Since so many church people are reading Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is for Real, and since I’m talking about heaven in this Sunday’s sermon, I’ve also read it. Two hours of my life I’ll never get back! It’s exactly like some glurgey chain email that your Aunt Sally forwards to you, except it’s 150 pages long! If the author were reading this, he would undoubtedly think, “Well of course you don’t like it! You’ve been to some fancy-pants seminary. You make everything so complicated, when in fact it’s really so simple. So simple a four-year-old child can understand it!”
To which I would respond as follows: Even giving Colton Burpo—the four-year-old son of the author who supposedly died and spent three minutes in heaven—the benefit of the doubt that he had some kind of out-of-body, near death experience (which are common), Christian eschatology is, in fact, so complicated that I would expect a four-year-old to misunderstand it.
I asked someone what she liked about the book, and she said, “It just gives us so much hope—that we will be reunited with our loved ones after death.” And I said, “That’s fine, but we have this other book, the Holy Bible, which does that, and it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit!” The whole phenomenon of the book is, for some Protestants, what weeping statues of Mary or visitations by the Virgin are for some Catholics: an inferior substitute for actual revelation.
Catholic theologian Hans Küng put it nicely when he said that he would much rather have one more sentence from St. Paul in scripture than all the pages of pronouncements from the Virgin Mary over the centuries. (Besides, the actual content of Mary’s contemporary words are always so banal compared to her revolutionary words back in Luke 2. I want to hear more from that Mary!)
We may not have as much information about heaven as we would like in the Bible, but it’s enough. God obviously thought it was enough. And where a four-year-old child’s version of heaven contradicts what little the Bible says on the subject, guess which authority I’m siding with?