This week in theaters across America, people are hearing–many for the first time–the dramatic story of young Colton Burpo, the son of a Nebraska pastor, who nearly died and who visited heaven while on the operating table.
Three-year-old Colton had suffered a burst appendix; but since his sister had the flu at the same time, his parents and doctor didn’t realize how sick he was. It was five days before the doctors diagnosed the problem and rushed him into surgery. Sepsis had set in, and it was not at all clear that he would survive.
And that’s where the story gets really weird: Colton, during his long surgery, went to heaven. He met Jesus and sat on his lap, heard angels sing, experienced a new world of vibrant color and beauty. He met family members he’d never seen including his great-grandfather “Pop” and his sister, who had been lost to miscarriage. Like others who have had near-death experiences, Colton remembered looking down at the doctors; and he saw his mother making phone calls to ask for prayer, his father hurling angry accusations toward God in the hospital chapel.
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So should you go see Heaven Is For Real this week?
My vote: Absolutely, yes, an enthusiastic yes! It’s a movie full of faith, in a world that’s grown too accustomed to violence and materialism and sexual innuendo. It stands in contrast to the dark, sultry film in the theater next door–Heaven Is For Real is that most unaccustomed feature, a clean, family-friendly movie. Yet it achieves this without being too trite or too preachy. We want it to succeed, and we want to see more movies like this!
In fairness, I’ve got to report that not all of my fellow bloggers feel the same. Brantly Millegan, assistant editor over at Aleteia, attended a recent press screening with me. In his article “Skip the Sanitized ‘Heaven Is For Real’ Movie”, Brantly wrote:
“…the book is actually quite interesting and mostly innocuous, but that the film is a waste of time and probably harmful.”
Brantly’s concern was that the movie was not true to the book in an important way: The book was Christian, whereas the movie was more Universalist. As evidence, he cites Todd Burpo’s conversation with Nancy, a member of his church whose son had died in military service. Pastor Burpo asked, “Do you believe God loves your son more than he loves mine?” That–the fact that God loved him, not his faith or his well spent life–meant that the son would be in heaven.
Is Brantly right? Well, yes, about the “everyone’s in heaven” thing. But having said that, I disagree that the proper response is to stay away from a wholesome film. Would an authentic Christian stay away from “It’s a Wonderful Life” because Clarence the angel finally “earned his wings”? Or from “Return to Me” because a living person can’t really feel her heart thumping when she simply passes another person on the way out of the ape house?