Takeaway: I am not sure all of the interest in heaven is completely positive.
I want to say up front, I am very skeptical about this book. I am very skeptical about anything that is based heavily on the account of a young child. There was an extended section in Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me about how easy it is to get children to give detailed accounts of things that never happened. Things that you think children could not know about, horrible things, children can talk about with candor and sincerity. The children are not ‘lying’ they are telling you want what you want to hear and you are hearing what you want. This can be true with adults as well. We do many things in an attempt to justify our own actions and make ourselves feel better. Todd Burpo says repeatedly throughout the book that he tried hard not ask leading questions or suggest things that would influence Colton (the son that goes to Heaven). But it is impossible to independently verify anything about Colton’s trip to heaven or the family’s influence on Colton. So we have to take their word for it.
I am not much less skeptical after I have finished the book. I am not going to suggest that Todd Burpo (or Colton) are lying, although more than a few bloggers have. While I am not a fan of Tim Challies response to the book, I do think that his question about what do we do with a book like this is a good one. Some people will be encouraged by it. (I have heard from a number of people that I know that were.) Some will learn things that will distort their view of scripture and biblical teaching (in the book, Colton says the Holy Spirit is blue and the angel Gabriel sits at the left hand of Jesus.) In general, I think the best way to counter bad theology is good teaching. I would not actively write against books like this, I just think we need to clearly teach scripture and be aware that people are influenced in their beliefs by many things that are not scripture.
But honestly, I think that the majority of the Christian world will forget about the book in a short period of time. It is an ok book. It was ghost written by the same woman that ghost wrote Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue. Some will like the clear easy style and some will complain that it is no work of literature.
Teaching on heaven is very diverse. I tend to agree with the non-bodily resurrection until the second coming. But I am not going to make a big deal about one teaching on heaven or another because it simply is not an essential to salvation. I do appreciate that while the book is not really all that important to me, the fact that Christ is the center of the story and the only way to heaven is very prominent. So I am still skeptical, I am not going to really encourage people to read it, but if you want to see what the big deal is, go ahead and see for your self.
I do have another theological concern may seem like a little thing, and really it is. But the father and narrator of the book speaks repeatedly of the need for him as a pastor to not ‘lose it’. This feels like he is insisting that as a pastor he cannot be human. Fathers with children near death, that have been misdiagnosed, should be able to lose it. They love and care for their child. Anyone that thinks that a parent should have complete control, whether they are a pastor or not has misunderstood what it means to be human. Jesus, the perfect human, ‘lost it’ on several occasions, but he was still without sin (temple cleansing, cursing the fig tree, etc.). If we try to make Christians, especially Christian leaders, into something that is less than human (and that is what I would consider a person that is always in perfect control; think of Spock or Data from the Star Trek series), then we will strive to make ourselves into something that is less than human. Unfortunately, as a pastor, his understanding of what he needs to be is not unusual, but I believe this misplaced belief results in a lot of the pastoral burnout and misplaced expectations for pastors.