I've already written posts on these books because you really don't have to read such things to know just from a few reports on them that they are not Biblical and should never have been published. HOWEVER, if only because so many complained that I hadn't read them I finally did.
The main thing I learned is just how sincere these people seem to be and how much they themselves believe in what they are writing about. There is no hint of any kind of conscious deception that I could detect in either case, from the books or from some videos I've seen either. I don't have any reason to doubt the sincerity of anyone involved.
Nevertheless, the stories are so patently unbiblical the sincerity only makes the whole thing all the more disturbing. I'm alternately angry and sad for these people, but more angry in the end because such stories can only serve to deceive others and contribute to the growing apostasy of the churches. But who is there to be angry with?
There have been many such experiences by NONChristians over the last few decades but those are easy enough to answer from a Biblical perspective. But these people seem to be true Christians, average Christians, Todd Burpo is even a pastor, they quote the Bible, they claim to follow the Bible.
First, how is it they are so gullible that they themselves don't doubt the source of these things? And second, if they were simply too carried away by emotion over the fact that their boys nearly died, to be able to be objective, how is it that others didn't help them face the truth? Did nobody they know try to tell them they are trusting in a deception? Nobody? The many other Christians in their lives, pastors, whole congregations of people who prayed for them? They all seem to have been just as taken in.
Even pastors wrote testimonials to the Burpo book. And then there are the supposedly Christian publishers of the books too. Tyndale, Thomas Nelson?
If I'm going to be angry at someone there seem to be plenty of candidates, and the writers of the books may be the least culpable in the end.
Here is a video of an interview with Todd Burpo, Colton's father, in which he says that some people don't believe the story, and that seems to be his sole concern. In fact throughout the book he is at pains to demonstrate the authenticity of Colton's reports about his experiences of Heaven, through his knowing facts he couldn't have known from any other source.
But this is tremendously naive of him. The problem isn't that the story isn't credible, I find it quite credible myself as far as its being a true report of a real experience Colton Burpo had, and hearing both Todd and Colton talk about it only adds to the credibility. The problem is that it is not Biblical. And if it's not Biblical then you have to look for another source of the experience than Heaven. You SHOULD, it seems to me, especially if you are a pastor, immediately know that the source must be demons. Demons would know all those things that Colton had never been told, they would be able to create an illusion of Heaven, complete with impersonations of "Jesus" and the grandfather and sister Colton had never known.
This is hard stuff to have to face, I would think, if you are the Christian parent of a child who had such an experience, but what other explanation could there possibly be?
Both of the fathers, Kevin Malarkey and Todd Burpo, insist that the experiences their sons had ARE Biblical, that they merely confirm the Biblical record. Here's a video giving a brief critique of the Colton Burpo book. I don't think this critique is right to accuse the Burpos of "making money" off this book as if that is their only motive. My own take is that they are quite sincere about the value of the story and think it could be an encouragement to others.
But the critique does touch on some of the unbiblical aspects of the account. Does Jesus have a horse that is rainbow-colored? Well, in the Book of Revelation He is depicted as riding on a white horse. Does the angel Gabriel sit on the left hand of God (as Jesus sits on the right)? Scripture reports Gabriel saying he "stands before God." Burpo even quotes this, saying it confirms Colton's experience, which is odd since it so clearly contradicts it. Does the Holy Spirit "look kind of blue" and "shoot power" down to Colton's father when he's giving a sermon?
The video also points out that Colton's finding out things he couldn't otherwise have known doesn't prove the source was God but is probably demonic. The naivete Todd Burpo shows about that is probably what bothers me most about his account, as I say above, since over and over he is at such pains to prove Colton really did have such an experience.
But the second most disturbing thing may be the vagueness of the gospel the book presents. For some period soon after his experience Colton was very concerned about people dying without "knowing Jesus," or without "having Jesus in their heart." When the question is asked why Jesus had to die on the cross, the answer he gives is "So we could go see His Dad"[p.111]. Is this the gospel? Nothing about sin, disobedience of God as keeping us from His presence, nothing about Jesus paying for our sins with His own suffering and death in our place? Nothing about our need to repent of our sins? No, nowhere in the book.
And the third thing that disturbed me was how seriously they take Colton's experiences as a true revelation of what Heaven is really like, of God, of Jesus, of the afterlife for a Christian, ON A PAR WITH THE BIBLE. Or maybe this is really the MOST disturbing of all. They do seem to think it doesn't contradict the Bible, but on the other hand they talk of having a new understanding of things, of having learned this or that about Heaven that they couldn't have known just from the Bible itself. They take a great reassurance from this experience that for some reason they never got from the Bible alone, the same kind of reassurance they think the book also holds for others. They are now looking forward to meeting the child that was miscarried before Colton was born because they believe Colton met her in Heaven and is describing her accurately. Why couldn't they simply have believed that the baby was in God's hands without such an extrabiblical revelation? King David expected to see his son by Bathsheba in heaven although he died in infancy. Shouldn't any believer have the same faith simply based on that account?
The blurb on the back cover of the book promises that
"Heaven is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity ..."Why should Christians need a new way of thinking of eternity? The Biblical revelation isn't sufficient? The blurb goes on:
"...offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child."The Bible doesn't offer that chance? Odd, Jesus seems to expect that of us without other revelation.
There are other things about the book that are disturbing. In Alex Malarkey's heaven experience the angels all have wings, which is in itself a contradiction with the Biblical account, in which angels always appear as men, and it's also a contradiction with Colton's experience, where even the people in heaven have wings. He had wings himself while he was there. He also said that people there had "lights" over their heads which Todd Burpo interprets as halos. But there are no halos in scripture. In fact both wings and halos trace back to pagan and Catholic imagery, not Biblical. And I'd also mention that they refer to some Catholic friends who wanted to know if Colton saw Mary. He said he did. And there is no hint that Catholicism is anything but Christian in their minds.
In other words the overall effect of this book is to UNDERMINE the authority of the Bible and undermine the true Biblical faith.
I should also mention that when Colton Burpo saw Akiane Kramarik's portrait of "Jesus Christ" he said it looked just like the Jesus he himself saw in heaven. Akiane Kramarik is another who went to "heaven" as a young child. I did a post on her a while back. Her descriptions of her experience are so clearly NOT Christian but completely New Age that Todd Burpo's accepting anything about it takes his own spiritual judgment as a Christian pastor to a new low.
The most disturbing thing of all about both these accounts taken together, the Malarkey story and the Burpo story, is that it is Christians who experienced these things -- how they could not recognize that they are deceptions, but also why God would let them have such experiences at all. Is their very lack of discernment a clue to the answer to this question? I'm wondering. The Malarkeys in my judgment seem to have a better understanding of salvation and the gospel than the Burpos, but maybe this is the wrong direction to be wondering in. Is it then a test and they failed it because of their lack of discernment, their willingness to believe this extrabiblical deception? I don't know.
The idea that my child had an out-of-body experience engineered by demons would upset me no end, but it would be better to KNOW that than to be taken in by the delusion. The prayers in that case should be AGAINST the experience, that the child would be freed from it, that the deceptions would be exposed and cast down. AND that the parents examine themselves as well to see if they are in the faith, as scripture instructs us.
That doesn't seem to be happening. We've apparently got an enormous number of "Christians" out there who fall for this stuff. THAT is disturbing.
The gullibility of Christians these days, and in fact the rise in this very sort of supernatural experience, the plots of demons, the presence of demons in our world more and more it appears, is just part of the growing Great Apostasy of the end days.