#EmptyShelfChallenge Book Review: Heaven is for Real


I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

I am easily intrigued and have actually watched those ridiculous YouTube videos “proving” how tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting are all really just setups. (In case your computer doesn’t have the sarcasm font installed, let me be clear: I don’t buy into that hysteria.)

That said… and I hesitate to make any firm accusations because I really do like to believe in people… I think Todd Burpo’s “Heaven is for Real” is a bit of a crock.

I had heard a lot about it and had absolutely no interest in reading it. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing that would, at best, leave me rolling my eyes – if not completely bothered.

Then, in a massive sale during which I picked up lots of great ebook titles by incredibly respectable artists, I saw it. From the publisher that offered me lots of Max Lucado books, the one that promotes Women of Faith and Beth Moore, that presents books from newer but trustworthy, Bible-preaching pastors whose podcasts I listen to frequently – there it was, for like $2.

Come to think of it, I haven’t heard a bunch of backlash – even from outspoken evangelical Christian organizations I can count on to raise red flags, I thought.

Then Kyle and I saw a movie, and there was the preview for a movie based on the same book. It was intriguing. The kid was cute, and how did he know those things if nobody told him?!

The book itself is a quick read. I find Burso to be a good storyteller, even if/before I grew curious about the story’s accuracy.


The medical events are weird. Not the missed diagnosis or the length of time the parents took to get help – we all make mistakes. But here is a preschooler “in the shadow of death”, doctors and nurses running in and out of the room unable to find what is wrong but unable to stabilize him as his little body rapidly fails him.

So then the hospital staff just wishes the family well and sends them on their way so they can drive to a different hospital. No medical transfer, no direct admission. Just, “no thanks,” we’ll try elsewhere,” and, “Ok, see you later then!” It just felt off.

As the story unfolded, I’ll admit I continued to enjoy the read. Colton sounded like a cute kid very near in age and curiosity to my own, the family very normal and relatable in their quest to understand what was going on in this unique, incredible apparent trip to Heaven and back.

But then there are the spiritual discrepancies – and not minutiae about whether or not there are dogs there, but big stuff – like blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus with (still blood-red) nail scars in his feet and hands. Palms, not wrists, mind you. Stories of kids with little wings and grown-ups (at varying ages) with bigger wings, watching us from above.

I don’t know what happened to this family. I’m not denying they had a tragedy, or even that they’ve had some really interesting conversations come from the experience. I don’t want to find out what arises from these trials first hand, so I am actually withholding some outright judgement and trying to think through it more :)

But the book felt like fiction. Like a work of fiction that maybe even exploited a child, to some extent. Full disclosure, I haven’t done any more research – watched any interviews with he kid or the parent, dug any further into scripture… but I wasn’t swayed.

I’m convinced Heaven is for real. I’m convinced many parts of the book describe it accurately, and most importantly describe a God who longs for us to know and connect with Him.

I just don’t think the book is for real.

Thoughts? I’m really anxious for good conversation on this one, with its millions of copies sold and big movie coming out soon!


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  1. Shelly says

    Hi Jen, your review made me smile. I too thought Colton was cute, glad he survived his illness and I guess I can forgive any medical questions I had as those times of a critical illness and the surrounding weeks can be a blur and I guess that part was their own story as they remembered it. But the stories Colton brought from heaven seemed too perfect to me too. I guess I thought that as a preacher’s kid he heard of some of those ideas at home or Sunday school and then added his own thoughts.

    I have not heard anyone really question the book before, but I have not looked for a review. While I hope this story brings some people back to their faith, brings more to see God for the first time, I caught myself checking the cover to see if it was “based on a true story”.

    • Jennifer Kaufman says

      Yes, exactly! I think as a “novel based on a true story” it was quite good! I think presented as a theological argument, though, it’s a bit flimsy ;) As my friend Rachel commented, I am now sure it served other purposes well!

  2. Rachel says

    I completely get where you’re coming from. The dad’s storytelling was a but repetitive to me. I often wanted him to just spit out the story and get on with it. I also don’t need any proof that heaven is for real. I do admit that some things seemed a little off. But that picture of Jesus that the young girl drew was so moving, so striking. That’s honestly the most memorable part of the book for me. But…I also read the book from the perspective of an utterly devastated, heart-broken mother…our son, Zachary, was stillborn in 2006. After our loss I found reading quite difficult. Books specifically about losing a baby were just impossible for me to read-still are actually. But, I was seeking comfort and I have to say I found immense comfort in reading this book-incredible peace… it caught me off guard in the most beautiful way.

    • Jennifer Kaufman says

      First, let me say I’m so sorry for your loss. I have had two close friends experience a stillbirth in the past year and I cannot begin to imagine the difficulty and pain. Second, I *loved* this perspective. I can absolutely understand where it would be a source of hope when we need a reminder, especially if we are coming from a place we already once believed, that Heaven is a real place where sorrow will be no more. In this season of my own life I was definitely reading from a more analytical rather than emotional perspective and never even thought this way. Thank you, friend!

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