Most helpful critical review
Heaven according to Colton
on 24 May 2014
"Heaven is for Real" is a New York Times bestseller, with over 8 million copies sold. It's the 24th most sold book through Amazon as of this writing, and the Kindle edition is the second most popular work in the category Religion and Spiritality. It has a whopping 9,114 customer reviews. About a month ago, the motion picture version was released. And according to the author, Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, it's all a true story!
"Heaven is for Real" revolves around Todd's son, three-year old Colton, who had a near-death experience (NDE) following an emergency operation. Colton was taken to Heaven, where he got to see Jesus, God and Gabriel, sit next to the Holy Spirit (the boy describes him as "something blue"), and meet both deceased relatives and an unknown sister. Colton saw animals in heaven, including a harmless lion. He also saw the Devil, swords in the hands of the angels, and says there will be a war in Heaven soon, during which most of Earth will perish... (These darker statements are somewhat downplayed, though.)
The heavily Christian character of Colton's NDE is hardly surprising, given his Christian upbringing in the "Bible Belt". More interesting to non-Christian NDE researchers are statements suggesting that the experience might in some sense be "objective". Thus, Colton saw what his parents were doing at the hospital ward while he was sedated (a classical out-of-body or OOB scenario). He knew that his mother had a miscarriage, something his parents hadn't told him. Colton's vision of Jesus is seemingly confirmed by a similar vision by Akiane Kramarik, a 19-year old (sic) Christian painter and mystic in Idaho.
People who believe in the reality of NDEs and OOB's will get struck by the book's Christian exclusivism. Todd Burpo attempts to prove his son's experiences by Biblical proof-texts, the term "near-death experience" is - as far as I can see - never used at all, and little Colton's experiences at one point convince an inclusivist-oriented person to become a more strict Christian (the babysitter Ali). Todd and Ali are innocently unaware of the fact that, of course, these kinds of miracles happen in other religious traditions, as well...
I admit that I found Howard Storm's "My Descent into Death" (another Christian NDE book) more interesting, but as cultural studies, I suppose I could give "Heaven is for Real" three stars.