After holding on to this book for a while, I finally starting reading it. Today I finished it, reading in my typical fashion of picking it up, reading a few pages, carrying it in the car, reading a few pages, and so on. You get the picture. Now I can return it to its rightful owner, as this copy was lent to me.
Reviewing Heaven Is For Real presents a few challenges, and at first I wasn't quite sure I wanted to tackle them. For one thing, who am I to question what appears to be the sincere experiences of a small child? Furthermore, I can hear the rebuttals of "You're reading this as a theologian, but Colton was only a little child. He sees it differently, and more simply." If you are not familiar with the book, I'll let you Google it and read reviews elsewhere that summarize the content. Better yet, read the book for yourself, then critique it -and my reflections here.
True, this is not a researched and thorough theological treatise. It is simple and seen through the eyes of one who was not even four years old. So for starters we should take what is written in light of that. That said, is there still room for an honest critical review? Before I offer my own, I would like to refer you to one done last year by Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, entitled "Heaven Is For Real." Dr. Gibbs possesses far more theological expertise than me, so I will defer to him for the better overall analysis. The comments following his article are also interesting and demonstrate, to some degree, where people fall with regards to this book.
I think that the best approach is the one Dr. Gibbs borrows from a veteran pastor from years before: "When someone says they have had a spiritual experience, you never deny that something happened. But you always reserve the right to interpret it in light of Scripture."
One one level (an emotional one), I must say, you want to believe what Colton says. Who doesn't want to think that someone has been to heaven and received a first-hand account? It's like seeing the Shroud of Turin and the artist's rendering of the image and thinking: 'I've just seen the actual face of Christ!'
On a more reflective level (here I throw on that theologian's hat), I must admit to having a few hesitations with the book. For the most part what Colton reveals doesn't really rise to a level of false teaching or false witness, as such. Still, I can't help but wondering about what was not revealed and thinking that if God thought it important enough to put it in Holy Scripture, why is it missing here? One of those items, as Gibbs also notes, is the high point of the final resurrection at the end of time. The intermediate state between death and the final resurrection is rather vague in Scripture, yet it received so much attention in this book one would think that the final resurrection really wasn't all that important.
The book also provides some details that one cannot corroborate in Scripture, and the level of authority these are given also provides some questions on my part. Again, no one wants to question the sincerity of a little boy. But as the quote above notes, we must critique what we hear in light of what the Bible says, not the other way around. Now Colton's father does attempt to provide scriptural parallels, and that is helpful. But the gaps between what is revealed by Colton and what is revealed by Scripture must be left at that. A curious thought, but in no way an absolute point. I need to rest my ultimate assurance on what God's Word tells me.
Colton gave the title to the book, because, as his father indicates, he wanted everyone to know that "heaven was for real." I appreciate that. I want them to know this, too (and even more, that Jesus is for real!). Still, I knew it was for real before this, and would hope that those who come to this conclusion would do so because of what God has already revealed, not based on this one personal account.
I'm not sure it warrants further critique, other than to be cautious about where one's trust is placed. Experience is a subjective thing, not easily substantiated. Our experiences always take a second place to the revealed Word. I'll let it rest with that.