgment on others. I’ve read the book. Are you 100% confident in your criticism of a small child who obviously loves Jesus? Do you realize how many children have come to salvation because of this book. How many have come to salvation from reading your books? I LOVE what Paul preached to those standing around pointing fingers…”But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice! Phil. 1-18. I’ve been to Seminary, worked with children for many years, and wouldn’t dare rob this beautiful child of his sincere testimony. Yes, we are to test the “Spirits.” I haven’t seen one Christian friend led astray by this book. In fact, I’ve seen just the opposite; it has produced good fruit and strengthened their faith. “…And you shall know them by their fruits…”

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs

      Dear Denise,
      Thank you for writing. I think that if you will re-read my little review, you will find that I did not call into question either the faith or the sincerity of anyone. I did, however, attempt to weigh the claims of the Book against the claims of Scripture itself. I’d be happy to hear how you think that I erred in that attempt.

      I might also add that our Lord’s words, “And you shall know them by their fruits” applies to Christ’s warning against false prophets (Matthew 7). The fruit of a prophet is his (or her) teaching, and so the Lord there is actually directing us to test the spirits, that is, examine the content of a ‘prophets’ teaching.

  19. Shane McCoy Avatar
    Shane McCoy

    I just finished reading the book after getting several reports on it from members of my Vicar congregation. I believe Dr. Gibbs is simply pointing out that we should not be elevating the claims and acts of personal experience as an alternative to scripture. While I have know idea what the “fruits of the spirits” of this child’s prophecy are I do believe that the child and his father elevate the existence of “heaven as our home” to a place that is not scriptural. The idea that Christians came to simply die and be with Jesus completely negates Paul when he says, “21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Philippians 1:21-24) Even though we will be with Jesus one day our lives are much more than a waiting room for death but a place where we continue the work of Christ. We should also be wary of the idea that death is the last stop. Jesus does not say “I am the death and the death he who believes in me will die.” He states 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25) This is to say that when we start believing that death is the end and not a new body in the resurrection we lose a sense of Christ’s mission. He defeated death so we could not so we would be defeated by death. Christ defeating death is a big deal. Denise I agree that that book has had a huge impact on Christians but as someone who went to Seminary I think you would agree that we should be cultivating in our congregations the beauty of Christ and his mission as much more important than our own personal experiences. In order to preach the full beauty of this mission we must weigh all theological claims and measure them against the Bible which is our standard. If I spoke in err then forgive me but I believe that Christ resurrected is the point of his death and when you have that understood you faith is only more full and beautiful. Dr. Gibbs if I miss spoke I apologize.

    1. Shane McCoy Avatar
      Shane McCoy

      Sorry my grammar and spelling is so horrendous I was in a hurry.

  20. Jeff gibbs Avatar
    Jeff gibbs

    I like the point that you make about death. As Paul says, death is the last enemy that Christ will one day overcome (1 Cor 15). And there’s a lot connected to this truth. It means that we should not think of our bodies as somehow unimportant, nor of the creation as a place that we are just supposed to leave behind.

  21. Pastor Kel Slater Avatar
    Pastor Kel Slater

    In the Book we read that Colton Burpo states, “The man had to have Jesus in his heart…he had to know Jesus, or he can’t get into heaven”

    How many people do you think have read this, in this best seller, that may not have read it before? or were reminded of it?
    It is stating in very simple terms that Jesus is the way to the Father.

    The theif on the cross did not meet all sorts of requirements, when Jesus said to him, today you will be with me in paradise.
    He simply said “we’re guilty, and He’s innocent…Lord remember me”
    Then Jesus turned and spoke that blessed assurance to the theif.
    (“I’m guilty” in need of a saviour & “He’s innocenet” saviour Identified)

    The blessed assurance that “Pops” the grandpa was in heaven, because he had confessed Jesus was also clear. The evidence of the
    baby sister (miscarried) was also proof that the child was saved
    in heaven…what a beautiful communication for those
    who’ve made the mistake of aborting, but still assured that the
    small creation was in heaven. And perhaps a prompt that they would seek Jesus as the saviour bridge for them to make that wonderful

    All of the theological training, debating, disecting, all the while
    God is using the wonderful account of a child to evangelise, draw
    and remind a dying world, He is avaliable, that He loves them, and Jesus is the way.

    For those who can’t see this in the book, I’ll be praying for you.
    Kel Slater – Santa Rosa, CA

  22. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
    Jeff Gibbs

    Dear Kel,

    Prayers are always welcome.

  23. Kevin Yoakum Avatar
    Kevin Yoakum

    Professor Gibbs,

    As you are quickly becoming the “go-to” guy on these matters within our church body, can I ask for a very brief review of the book “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn?

    I tried reading it a couple years ago, but gave up after finding it to be highly speculative. It seemed to have all of the answers, or seemed to be reading too much into the Scriptures. So I gave up reading it. (I know, quitter!)

    Well, now, one of my relatives is distressed over this book being studied at her home church and I am without a competent answer at this time.

    If you had just a few sentences to offer by way of “yea” or “nay”, it would be a good start.

    Pastor Kevin Yoakum
    CSL class of 98 (just fyi, not expecting that you remember!)

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs

      Dear Kevin,

      Whether I’m a go-to guy is up for others to decide. If someone woud let me know, at least I could then resign from the position . . . .

      I did read portions of Alcorn’s book some years ago. I found it to be a mixture of things that I thought were biblical, and others that I thought were not. So, I’m not sure I would use it in a study–I just don’t know enough to have an strong opinion. I do recall what seemed to be a confusion with the book as to the term “heaven.” Sometimes it seemed to refer to our souls’ rest with Christ between death and the second coming. At times, it seemed to refer to the new creation, remade when Christ comes again. Sorry not to be more helpful. Blessings to you!

  24. Concordia Theology » Heaven’s OK, but It’s Not the End of the World Avatar

    […] view of hope is introduced by referring to the book Heaven is For Real, among other sources.  I offered a review of that book here on Concordia Theology, and having read it I know that Meacham’s description is accurate.  The hope of Christians, […]

  25. Sharon Avatar

    I just finished reading this book for my book club at the local library. I am not writing to discuss what I think of the book, but more about the attention God is receiving because of it. What thrills me is how much discussion this book has created about Jesus. We live in the days when it is popular to remove God from our lives, when we remove the word God out of the “Pledge of Allegience” and anywhere else we can, and it is wonderful to see there is still an interest in knowing God. Just reading through all these posts, and other website postings, provides evidence that we aren’t ready to let go of God, no matter what the media may want to make us all think.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Yes, many people still have an openness to “god” or some idea about Him. So, if in that context of openness, we can share Christ, crucified, risen, and returning, that’s a very good thing!

  26. Heaven is Not Imaginary | Grace Lutheran Church - Dyer, Indiana Avatar

    […] look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world Greek, “age” to come.”via Concordia Theology » Heaven Is For Real.Also, if you are so inclined, listen to this interview with Pr. Tom […]

  27. ed Avatar

    I wonder how this book would have been received had the young lad reported that he had gone to heaven, and met Mohammed. Most Christians would have instantly refuted it as false, made up, fabricated. Same innocent young man, same type story, completely different results.

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs


      Thanks for writing, and you make an interesting point. And surely, Christians would have rejected such claims as you imagine because they would have measured the claims against the Scriptures themselves. That’s all that counts, in a way–do the claims agree with the Scriptures?

  28. Jay Avatar

    Thanks so much, Pastor/Professor Gibbs! It is amazing to me to see how easily agitated people become when something that has touched their heart’s strings is “attacked” (from their point of view)… yet seem to have no obvious issues when God’s Word is being undermined. For all of those who are giving this book credit for others coming to “saving faith”, I would remind all of you that the promise we have is that the Spirit works through the Word. Whether or not the Spirit chose to work through this other means, I cannot say for certain… but I AM certain that if ANYONE comes to faith, it is God’s work, not Colton’s (or anyone else’s). To Him belongs the glory. That is always the issue with Satan: trying to get glory for himself and using whatever means possible to lead others astray- even those things which appear as “angels of light”. Let no one forget that all of those things which “no one” could know- yet were revealed to Colton- WERE known by the demonic spirits which have been around since the Fall. Only God is omniscient, but the demons have been around for over 6000 years- and they know lots of stuff that “no one else could possibly know”, because they were “there” when it happened.
    How much, if any, of Colton’s experiences were “real”- no one can say. And, as wonderful as those experience may be for those who read about them, I would hope that that book would never take the place of THE BOOK (and all of it’s words of wisdom, truth, law & Gospel). No other book should bring us joy, comfort or peace like that Book does.

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs


      Thanks for your comments. You are right, and remind us all that the Scriptures, centered in Jesus for us all, are our only norm and source of truth. One of my fellow teachers here said to me a long time ago, “We’re supposed to be interested in the things that the Bible is interested in–not other things.” There’s real wisdom in that. To have other questions isn’t wrong, but if God doesn’t give answers, then we’re supposed to be satisfied with what He does give us.

  29. Otis Williams Avatar
    Otis Williams

    It amazes me how many Christians are willing to completely put aside theological accuracy for the sake of feeling “comfort” from a story. I can’t definitively speak on whether or not this child’s account is genuine, but the parable of the rich man and Lazarus certainly comes to mind. Christ explicitly stated there is a divide between the physical and the spiritual and that the words of scripture are sufficient to establish the consequence of sin as well as the gift of faith. What use is “comfort” or “confirmation” in your faith if it is predicated on a lie? This book doesn’t encourage devotion to God for the sake of his greatness, it encourages devotion to getting to Heaven.

    I’ve always been disgusted with accounts such as these as well as charismatic preachers that prey on emotions to con well-intentioned albeit gullible people into a false sense of devotion. The word of God, the creation of God, and the plan of God stand on their own. I’m all for extra-biblical aides in developing a better understanding of the word of God, but extra-biblical revelation is a completely different matter.

    The fact of the matter is, it’s fairly simple for a child to imagine heaven and relay that vision to his father, and his father’s eagerness to hear his account may have encouraged quite a bit of embellishment. I would go so far as to speculate this father may be including embellishments of his own for the sake of a better story. I understand why so many people accept this account without question. It’s a feel good narrative, it exudes charm and childlike personality, but it severely lacks theological soundness, and that can’t be ignored.

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs

      Dear Otis,
      Yes, ideas have consequences, which is why we have to evaluate and try to align our thinking with God’s revelation. I don’t know anything about the motives of the author; I have to assume the best. But your final statement is spot on–“it severely lacks theological soundness, and that can’t be ignored.”

      Thanks for writing.

      Jeff Gibbs

  30. Robin Avatar

    http://bible.cc/matthew/18-3.htm New International Version (©1984)
    And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs

      Dear Robin,

      I’d be interested to know more of what you are thinking when you reference Matthew 18:3.

      In Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  31. J. Dean Avatar

    Very good review. Addresses some of the concerns I have. Evangelicalism has this problem with exalting what sounds good and feels good over and above what is true and what is right. And the problem is that, when it comes from the lips of a child, we hate to sound critical and mean-spirited. But this child could just as easily have contrived this as being part of his imagination.

    One thing is for sure: it is dangerous to take as doctrine that which the Bible does not speak of. When God closes His mouth, we are to inquire no further.

    1. Jeff gibbs Avatar
      Jeff gibbs

      Dear Friend Dean,

      Thanks for your post. I agree with your comments. There are (at least) two trends in North American society at work here, perhaps. The smaller one is the way we hold up children as positive role models. By contrast, the ancient world (including Jesus in his ministry) did nothing of the sort; children were regarded weak and foolish and dependent, and, well, that’s how we must enter the reign of heaven (Matt 18:3). The larger problem is the democratization of knowledge, especially religious knowledge. It is is essentially a private matter or a matter of private experience, then there’s no way to test it. I like your statement: “When God closes His mouth, we are to inquire no further.”

      Jeff Gibbs

  32. Steve Phillips Avatar
    Steve Phillips

    I teach middle schoolers and have for a little more than 15 years, but have no degree. I have been in a Bible study for 21 years, but that’s about it, so that said….

    Are we who love the Lord, and want others to know the love, the hope, and yes the struggle of trying to live a better life, with Christ in our hearts, not willing to see in the face of one innocent, the wonderful possibilities through the sacrifice of Jesus? Why couldn’t it be just like Colton said it was? The message wasn’t about it’s ok if I die in the street, it was about, “he has to have Jesus in his heart or he can’t go to Heaven”.

    Those who write on these pages, please go to the videos and watch the boy as he is asked questions. What do you see? When he tells his Mom that the man who died has to have Jesus to go to Heaven with intensity in his voice, so much so that she has to walk him away from the service, that is the lynchpin of the book. Have any of you ever heard words like that from a kid not yet 4?

    Does a 4 year old describe Heavenly scenes as this one did? What of Jesus robes, why John, but of course he would be there. Gabriel in place by the throne, what a wonderful picture that makes.

    How does a boy know what his Dad and Mother were doing while he was in surgery? His father hadn’t discussed even with his wife that he’d been praying in a small room, she didn’t know where he’d been, the boy was in surgery, how did he know?

    He hadn’t met his great grandfather, isn’t it wonderful that one of his ancestors was there with him. Remember he’s three, but knew his name.

    Why would a kid that age walk in and say, “Jesus used the doctor to heal me, you need to pay him”? He was afraid of that doctor, crying when he even came into his room, but moreover, no kid who’s almost 4 does that! Paying a bill, what’s a bill when you are 4?

    How does he know about a sister who was miscarried before he was born, a sister who was never talked about? Remember his Mom said there was no way to explain to a little one that a baby he never knew about had died in her tummy.

    I am with kids every week, they don’t say things like little Colton said, and mine are from 11 to 14. Are you overlooking the obvious, getting bogged down in the weeds, while a miracle is being testified to in the cornfields of Nebraska.

    You guys are debating the Bible, and I love it too, but Pharisees did that while Jesus was out healing folks. Yes, they were wondering if he’d done it on the right day, had he sinned in the process. The message I read in this book was that God is real, that Jesus is the only way to him, that a little boy saw the urgent necessity of having Jesus spirit in people, what an amazing thing to know at that age. We are currently taking our church kids through the beginnings of confirmation…….They don’t talk like this kid. They don’t have that urgency about anything outside of their cell phones and fun/dinner.

    I urge you to look beyond the critical analysis and walk down to the youth departments of your churches and stay awhile. Listen to the small voice that has given so many a new vitamin shot of hope. Colton is now what, 12-13 and he’s still telling the story the same way. The miracle of testing that came to his family was almost Job like, and the testing of a young man who is still in the ministry, the story that unfolded not all at once, but over months, giving pause to the parents time after time, doesn’t that ring true to you who are parents?

    Remember the nurses coming in after the surgery one or two at a time, never really saying anything, just looking at little Colton, the doctor who did the same? Would they say they saw a miracle in the boy’s mere survival?

    Folks, we are in the Lord, do we stamp on miracles or hold them up as events that God is still doing everyday. This one more dramatic, but it comes at a time when America needs strength. It is a good read and a wonderful God sent word to me. I don’t have to have this little book to accept Jesus, I did that many years ago, but I love the “vitamin J” shot I have been given in the telling of this story.

  33. Steve Phillips Avatar
    Steve Phillips

    Oh, how is God’s word undermined?

    You have to have Jesus,.

    To be absent from the body is to present with the Lord.

    We are loved by our God?

    I don’t get the undermined point?

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Steve,

      Thank you for writing. Truth is not determined by our experience, although our experience can affirm (or contradict) the truth. For Christians, spiritual truth is determined by Christ Jesus, who is the Truth, and by the Scriptures that are rooted in Him. Where the Scriptures speak, we can speak. Where they are silent, we should not speak, nor make claims.

      My father, a devout Christian, died in December. Because of the Scriptures, I believe that he is at peace, resting with Christ, because death can’t separate him from Christ. But God’s plan for my father to be whole and holy and fully human, body and soul–that plan has been interrupte and attacked by death. And death will not have the last word.

      The great hope of the Scriptures is the return of Christ, not dying and going to heaven. I will contine to wait for the day of Christ return. If I die before that happens, God has that covered, too.

      Jeff Gibbs

  34. Jim Langenkamp Avatar
    Jim Langenkamp

    Dr Gibbs,

    Having read the review and all of the posts I wonder where you believe the thief on the cross is?

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Jim,

      Thanks for your question. The thief, in accordance with his just fate, is dead. That is, his humanity has been sundered by death into two pieces, if you will–his body and his soul. In accordance with Jesus’ promise, his soul has been, and is now with Christ in a conscious condition of blessed rest–“Paradise.” With all the church at rest, he awaits the resurrection of the dead and the final victory of God in Jesus for the whole creation. This is what I believe.

      In Him,

      Jeff Gibbs

  35. Crayon Avatar

    This is a true story about a little boy. How would he ever know to say any of the details he has mentioned at an early age. You can not critique something you have never experienced yourself and who is to say that they aren’t all different. Little children don’t lie. Heaven is for real. I’ve been with people as they are dying and have pointed to the ceiling and smiled and have grabbed my arm to make me look.. It warms my heart to know that there is a better place no matter how someone describes it. To be with the ones that left us behind. I’ve seen everyone that has passed in my family. They have all come to visit. If you ask they will help you as well but first you have to stop being so skeptical and trying to instill doubts into our heads. I know what is true and so does Colton. I believe him, and can’t wait til the movie comes out. You should believe, it’s said to think any other way.


    1. Andrew Avatar

      Little children do lie. I know I did. My earliest memory is being punished for lying when I was 4 years old.

  36. Crayon Avatar

    You need to ask for forgiveness for writing what you wrote. It’s sad to even offer any doubt to others or to make a little boy who reads these reviews feel bad that he may not be telling the truth. This is a very cool story. I wish everyone could see and understand there is only one God and we all got and will leave here the same way. As for how it happens is our own special story and as for how he greets us is his own special way. No one should ever take that away.Ever.


    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Crayon,

      “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come”–this is how the Creed sums up our chief hope as Christians. The fact of the matter is that this chief hope is completely absent from the little book, “Heaven is for Real.”

      In Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  37. Judith Avatar

    Hello Everyone,

    Let us read the bible and understand it. It’s not about what we think, it’s about what the bible says.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Judith,

      I agree with you completely.

      In Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  38. Delwyn X. Campbell Avatar
    Delwyn X. Campbell

    Interestingly, I have never read a book or heard of a story, where anyone had a “near death experience” and come back, claiming to have seen Mohammed, confirmed the truthfulness of the Qur’an, seen Siddhartha Gautama, confirmed the 8-fold Path, or any of the other things threatened by “ed” on April 24th. I have, however, heard many testimonies of former Muslims who said that they saw a vision of Christ, and as a result, embraced the Gospel. Martin Luther was good, but he wasn’t God. The Confessions are scriptural, but they aren’t Scripture.
    Having said that, I guess you have to build your foundation upon something, and Scripture is the surest foundation that we know of. I would not elevate this boy’s story above Scripture, but I would use it to point to the fact that the vision of the Materialist, a life ruled by chance, ending in silence, is much more incredible than a life ruled by God, ending in His presence (and by “incredible,” I mean “not credible”). The book is not Scripture, but it doesn’t have to be. It is not presented as Scripture, I might add, but simply as the record of what a boy experienced. As the old folks used to say, “eat the meat and spit out the bones.” Of course, some of you have probably never heard that saying, based on what I suspect your backgrounds to be, if you are life-long, 2nd or 3rd generation Lutherans, but that’s ok. Exposure to other cultures is a good thing.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Delwyn,

      There are very similar reports of “Muslim near death experiences.” Here is a link to one of them–you will notice many similarities:


      I agree with both of your statements that Martin Luther was not God, and that the Confessions are not Scripture.

      The book is presented as true, and reliable, and and as evidence given so that people can know that “Heaven is for Real.” Those are weighty claims, and we should respect the author and take his claims seriously, and evaluate them.

      In Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  39. Denise Morse Avatar
    Denise Morse

    I too have read this book and found it very comforting. In the last several years I have lost 8 people who I was very close to. Two of which were Sons with 2 small children each. Grief has become a big part of my life and this book has given me hope! I am not a Dr. of Theology but I am a Christian (Lutheran LCMS)with having gone through a Christian school. I believe in the Triune God and I believe my reward is in Heaven living eternity with my Lord. I have read many books on this subject written by people who have died and been allowed to return to this world. They have all said pretty much the same thing as this little 3 year old boy. I believe in he Bible, I believe in the warnings “Beware of False Prophets” I also believe a 3 year old could not possibly be a “false prophet”! When Christ came into this world to live among us, He was not accepted by His own people. I believe that this little boy could very well be being used by our Dear Lord to pass on a message to the world. Just as there are “False Prophets” in this world I do believe the Lord still sends “True Prophets”, therefore I would have to say I disagree with Dr. Gibbs and am looking forward to this movie and one day living with and seeing my Lord and loved ones!

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Denise,

      I am very sorry concerning your losses in the past several years. I, too, have suffered similar losses–when our Savior returns in glory, he will raise the dead, and wipe away every tear from our eyes. With you, I am longing for that day!

      I did not accuse Colton Burpo of being a false prophet. I did conclude that the message of the book misses the mark on the central themes of Scripture. That does not make him a false prophet. It just means that I have concluded, based on my own knowledge of the Scriptures, that the book is misguided. Perhaps I am mistaken. That would simply make me wrong, and not necessarily a false prophet.

      The peace of Christ be with you.

      In Him,

      Jeff Gibbs

  40. Jay Avatar

    I feel I must respond to the question: How could the boy know any of those things, if it wasn’t “real”? The Scriptures tell us to test the spirits. While I do not profess to know “how” the boy came to the knowledge that he had, I do know this: demons have been around since the first week of creation. They are not God- but they have been around alot longer than any of us. And they are fully capable of having seen what this boy’s grandpa looked like (and disguising themselves as him)… and they were certainly present in the room, observing what the boy’s parents were doing, during surgery. People always assume that when they experience something “spiritual”, it must’ve been from God… and forget that there are spiritual forces that are at work against us (and God). If anyone doubts that it could happen: go to an “angels” website sometime and see what people have to say about “their angels”. Some will go so far as to pray to their angels and, literally, worship them. We know how an angel of God would respond to that (see Revelation Rev. 22:9). Yet these “spiritual beings” are more than happy to accept the adulation and prayers. What does that tell you? They are not from God, despite all the “good” that they are appearing to do.

    I don’t know what the truth is in this case… but I do know what the source for Truth is. And I am going to rely on that (the Bible) if ever it comes into conflict with the word of man. I do not fault anyone for wanting to believe the boy’s story; but I would caution them to “test the spirits” before they assume, a priori, that they are true. I don’t know how demons could use this boy’s story to separate man from God… but I know that that is their goal… and that they will use whatever they can to accomplish that goal… and I know that they are much more ‘crafty’ than me.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Jay,

      Thanks for writing; you have offered careful and helpful comments. As I mentioned in the review of the book, I continue to treasure the advice I received long ago from a veteran pastor: “Don’t deny that someone had an experience; always reserved the right to interpret the experience (in light of Scripture.”

      In Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  41. Mary Avatar

    Thank you Dr. Gibbs for your insights to this book. As you must know, the interest in this book continues now that the movie is in theaters.

    Someone made reference to the scripture that unless one become like a child he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I wanted to add that becoming like a child does not mean one has to dumb themselves down. Why does it seem that the intellect is attacked when this scripture is used out of context? We are to feel ashamed that we are using our God give brain?

    Also, though i have not read the book, i have heard that Colton told his dad that he sat next to the holy spirit and “he was kind of blue”. Was that statement in the book? No one has mentioned how unscriptural that is. Could you comment?

    Thank you.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Mary,

      Yes, the interest is quite high these days. It’s a little ironic to me–the book shows no interest in the Resurrection, and here we are, poised and holding our breath to receive the witnesses’ testimony that death–physical death–has been defeated.

      Yes, the statement you asked about is on pages 102-103 of the book.

      Several people have mentioned “like a child” (as in Matthew 18). What Jesus almost certainly means there (as we can see from understanding how “children” were viewed in the ancient world) is that to be like a child is to be dependent and helpless, weak and unable to provide for yourself. It’s the opposite of being “great.” Most of the ways that we fill in the blank come from our modern perceptions of children–or rather, from our perceptions of children as they sometimes are. I am, in fact, like a child–weak and unable to save myself. This is why we have a Savior, crucified and risen, indeed!

      In Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  42. Denise Morse Avatar
    Denise Morse

    Dear Jeff,

    I actually was not calling you a false prophet or accusing you of accusing you of accusing Colton of being one. My point simply is that God has the power and the means to absolutely use anyone to send a message to his people in any manor He chooses. It is in my belief that He still sends us messages today and messages sent today would in my hearts belief come in such a way as to speak to people of today. We need to be mindful to look at the signs of the times. While it is true that God and the Bible are never changing, the world and people in it have changed drastically. God has allowed us to know so much more today then we did in Paul’s time. I believe He would speak to us differently. There are so many people out there today who have had the same type of experience as Colton ( as no two people are the same, no two people would have the same experience ) and they all say pretty much the same things. I just feel we need to give them credence of truth. I would not pretend to know more then Scripture or you but in my recent experiences, from what I have seen and heard from the dying and read in these first hand accounts of Heaven, that God Himself through these people, especially Colton has given us new and recent insite into the Scripture in a way adding to what we already have.


    Denise Morse

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Denise,

      Thanks for writing. I didn’t think that you were calling me a false prophet, so I’m sorry if you got that impression. In your earlier post, however, you had asserted that the little boy “could not possibly be a false prophet.” So, I was responding to that, and saying that even if I think he is wrong or fooling himself or something like, that doesn’t mean he should be labeled a “false prophet.” It just means his words should not be trusted, which is what I was suggesting on the basis of what I think the Scriptures say.

      I don’t think that I could agree with your statement that “God has allowed us to know so much more today than He did in Paul’s time”–at least, not about spiritual things. Paul was an apostle, a unique messenger and authoritative spokesman for Jesus. If a message claims to add or contradict Paul’s message, then I cannot accept that. Paul’s vision was firmly fixed on the return of Jesus as the goal of our salvation. The book, “Heaven is For Real,” does not even mention the return of Christ. This is a problem on a number of levels.

      All the best to you in Christ,

      Jeff Gibbs

  43. Junker Georg Avatar
    Junker Georg

    Perhaps not directly related to this fair review of the book, but still in the ball park: With the recent release of the movie “God is not Dead”, and now the release of “Heaven is for Real” as a movie, is anyone else noticing the similar emphasis in claiming concrete proof in the here and now for the existence of certain fundamental articles of Christian faith, in this case, the existence of God and that of Heaven (which, I realize, from Scripture and the Creed, is more about the resurrection of the body/life everlasting/new heaven and earth, etc.)??? I’m amazed at the excitement shown by Christians for these books/movies–an enthusiasm which has given me the impression that it amounts to a “Phew. I’m so glad to now know there is concrete proof that all these things the Bible teaches are actually for real!” Also, to borrow philosophical type terminology (very cautiously), there seems to be a hyper focus on “existence”, that something/someone is, whereas considerations of “essence”, of what something/someone is, is just assumed and not really considered. (Note: I’m mindful that ontology is very dangerous, especially in relation to any speculation on the alien “Deus Nudus”, and that we should stick to the proper God of revelation, of how God wills to be forensically in relation to us.) In other words, it’s as if just hearing supposed proof that “God” is not dead and that “Heaven” is for real were enough, without any questions concerning the who/which/what of God or Heaven is in itself. Hence, when Dr. Gibbs discusses what Scripture does (and does not!) teach us about the “essence” of Heaven in comparison with what is claimed in “Heaven is for Real”…when he cites what Scripture says about Heaven (and does not say about it!), then some of the people so enthused by such books/movies get ornery, as if they’re saying, “Don’t ruin my party! Don’t bother me with what Scripture has to say about Who God is and is not, and of what Heaven is and is not. Just to have concrete proof that “God”, “Heaven” exists, regardless of however they are described/defined, is enough for me.” I’m seriously puzzled by this mentality, of concern for confirming/knowing the reality/existence of something, quite apart from any concerns of its essence. I mean, ala Hamlet, “tis may be a devil or a ghost”…No concern over whether it be of God or of the devil, who, for the sake of stealth in his deceptions, often mixes in some truth with his lies; who apes God, masquarading in a way we’d assume to be “divine” according to our fallen human reason/sense–hardly divine like Isaiah depicts, that is, like a man of sorrows. And, ala Heb 11:1, “knowing” in the here and now is quite distinct from believing in a trustful, patient sense in the here and now. For sure, there is concrete proof, there is evidence, it’s just it’s not revealed to us yet–where we’re waiting for the final revelation of the Last Day…when what we now trust in faith to be concretely true, will finally be concretely revealed to be true to all, when then every knee will bow and confess Jesus as Lord, whether they were an unbeliever or believer. (In a sense, there will be no unbelievers/deniers on the Last Day.) In short, I fear such books/movies undermine our life by faith. For sure, on the Last Day there will be concrete proof…then we will know as we are known. But for the meantime, we walk by faith, not by sight…trusting in Christ, the Word of God, not anything of our flesh.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear J.G.

      It is hard to know all of the reasons and motivations why different “proofs” appeal to now this person, now this group, etc. A lot of what you said makes good sense to me.

      Your emphasis on the Last Day as the final validation and verification (from our point of view) of God’s work in Christ is spot on. And that is precisely why Easter is the linch-pin for everything–Easter is the Last Day, the final vindication, already given . . . to and for Jesus. He is the stone rejected by the builders who had become the head of the corner. And, raised to immortal, indestructible life and seated at God’s right hand, he and he alone is the “proof.”

      And with us he certainly is, as he promised–in the baptizing, in the Word, in the Supper, in the community. So we walk by this faith, and not yet by the sight that we will have one day, when we will see him as He is and become like Him (1 John 3).

      In hope with you,

      Jeff Gibbs

  44. Denise Morse Avatar
    Denise Morse

    Dear Dr. Gibbs,

    I so agree with you on the fact that Paul knew so much more Scripturely. He had the wonderful opportunity of being taught by Christ Himself! How awesome, there are no words! The weight of the responsibilities given Paul, again, no words. By saying we know more I was speaking more of medically, sincentifically and unfortunely worldly.

    I believe that in many ways having faith today is much harder then it was in Paul’s time. Miracles today are too often harder to see, all to often explained away buy science. People don’t see it as God, who ultimately makes the decision to allow such things to happen. God has given ( in my opinion ) such people as Colton a responsibility to give us the message of Hope, renewed faith in his promises the Bible and his word as real and not fairy tale. That He is alive and working in this world and still speaks to us if we listen with our hearts not always our ears and eyes. He has given these many people the courage to speak up and tell us their experiences. I just don’t feel they should be dismissed because they are focusing on a particular portion of Scripture instead of the whole. The task God has given them is to inform us of Heaven and how beautiful it is, to possibly remove our fears of death, to assure us yet again that there indeed is ” life after death ” to encourage us to go on and look forward to Christ’s second coming, to offer comfort to those of us who are grieving, that Jesus has indeed conquered death. To me, because of such people and the limited knowledge God has graciously given me, my faith in Jesus, His second coming, Heaven,fear of death ( not so much my own as of those I love and grieve for ) of the unknown are clearer, pretty much rolled into one. I do not doubt Scripture as Gods word, I never did, but the comfort given from such people as this 3 year old child, along with my prayers, and the prayers of those who have prayed for and still pray for my family and me and of course the work of the Holy Spirit, are in fact what has given me the courage to continue living, to get up every morning to put one foot in front of the other. I can’t help but think and feel if such stories have offered such courage and comfort to me they are also offering it to others. I see that as a good thing and not something that should be discouraged and dismissed by the church.

    Jesus said : ” in my Fathers house there are many rooms” and ” I go to prepare a place for you, if it were not true I would tell you so”. (I’m sorry, I do not know exact verse and right now my Bible is not handy ) I believe The Holy Trinity is using Colton and the others like him to reinforce and enlighten those of us in this troublesome world of today.

    I thank you for offering me the opportunity of this discussion and your educated wisdom. This too is a good thing.

    Respectfully in Christ

    Denise Morse

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Denise,

      Yes, it is always a good thing when Christians talk together, wanting to serve and worship the Lord Jesus and to know His Word and His ways. Many thanks for your kind words and good spirit!

      In Him,

      Jeff Gibbs

  45. Glen Avatar

    Dr. Gibbs,

    Thank you for an excellent and thoughtful review. Isn’t it kind of funny (sad) how the Scriptures get in the way of our “faith?”

    A blessed holy week to you and yours.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Glen,

      Thank you very much. The Lord’s blessing also be with you and with yours!

      In our risen Lord,

      Jeff Gibbs

  46. Is “Heaven Is for Real” For Real? - John W. Otte Avatar

    […] that makes me unable to see this movie. One of my professors from the Seminary, Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, wrote a review on the original book that cemented my opinion about both the book and the movie. Dr. Gibbs is a lot more critical of the […]

  47. Steadfast Lutherans » Great Stuff — Heaven is not enough Avatar

    […] to live for all eternity? The answer is one that does not involve the human body in any way.  In reviewing the book, Dr. Jeff Gibbs of Concordia Seminary wrote: “There is not one crumb, not one word inHeaven is For Real that God’s full plan of salvation […]

  48. J. Dean Avatar

    Is anybody else concerned about the fact that there are non-Christians who have had similar NDEs (near death experiences) to Colton Burpo’s?

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear J.Dean,

      You raise a significant point, and in one of the responses above, I gave a link to a “Muslim near-death testimony.” Human experiences can have a place in our understandings of Christ and his truth. But because we share a common humanity with non-Christians of all kinds, there will be overlap in how “experiences” are, well, experienced. And, when there’s a lot of overlap it makes one more cautious. Even atheists, as you know, have reported “happy” experiences returning “from dead.”

      Christ is risen, indeed!

      Jeff Gibbs

  49. Heaven is BRIGHT-er-healthy for living tips Avatar

    […] Concordia Theology » Heaven Is For Real […]

  50. Lilly Avatar

    I am reading this book for CCD and school. I am thirteen and this book makes me belive of heaven and gives me a better understanding of heaven.

    1. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
      Jeff Gibbs

      Dear Lilly,

      Thank you very much for writing. I’m very glad that you are reading and thinking about these important things! Since you are in CCD, I know that you have also been thinking about and believing in the Creeds of the Church. One of the parts of the Creed that I like the best is when Christians say, “I look for the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.” I hope that is a joyful part of your faith as well. The Lord be with you!

      In Christ,

      Dr. Jeff Gibbs

  51. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
    Jeff Gibbs

    Dear Andrew,

    Thanks very much for writing. I was not aware of who Akiane Kramarik (AK) is, or what sorts of ideas she espouses.

    You ask for a thought or two. Although it’s been a while, and although I am not a big fan of “Heaven is for Real” (as you know), I do recall that the book has a noteworthy emphasis on faith in Jesus as necessary for salvation. To be sure, it’s couched in terms such as “You have to ask Jesus into your heart.” But I do recall that the book itself, in its own way, upholds the uniqueness and necessity of Christ.

    On the other hand, once a connection is made with artwork by AK, then one can imagine a question such as, “How could she have known what Colter (supposedly) saw?” That sort of question is characteristic of the presentation of the book, sometimes offered as convincing truth of what is presented. So, that could possibly open the door into giving credibility to AK, and so by extension to her ideology and convictions.

    So–the book itself (as far as I recall) does not go down that road. But one has to admit that others might take it in that direction.

    All the best in Jesus, risen and returning,


  52. Jeff Gibbs Avatar
    Jeff Gibbs


    Excellent! We’ll be looking for you!!

    Jeff G.

  53. Daniel Monroe Avatar
    Daniel Monroe

    Hi Dr. Gibbs; I saw your Commentaries on the Book of Matthew on-line, and was wondering if you included references to some of the early Hebrew Manuscripts found that clear up the genealogy which reads (translated) ‘…Yosef father of Miriam’, or chapter23 v.3 ‘…do and observe whatsoever he (Moses) tells you…’, and scores of Hebrew word puns that can’t be adequately translated into Greek. I found Nehemia Gordon’s “The Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus” to be a priceless resource for this Christian believer. Daniel

  54. Cheryl Burkhead Avatar
    Cheryl Burkhead

    My pastor mentioned you had written a very good piece on the Holy Spirit. I was wondering if there is somewhere I could find a copy?

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