Heaven is for Real, the story of a boy who allegedly visited heaven and lived to tell the tale, is getting a big Hollywood treatment this week.

The film centers on four-year old Colton Burpo and his supposed vision of the afterlife following a traumatic near death experience. Greg Kinnear—and his signature confused stare no doubt—stars as Colton’s father, a small-town pastor faced with the decision to either share his son’s account or keep it hidden from the rest of the world. Spoiler: his book becomes a hit.

With the film releasing this week, Christians are left to wrestle with exactly how they should respond theologically to both Colton’s story and other popularized near death experiences (NDEs). Can—or should—these narratives be used to inform our beliefs about the afterlife? What about our Christian apologetic?

While it may rattle some fans of the book, Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig encourages followers of Jesus to proceed with caution when studying NDEs and, in particular, Heaven is for Real. In a podcast dedicated to the issue, Craig says:

“My concern is this: Christians, in their enthusiasm for the glimpse of heaven that is offered in the book, may begin to base their view of the afterlife and of heaven on these sorts of experiences rather than on what the Bible teaches.”

While Colton’s story might have us crying in the bathroom after the film, NDEs are often inconsistent with one another. “We know that some of these [NDEs] are not authentic or veridical because they contradict each other. And yet how do you know whose experience is authentic and whose is not genuine?” Craig states.

As much as it may pain some to admit, Heaven is for Real is difficult to prove, especially as it relates to the Colton’s heavenly experience itself. Could this vision, or Colton’s interpretation of the vision, be true? Yes. Is it? We can’t be sure.

Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University does, however, point out one important aspect of NDEs that he feels Christians can’t overlook. In his book Beyond Death, Habermas provides close to twenty cases of what he cites are verifiable NDEs. He goes on to argue that while NDEs can’t necessarily construct a biblical worldview, they can be used to refute naturalism.

So, given all this information, how should Christians respond to Heaven is for Real?

In one sense, followers of Jesus should judge the film with the same standards we use to assess all movies. Is it artistic? Does the plot work? What about Kinnear’s confused stare?

On the other hand, Christians should be quick to remember that while Colton’s story might be heartfelt and inspirational, it isn’t the Bible. The film can be used as a conversational piece about death and a pointer to culture’s interest in the afterlife, but audiences shouldn’t allow this account to dictate their view of the afterlife.

Yes, we can develop our theology of heaven from a book. No, that book is not Heaven is for Real.


  1. I am sorry – but if a movie is a documentary and supposedly is suppose to be presenting the truth of heaven, why should the questions of whether it is artistic if the plot works have any importance. Does it or des it not agree with God’s Word – period. If not, it is not of God and is conveying a lie.

    1. This movie is not a documentary. It is a fictional film based off of a book that some people think is non-fiction. It is kind of like the movie “Noah,” in that way. If you approach this movie thinking that it is non-fiction, you are basically predestining yourself to get upset. I recommend not doing that. Being upset is less fun than not being upset. Also, the way you react to something is more important than the thing you are reacting to, so that is why it is important to analyze the art of any film you see. There is always something to learn.

    2. I think his point in saying to judge the film by whether or not it’s artistic and by the plot is him saying that those things are all it’s really worth, since it is not a documentary presenting the truth of heaven, which he also said.

    3. it is not a documentary and it is surely not portraying the truth about heaven. it is portraying the thoughts and supposed events that happened to ONE family with ONE experience that ONE kid had. all that is being said in this article is that we shouldn’t use this movie as a guideline or example of heaven, because it is a movie!

  2. Our family listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it as an inspirational story, but not as an absolute truth. I think books like Rick Joyner’s “The Final Quest” are more dangerous because they claim to be prophetic rather than anecdotal.

    One could say a liberal, or reader response, view of Scripture would endorse the book. Hell is what you make it, heaven is what you want it to be.
    BJ Novak’s, formerly of The Office, recent book has a short story called, “Nobody goes to heaven to see Dan Fogleberg.” Heaven is a concert venue for the greats (Elvis, Mozart, Frank Sinatra) but there is no waiting to see Dan Fogleberg.

  3. 1. I am pretty sure that Jesus did not have blue eyes. I do not believe Colton’s identification of the artwork of Jesus with blue eyes as being exactly what Jesus is like could be an authentic encounter with Jesus.

    2. I believe that many small children overhear and intuit parental concerns about issues the parents think the children know nothing of. Despite parental denials, this could explain some of the content of Colton’s experiences.

    3. I believe that most NDE’s should be interpreted much as we interpret most dreams, as providing insights into our subconscious minds.

    4. I do not eliminate the possibility of authentically prophetic dreams and NDE’s, but they need to pass the sniff test of coming from God. Do they accurately represent Jesus of Nazareth as crucified, risen, and exalted? Do they direct our lives toward self-giving love and toward other revealed purposes of God for our lives on earth? Do they ring true to Scripture?

  4. Whatever happened to the scripture in 2 Cor 5:8 – “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. ” (KJV)
    Is there a scripture verse that says that one can ‘die’ and then return to life without the direct intervention of Jesus, Elijah, Elisha, Peter, or Paul. Will Jesus allow someone to die, visit Him and return to life?
    Be careful in what you believe hearing things like this. Examine the scriptures. Is money-making involved?

    1. Ridiculous to mention Peter and Paul, or other such Biblical characters, as having the ability to intervene miraculously.

  5. My mom died in November of 1990 as a result of what was termed by “authorities” as a “highly probable homicide.” At this time, I discovered that I had unknowingly allowed a man into my life who had several felonies and had served time in prison, and more sadly, I had allowed him briefly into my mother’s life. I say “briefly” because she died two weeks later in an ICU of a hospital where this man had worked and where ICU had allowed him access to my mom without my knowledge because he was deceptively presenting himself to hospital staff as my new husband and my mom’s son-in-law.

    Seven months after my mother’s death, without seeking any such experience, I had what is called (similar to an “NDE” or near-death experience) an “ADC” or after-death communication (for me, this was a visual experience in living color; some people claim to have auditory or olfactory experiences).

    Consequently, I began reading every book that I could find on this topic to learn if I was alone in ever having had such an experience; were these considered ‘real’ and ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’; and was my experience, in particular, from God? (I was not ‘born again’ spiritually until 2004, at which time, Jesus came into my heart.)

    After becoming a true follower of Jesus, I threw all such books away that I had bought. No longer can I even remember their titles. One was by Betty J. Eadie and was about either her NDE or her ADC. Another was by a couple who each were psychologists and who used to be married but had divorced yet still co-authored a book together about numerous anecdotal stories from around the world of people’s ADC experiences. I even read one of Shirley McClain’s books, maybe titled something about “going into the light.” Around this same time period of the early to mid-1990’s, the TV show, “Crossing Over” with John Edwards arrived on the scene, and I was hooked. I so wanted to understand the experience that I had had. By the way, in the vision, my mother appeared beside my grandmother who had pre-deceased her. They each looked their most beautiful and were wearing clothing and even eyeglasses that were familiar to me. In the vision, my mom mouthed in a rather exaggerated way (I thought for me to better read her lips since there was no auditory experience with this vision), “I’m OK. I LOVE YOU. I’m OK. I LOVE YOU.” As suddenly as ‘they’ came, poof! They were gone.\!

    My ADC experience, as I processed it over the coming months and next several years, as well as reading such books and watching that weekly TV show to which I referred above, took my fear of death away from me. I THOUGHT that I could (maybe) believe that there really WAS a God. I began praying, but especially, I liked to stand outside under the night sky blanketed with stars and pray–only, talking to the moon just to have a visual image of ‘something’ to address and, really, talking to my mom–not to the God for Whom I was STILL uncertain even existed.

    Here’s my point: Look where that initial ADC experience led me. For those of you who have had God’s “born again” experience and love reading and hearing His Word and cannot live a day without prayer–without talking to Him and spending time with Him–you know that another entity had been leading me down a path that led me away from the Living Lord and His Truth.

    Thank God! Really, thank God that Jesus came and rescued me out of this darkness in the spring of 2004. For the past ten years of His having brought me into His Kingdom as His child, His daughter, I trust and obey the Living Word–not Betty J. Eadie; not the divorced psychologists couple; not Shirley McClain; and not John Edwards (and not, as with currently on TV, the Long Island Medium)! God’s Holy Spirit-inspired written Word of the Bible and God’s Holy Spirit Himself teach us what God has chosen to reveal to us–for now–about eternal life! Praise God the Father and Jesus the Son and His Holy Spirit!

    [Read 1 Corinthians 15–the entire chapter; read 2 Corinthians 5–the entire chapter; read Philippians 1:23-24; read James 2:26; read Luke 28:43; read Romans 8:23; read Luke 16:19-31]

    1. Thank you, Eve, for your wonderful testimony and insight into the problems these NDEs and ADCs can cause.

  6. I think the point that we should not miss, here, is what the book claims about itself. It claims to be a true story. I had a friend recently bring up the topic of the book. I said that I didn’t believe it was actually true. She said “well, it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not, its whether or not it moves you”. I think that is a very dangerous measure of something. I personally think truth is pretty important.

  7. I believe God can do anything He wants, & if He uses somebody in a NDE to come back and tell people, then He can. If you remember, even some of the closest people to Jesus that walked with Him for over 3 years still denied Him. God works in mysterious ways! Amen!

  8. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, when the rich man wanted Lazarus to return form the dead to convince his family members, Jesus told him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:30,31). Why would God have someone go to heaven so they could come back and tell people that it’s real–when Jesus said people have all the evidence they need in the Law and the Prophets, so He would not allow someone to be sent back from the dead.

    Also, in 2 Cor. 12:2-4, when Paul was caught up to the third heaven, he “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” one of the most integral people in the NT was given a glimpse of heaven–yet he wasn’t told to describe it for us. Instead, what he saw “cannot be told . . . may not utter . . . is not allowed to speak . . . not permitted to tell.” Everything God wants us to know about heaven He has already told us in His Word. So, we can be sure a random individual thousands of years later could not now be telling what God has said is not permitted. Would God have changed His mind . . . so those Scriptures are no longer true?

    The boy also saw some things that are not biblical. That alone should be enough to convince us that his account is not from God.

  9. This is sad. I loved the book Heave is for Real. There is nothing extra-biblical or contradictory to this TRUE story. Obviously as a 3 year old, Colton knew enough that God is real and loving and Jesus LIVES in his heart. As for his experiences… all I can say is “out of the mouths of babes”. And writing the book? If you read the book, it’s obvious, the parents did NOT plant any words into his mind or put words into his mouth. They let Colton describe as a child could. 700 Club has had a series called “From beyond the grave” with story after story of those who experience both heaven and/or hell. The Lord is using these genuine, normal people, like the Burpos, to share their testimonies. Yes, the Burpos are part of making a movie. But as a person of strong faith in my Savior, the Holy Spirit confirms in my heart – money making was NOT their motive in the least. Please hear their testimony on 700 Club – videos are on the website. Another incredible testimony is Ian McCormack (also on 700 Club). Those who KNOW Christ or come to know Jesus as a result of their experience are sharing their testimony to GIVE GLORY TO GOD! Give them that.

  10. Doesn’t the book of Revelations show us that we do not immediately experience life after death. We will all be resurrected at a future time and judged by Jesus Christ. How can someone die, go to heaven (or wherever) and come back? That would surely necessitate time travel. Doesn’t the whole concept contradict Biblical teaching?

    1. Paul says we are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), and his “desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). Upon death our soul immediately goes to be with the Lord, though our body is not resurrected until later. The book’s/movie’s statement that people in heaven have bodies is incorrect. That’s just one of many unbiblical claims that it makes.
      Don’t waste money on the movie; to know what heaven is really like, read the original Book–the Bible.

  11. Anything that involves monetary reward should be viewed skeptically – that the boy’s father is a pastor should raise red flags.

  12. This movie contradicts the Scriptures, Paul said that at just the right time Yeshua Ha Mashiach will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will.
    And so, why does this movie inspire what is not so Kosher and what it says about seeing God contradicts the Bible.

  13. It is easy to be skeptical about somthing that is hard to believe or even scary to believe such as a vision of heaven. But I challange the skeptics by saying didn’t Jesus himself encounter skeptics on a consistent basis. It wasn’t easy for people to believe what he said either. Sure revelations speaks of Jesus’ appearance differently, however this was just a vision of Heaven not the end of times. I believe that Jesus can reveal himself to anyone in anyway he wants. Brown hair, white hair, purple hair, it doesn’t matter. I find it hard to believe a 4 year old boy would be considered a “false prophet” or whatever people label him as. After all, who are we to challange this boy anyway? Jesus works mysteriously, and maybe this was a test. I can say yes I believe the experience to be true, not because of any facts but because I know if this happend to me I would want my story to reach others as well and as many others as possible. In our world, almost everyone watches movies. Why wouldn’t you want the good news to be spread? The family doesn’t seem to be phased by the skeptics, the fact that they stand firm in their faith and belief is truth enough for me.

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