One Protestant Who Couldn’t Get With ‘Heaven Is for Real’

A scene from 'Heaven Is for Real.'

A scene from ‘Heaven Is for Real.’

Heaven is not only “for real,” it’s pretty much for everyone in the new movie based on the near-death-experience visions of a precocious preschooler.

The original book Heaven Is for Real was a 2010 sales sensation. Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo detailed his 4-year-old son Colton’s visions of a blue-eyed Jesus in a rainbow-bright afterlife populated with everyone his family ever loved.

The film’s co-producer, Dallas megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, says he wants the film to prompt people “to explore the death, burial and resurrection of Christ,” especially as the film was released during Holy Week and Easter.

But where the best-selling book tagged every image—however tenuously—to a passage from Scripture, the film jettisons doctrine. Instead, it celebrates an unabashed “God is love” view that goodness in this life gets you, your friends and your family a crown and wings in the next.

This friend-and-family-plan approach rings all the bells of popular attitudes toward heaven. For conservative Christians, however, it’s the theological equivalent of feasting on marshmallow Peeps and calling it Easter.

“I don’t want to impugn the motives of the filmmakers who made this with good intentions as something helpful for the church at large. We just come down on the side that it’s not really that helpful,” says Chris Larson, president of Ligonier Ministries,which publishes and broadcasts traditional Christian teachings from a Reformed Protestant perspective.

“Heaven is a real place, not just a concept, and we know 67 percent of Americans agree with this,” says Larson, drawing on research Ligionier commissioned from LifeWay Research.

“We just wish many people would go to the Bible, rather than the cinema, to find out what heaven is,” he says. “The Bible says there’s only one way to salvation—through Jesus.”

Larson has not seen the film, and he admits, “I didn’t read all the entire book. I don’t have a strong enough stomach. When you are describing the Holy Spirit as a kind of blueish image, we have definitely entered into the realm of speculative spirituality. … Experience does not validate Scripture. Scripture validates experience.”

So he’s not likely to catch the film, in which Colton’s second sister (never born because their mother, Sonja Burpo, miscarried early in pregnancy) grows into a little girl on heavenly turf and his long-dead great-grandfather strolls about in youthful prime, although no one ever knew whether Pop accepted Jesus.

Such a “convenient heaven” is a dangerous thing, says pastor Tim Challies of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, who shredded the book’s theology on his blog. Challies has no plans to see the film, although if his children want to go, he says he’d let them—providing they discussed the film with him.

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Source: Charisma | CATHY LYNN GROSSMAN/RNS

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