•April 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

0849946158_bToday, the movie Heaven is For Real hits the silver screen.  The film is based on the popular book  by Todd Burpo, a Wesleyan pastor from the great state of Nebraska.  The book has experienced unparalleled success. It has sold over 8 million copies and does not appear to be losing any momentum.  First published in 2010, Heaven is For Real continues to attract Christians and non-believers alike.  On the week of April 14, 2014, the Burpo book sits strong at number two in the combined print and e-book nonfiction category on the New York Times best sellers list.  It boasts nearly 8,000 reviews on, with almost 6,000 of those credited with five stars!

Whenever a faith-based movie drops, Christians tend to flock to the theater.   Many churches are bound to jump on the band wagon and promote this motion picture which will only catapult book sales to great heights.

Heaven is For Real chronicles the testimony of Colton Burpo, a three-year old child who experienced a life-threatening illness.  While he was thankfully never pronounced dead, during his traumatic hospitalization,  he recounts his experiences of his time in “heaven” with his parents.  The book contains several first-hand accounts that describe how “he went up out of his body,” “spoke with angels,” “sat in Jesus’ lap,” “saw the rainbow colors”, and got to pet Jesus’ “rainbow horse.”

Despite all the accolades and the interest the book is generating, there are some real problems that surface.  Heaven is for real; this much is true.  Yet the theology which emerges is deeply troubling.  Readers should carefully weigh the content with biblical discernment and discretion.  At least three general problems plague this book.

Theological Problems

Heaven is For Real promotes views about heaven that do not match the teaching of Scripture.  For instance, little Colton describes being afraid in heaven.  Colton says, “Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared.  They made me feel better.”  Yet Scripture describes heaven as a place where tears and fears will be erased.  When John the Apostle describes the new heaven and a new earth, he writes, “He will wipe away ever tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, ESV).

Colton describes his experience with the saints in heaven who actually have wings.  “Everybody’s got wings,” he says.  Evidently Jesus is the only one in heaven who doesn’t have wings: “Jesus went up and down like an elevator,” he says.  Additionally, Colton remarks how “everyone kind of looks like angels … and have a light above their head.”  Of course, there is nothing in Scripture that even hints at the idea of saints who don wings or have halos above their heads.  This is the kind of banter that has grown popular at funerals where grieving loved ones anticipate the heavenly abode.  The only problem is that these beliefs are foreign to Scripture.

Colton eagerly describes his encounter with the Holy Spirit.  He claims to have sat next to the Holy Spirit and maintains the third member of the Trinity is “kind of blue.”  Yet the Bible never attaches a color to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit possess all the attributes of God and stands alongside the Father and the Son.  Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16:14).  Jonathan Edwards reminds us, “There is no such thing as seeing God properly with the bodily eyes because he is a spirit; one of his attributes; that he is invisible.”

In a stunning admission, Colton refers to a deceased relative who is in heaven: “He’s got a new body.  Jesus told me if you don’t go to heaven, you don’t get a new body.”  The problem is that “Jesus” appears slightly confused because the Word of God says otherwise: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21, ESV).   Jonathan Edwards adds, “When believers get to heaven, Christ will conform them to himself, he will give them his glory; they shall in their measure be made like to him; their bodies after the resurrection shall be conformed to his glorious body.”  In other words, the only person in heaven with a glorified body at this time is the Lord Jesus Christ.  His followers wait for his return to receive their glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:42-49).

One of the preoccupations with people who claim to have toured heaven is with the various colors.  There is no doubt that heaven will be a place brimming with color (Rev. 21:9ff).  However, what is troubling in these accounts is the fascination with the colors and the minimization of God’s glory (Rev. 21:22-26).

The Bible never hints at anyone who died and went to heaven and came back to report about it (Prov. 30:4).  Scripture records four men who caught a vision of heaven and briefly reported what they saw – John the Apostle, Paul the Apostle, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.  Additionally, Scripture is clear about the destiny of people who die: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27, ESV).  No second chances.  No return visits.  After death comes the judgment, not a book deal.

Biblical Problems

Heaven is For Real promotes a mindset that militates against the  Sola Scriptura principle.  Colton claims that,”Angels carry swords so they can keep Satan out of heaven!”    He maintains, “Jesus wouldn’t let me have [a sword].  He said I’d be too dangerous.”  He claims to have seen Satan.  And he claims to have seen Mary kneeling before the throne of God.  The Reformers rightly said that Scripture was their highest authority.  To report this kind of information about heaven is tantamount to adding to Scripture, activity that is forbidden (Rev. 22:18-19).

All these extra-biblical revelations indicate a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture.  Ultimately, Heaven is For Real pits experience  against the authority of Scripture.  The author notes, “We had taught Colton about our faith all his life.  But if he had really seen Jesus and the angels, I wanted to become the student, not the teacher.”  The humility is commendable.  But a father is charged with discipling his children and raising them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

The author expresses his belief in being careful about what he says about heaven from the pulpit.  He writes, “I teach what I find in Scripture.”  Yet the author is quick to accept the testimony of a small child – even if that testimony militates against the Word of God – a dangerous practice to be sure.

A Ukrainian girl named Akiane has reportedly visited heaven and has returned to tell her story.  The author of Heaven is For Real admits, “I made a mental note for future sermons: Akiane’s story showed that God can reach anyone, anywhere, at any age – even a preschool girl in a home where his name had never been spoken.”  But Scripture disagrees with this assessment: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17, ESV).

Apparently, Akiane paints portraits of Christ as she saw him in heaven.  Colton appears to have verified the image as identical to the “Jesus” he saw in heaven.  The author seems to think that he has “seen the face of Jesus.”  But here is the rub.  He adds, “We still don’t have all the answers – not even close.  But now we have a picture in our minds, a picture we can look at and say, ‘Wow.’”  Yet the Word of God expressly forbids such activity (Exod. 20:4).  Calvin rightly refers to the human heart as an “idol factory.”  Each of us is vulnerable and easily led astray by images of Christ.  Again, instead trusting the sufficiency of Scripture we are led astray by images.

Gospel Problems

Heaven is For Real contains some disturbing ideas of what constitutes the gospel.  For instance, Colton remarks, “Jesus told him to be good.”  This is nothing more than moralism.  This is a subtle brand of works-based salvation that the Scripture finds so repugnant (Isa. 64:6).  Too many people are embracing a gospel of good works; a gospel that finds sinful man making his way to a holy God.  But in the final analysis, we find a holy God making his way to sinful men by sending Jesus to die on a cross for the sins of everyone who would ever believe.  J.D. Greear beautifully summarizes this gospel: “The gospel is the announcement that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him.”  So let us cast aside a gospel of good works and embrace the biblical gospel (Gal. 1:6-8).


Make no mistake – Heaven is for real.  The Scripture reminds us of this in powerful ways.  Yet God’s Word demands readers to exercise biblical discernment, what Tim Challies refers to as “the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong” (The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, 61).  Not everything in Heaven is For Real is wrong.  Not everything is unbiblical.  Some of these descriptions are taken directly from the biblical account.

My concern has less to do with the imagination of a three-year old boy.  My greater concern is with people who believe these stories; stories which do not match the infallible authoritative Word of God.  The real concern about heaven is guarding the biblical doctrine of heaven; about embracing everything the Bible teaches about heaven and refusing to add details that militate against biblical revelation.

So let us be discerning in these days (Col. 2:8; Matt. 24:4; Mark 13:5).  Let us pray the prayer of Solomon as we evaluate books and movies in this culture.  And may we hold steadfastly to the gospel once for all delivered to the saints.

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”” (1 Kings 3:9, ESV)

CALVIN ON THE CHRISTIAN LIFE – Michael Horton (2014)

•April 14, 2014 • 1 Comment

143353956X_bJohn Calvin is numbered among the maligned.  He was a target in the 16th century and he continues to attract the attention of the uninformed today.  Yet Calvin’s life was a pilgrimage characterized by God’s providential grace.  It was God’s providential grace that led him from place to place, equipping him for a lifetime of ministry.  It was God’s providential grace that sustained him during his period of exile and sheltered him through the storm.  It was God’s providential grace that empowered him to write and preach and shepherd people for the glory of God.  It was God’s providential grace that brought him “through many dangers, toils and snares” to coin a phrase by John Newton.  Indeed, it was God’s providential grace that rescued his soul from hell and seated him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6).

Michael Horton beautifully records the life, legacy, and pastoral ministry of the Genevan reformer in his latest work, Calvin on the Christian Life.  Horton honestly assesses Calvin’s role both theologically and pastorally in categories that are unique to the one of the world’s most well-known leaders.  Horton’s work is readable without being simplistic and alerts readers to some of the defining moments of Calvin’s life.   Calvin on the Christian life is a welcome guest in the ever-expanding books which survey the Protestant Reformation.


WHAT’S YOUR WORLDVIEW – James N. Anderson (2013)

•April 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by worlviewJames N. Anderson is a book that is altogether unique.  Anderson presents his goals in advance:

  1. To help readers identify and clarify their worldview.
  2. To encourage readers to consider the big questions and think through the implications.
  3. To help readers understand the important implications that exist between worldviews.

The book is unique in that it guides readers on a sort of worldview path.  Foundational questions are dealt with at the beginning of the book – questions that address matters of freewill, morality, theism, epistemology, etc.  How the reader answers these questions lead to a discussion of a given worldview.  For instance, if one holds that truth is unknowable or relative, they will be directed to the section on relativism.  If one rejects the belief in a personal, transcendent God, they will be directed to the section on atheism.

Anderson does a good job in surveying every major worldview in summary form.  The book addresses the basics of a given worldview and points out the logical, practical, and biblical inconsistencies.

What’s Your Worldview is a book that every high school student and college age student should read.  It’s very readable and provides just enough information to whet the appetite of students.  I’m eager to see how Anderson’s work will be received by campus ministers and trust that it will receive a wide reading.

TRUTH MATTERS – Andreas Kostenberger, Darrel Bock, and Josh Chatraw (2014)

•April 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

truthTruth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World  is an entry-level book designed as an apologetics/worldview resource for students.  The authors rightly assume that unprepared students will be assaulted in the marketplace of ideas.  Truth Matters is a step in the right direction that will be of immense help as student seek to build a Christian worldview and prepare for the onslaught of secularism.

The book is a clear and clever response to the unbelieving ideas of Bart Ehrman, a Moody Bible Institute graduate who has since abandoned the Christian faith.  Ehrman’s writings have been influential among skeptics and have caused confusion among the believing.  Kostenberger’s work helps cut through the fog of skepticism and arm Christian students to contend for the faith.

FROM HEAVEN HE CAME AND SOUGHT HER – David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, Ed. (2013)

•April 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

1433512769_bDefinite atonement is one of those pesky doctrines that prove controversial.  Ever since the formal response by the Dutch Calvinists at the Synod of Dort, the church has been wrestling with the finer points that concern the extent of the atonement.

The first verse of Samuel Stone’s majestic hymn, The Church’s One Foundation is a clear statement of the doctrine of particular redemption:

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is a new creation by water and the Word; From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

David and Jonathan Gibson borrow the preceding line from Stone’s hymn to make an important theological assertion, namely – Christ paid for his sheep; he paid for his bride on the cross.  In doing so, nothing was left to chance.  Christ died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe.  Hence, the authors set forth a well-reasoned and biblical case for the doctrine of particular redemption in their work, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.

Four sections deserve the attention of readers and make a compelling case for the doctrine under consideration.

Section 1: Definite Atonement in Church History

Section 2: Definite Atonement in the Bible

Section 3: Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective

Section 4: Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice

Each section provides a stunning amount of biblical, exegetical, and theological “legwork” which prop up this God-honoring doctrine.  The depth of scholarship is remarkable and the theologians represented is nothing short of remarkable.  David and Jonathan Gibson should be commended for assembling such a worthy group of scholars and addressing an issue that should come to the forefront of evangelical circles.  From Heaven He Came and Sought Her defends the doctrine of definite atonement in crystal clear terms that honor our triune God and magnify the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.





HOW HIGH WILL YOU CLIMB? – John Maxwell (2014)

•April 1, 2014 • 1 Comment

How High Will You Climb? by John Maxwell addresses the important subject maxwellof attitude.  The book is arranged in three parts:

Part One – The Consideration of Your Attitude

The author encourages readers to turn their attention to Christ whose attitude was always glorifying to God.  “Attitude,” Maxwell notes, “is an inward feeling expressed by behavior.”  And the author includes several helpful attitude axiom’s worth noting:

1. Our attitude determines our approach to life.

2. Our attitude determines our relationships with people.

3. Our attitude is the only difference between success and failure.

4. Our attitude at the beginning of a task will affect its outcome more than anything else.

5. Our attitude can turn our problems into blessings.

6. Our attitude can give us an uncommonly positive perspective.

7. Our attitude is not automatically good just because we are Christians.

Part Two – The Construction of Your Attitude

The author provides several basic truths that concern the construction of a godly attitude.  Each principle is cumulative and progressively builds into a posture of maturity.  Life experiences provide vehicles for building one’s attitude for the good and glorifying the Lord.

Part Three – The Crashing of Your Attitude

The author presents several practical rules to keep readers on the right attitudinal track.  Additionally, he presents several pitfalls which hinder a proper attitude.  These include fear of failure, discouragement, and the struggle of sin.

Part Four – The Changing of Your Attitude

Several choices are set forth which will help cultivate an attitude that glorifies God.

Choice 1 – Evaluate your present attitudes.

Choice 2 – Realize that faith is stronger than fear.

Choice 3 – Write a purpose statement.

Choice 4 – Have the desire to change.

Choice 5 – Live one day at a time.

Choice 6 – Change your thoughts patterns.

Choice 7 – Develop good habits.

Choice 8 – Continually choose to have a right attitude.

How High Will You Climb? is a useful book that will help many people adjust their attitudes in a Godward direction.  I personally struggle with the positive references to men like Norman Vincent Peale.  But one should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.  There is enough good material to make this a worthwhile read.  Coaches and teachers can benefit from Maxwell’s timely wisdom.  Students and athletes would do well to consider the principles in this work.  Ultimately, one’s attitude should reflect the mindset of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5–7, ESV)

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. 

TRUE BEAUTY – Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre (2014)

•March 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

true beautyIs beauty in the eye of the beholder?  Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre tackle the sensitive topic of beauty in their book, True Beauty.  The “benchmarks for beauty” are constantly changing and most of the criteria is propaganda which caters to worldliness.  This book, on the other hand has a simple goal, namely – to point women to true beauty which is found in the pages of Scripture.

True Beauty  challenges readers to see things from God’s perspective.  Henry Scougal writes, “The worth and the excellency of a soul is to be measured the object of its love.”  Herein lies the real value and beauty of a woman – as she contemplates and worships her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: “He is the ultimate, unchanging, eternal standard of beauty.  He is the Author, Creator, and Bestower of beauty.  His beauty transcends time and culture.  It never changes and never fades.”  Therefore, true beauty is not fleeting.  True beauty is not bound by cultural expectations.  True beauty is rooted in the radiant beauty and majesty of the living God.  He is the most beautiful Being in the universe.  Therefore, all beauty must be measured according to his design.

Mahaney and Whitacre alert readers to the final standard of beauty – which is found in Jesus Christ.  Women, must therefore, develop a “taste for beauty.”  However, “sin has blinded us to the beauty of God, and when we lost sight of this beauty, we lost interest.”   So instead of delighting in God, we delight in other things – things that are in the final analysis, tantamount to idolatry.  This fascination with the mundane, with anything less than God is nothing new.  Israel struggled mightily with the sin of idolatry: “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?  But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.  Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:11-13, ESV).

One of the central arguments in the book is that the “gospel of Jesus Christ transforms our taste for beauty … True beauty is to behold and reflect the beauty of God.”  And to behold the great God of the universe is to trust him implicitly.  The authors add, “Apply trust in God, with good works (1 Tim. 2:9-10) and you will not fail to become genuinely beautiful.”  Indeed, this is the touchstone as Mahaney and Whitacre weave this important reality through the remainder of the book and discuss the relationship of beauty to hearts, bodies, clothes, trust, and work.

Frankly, I cannot say enough about True Beauty.  It avoids the pitfalls of legalism and props up the pillars of a gospel-centered worldview.  It is gracious and thoughtful in tone.  It is saturated through and through with Scripture.  It affirms beauty and challenges women to pursue the highest standard of beauty – which again, is the Lord Jesus Christ.  My hope is that True Beauty receives a wide readership and strengthens and edifies a new generation of women who grow more beautiful as they pursue their Savior.

“but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:4, ESV)

Highly recommended!

5 stars


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