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Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 163 pp.

One of the folks from my church gave me this to read. She was moved and captivated by the little boy’s story, and by the testimony he gave. In the story, little Colton Burpo, the three year-old son of a Wesleyan pastor in rural Nebraska who nearly loses his life after a burst appendix. Months later, Colton begins to talk about his experiences during his days and weeks in the hospital, clinging to life as he tries to overcome the infection from the appendix. What he talks about, however, is not about doctors and nurses and caregivers. He talks about an otherworldly presence, about Jesus by his side, about seeing them across the hospital during his surgery, and even about long-dead loved ones that he has never met, who tended him during the surgery. The tale is told with awe, as Colton’s story unfolds and expands over the course of a year or more after his surgery.

There are many of these kinds of stories about heaven out there. This one is a fairly good one. There are always people who are eager to cling to these stories and promote them as proof of heaven’s existence. (How could a little boy know so much about Jesus unless he was there? How could he have identified people who he’d never met?) There are also always people eager to debunk them as nonsense by poking dozens of holes in the details. (Why does a little boy’s vision of heaven match perfectly with evangelical theology? His father, who is writing the story, must have influenced him. In a pastor’s house, of course he thinks his experience was Jesus.) People on both sides of that debate will find plenty of ammunition in this book. I tend to be more of a debunker than a believer. The initial story Colton told was very compelling, but as the chapters unfolded and the details got both more specific and more aligned with evangelical theology, I was less intrigued.

Here’s what I believe: “heaven” is for real. There is life beyond this life. The God who created us loves us, and will love us and care for us even beyond death. I don’t know anything about what that next life will be like. I am unconvinced by those who claim they do. Our conceptions of resurrection may differ, but knowing that it is for real, that we can confidently look death in the face and claim that it is not the end–that matters a great deal.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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  • Graham: Thank you for writing about Susan Howatch. I like it that she is described as a mesmerising story-teller on front of book, and I do agree. I had long
  • revjmk: Tammy, I'm not sure the "he" you are referring to here (Willimon, Hauerwas or me--who goes by the pronoun "she"). I'm also not sure why you think th
  • Tammy Sanders: Has no one noticed he has the 10 commandments wrong. 1. You shall have no other Gods before me. 2. You shall make no images. 3. Don’t take th



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