Review: “Heaven Is For Real” by Todd Burop

Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo

Heaven is for Real is a bio of a “near death” experience (NDE) but without all the “weird” and “sketchy” images that usually accompany such stories.

My review takes a positive approach. I believe Colton’s experience was genuine and his report is as accurate as any retelling of an event can be. And since heaven is not only real but very close we shouldn’t be surprised when it bleeds through occasionally.

The story is different in that it doesn’t focus on “long tunnels with lights at the end” or the sensation of watching medical personnel feverishly operate from a hovering out-of-body perspective. It is a matter of fact story shared from the perspective of an almost four-year-old child who had no preconceived ideas beforehand and explains everything casually. To him it wasn’t strange.

Colton Burpo, just before his fourth birthday, has a ruptured appendix that is misdiagnosed for several days. Because the event takes place in rural Nebraska, medical personnel and facilities are few and far between. The experience involved miles of travel between hospitals and desperate dependence on professionals who were not hopeful but gave it their best shot. His death was so expected his recovery was dumbfounding.

But recovery, though miraculous, is not the story. God’s answering many prayers in a hopeless situation is also not the story. Heaven is.

Although Colton was never pronounced dead, for several years following this experience he describes with innocence and in a childlike manner his visit to heaven for just a few minutes while on the operating table. And what does he find?

  • Jesus was the first to greet him with his scars apparent.
  • Angels singing and protecting the saints.
  • A great grandfather he had never known.
  • An older sister who died before birth.
  • Images of heaven just like those described in the Bible. These descriptions are well beyond the intellectual reach of a four-year-old. Even adults struggle to understand them. However, he describes these details without hesitation in the language of a child.
  • The effects of old age missing: no gray hair, wrinkled skin or glasses.
  • Theological truths visually and functionally apparent: the Trinity relating, the Holy Spirit empowering, the angels protecting, Jesus advocating at the right hand of the Father and demonstrating His great love for children and more.

And “mysteriously,” while witnessing heaven first hand, he reveals knowledge of his parents’ whereabouts, knowledge that cannot be easily explained. His dad was in a small room by himself praying and his mother was in another place praying and talking on the phone. Not even the doctors knew this.

His experience reinforces the Bible’s basic teaching on heaven. He describes what believers have expected for millenniums. And we are reassured that…

  • Heaven is a separate but eternal realm that exists adjacent to and parallel with our temporal human experience.
  • It is reachable only by death or miraculous transport.
  • It is personal.
  • And, of course, it is real.

Colton tells his story one small piece at a time as if remembering on the fly, a little here-a little there, in those moments when circumstances inevitably spur the memory of a small child. And why not? In his mind, the mind of a non-jaded, non-cynical, not quite four-year-old child, it was all quite normal. There was nothing to fear and no reason to be surprised. For him this was just another new experience in a life just starting.

Once the operation was over the surprise was his recovery and reunion with his parents, not to mention his pain during recovery – overwhelming realities at that moment. Heaven became the distant memory. The layers of that memory were accessed and shared depending on how they matched life situations as they developed.

  • Reminiscing while driving near the hospital.
  • A funeral.
  • A friend facing death.
  • Remembering and missing an older departed sister.
  • Recollecting details of a patriarch he never knew.

Yes, Colton’s father, Todd, wrote the book – with Lynn Vincent – but Colton is the one who tells the story. He even named the book, “Heaven Is For Real.”

Being a diligent pastor, Todd checked every detail shared by Colton to be sure it fell in line with Scripture. He shares several relevant Bible passages in the book and includes references in the notes.

Check this post to see what Jesus and others said about heaven in the Bible.

Use these Study Questions for your small group.

A DVD-based Conversation Guide is also now available for families or small groups. It includes five sessions lasting 10 to 18 minutes each featuring Colton and his parents, Todd and Sonja, answering FAQ’s about heaven and their experiences.

You can buy Heaven Is For Real inexpensively here.

The book is endorsed by Don Piper, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven.


Heaven is for Real was provided free of charge by BookSneeze in return for which I have written the preceding book review. No additional remuneration was given and no controls were imposed on my opinions. All the ideas expressed here are entirely my own.


  1. trish says

    Come on people, so much energy put into a fairy tale.
    Seen God and Jesus and back and yet nothing of Colton in the Bible.
    Next thing will be that you throw away your Bible and use htis fairy tale as the account from God. Think people!

  2. trish pickard says

    Free Bible study on the book HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
    The book, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL was a fascinating read for me. For many it has given them hope for eternal life.
    To me, this is a far too important a subject to put my hope in a little boy’s experience. I wanted to see what
    God had to say so I went to the Bible. I have written a Bible study about heaven.
    I would be delighted to send you a free copy. Email me at and I will email you a copy.
    Trish Pickard

  3. says

    Disproved God in every way!?

    Which atheistic point of view are you referring to? The number of no-God theories abound and the diversity keeps the comic book industry well stocked with all sorts of interesting villains and heroes to choose from. Interesting, yes. Proof, no.

  4. says

    Hey Melissa,
    Thanks for the visit and the comment. Glad you enjoyed the book.

    I’ve never been to heaven myself – yet – but I don’t doubt that Colton’s experience was real. Paul referred to this type of thing in the New Testament so we shouldn’t be surprised that it happens occasionally now.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any contact details for the Burpos. You might check your copy of the book. They sometimes include that information inside the back cover. I would check my copy but it is loaned out :)

    Have a nice day.

  5. melissa says

    I have just read Heaven is for Real. I truly believe in what Colton has seen and said. I enjoyed reading about the lives of his family and what they went through and how they came through it all with a better understanding of the here after. I have had things happen in my life since the age of 8yrs old and still happening till this day. I am now in my forties and it hasn’t stopped. I believe in loved ones coming back, in heaven, in Jesus waiting for us and welcoming us. I know this to be true, and what Colton says to be true. I think everyone should read this book whether you believe or not. Do you know of a email address I could write to them? Thank you and God bless.

  6. says

    Wow, humility! I’m not used to that in commenters. Thanks for being honest enough to say you got something wrong. We all do that, by the way, but not all are willing to admit it.

    Regarding New Jerusalem. We do know that people go some place when they die and it wouldn’t be surprising that some aspects of the present heavenly gathering spot is in some ways similar to the NJ. The Bible doesn’t say that the NJ is the only place that has Pearly Gates. Whose to say that the present doesn’t have pearly gates.

    And to be honest the interpretations regarding the NJ and other heavenly images, even among conservative theologians, are very divergent. As Paul said it is very difficult to put into words the glory of the after-life and it isn’t surprising that there are different interpretations. The images we have don’t represent detailed drawings.

    And, we also know that people don’t become invisible when they die. We don’t see them on earth but they can still be seen in heaven. I’ll let your reference to the appearance of Moses and Elijah stand as proof.

    So, it isn’t strange that Colton could see people in heaven and identify them. Whatever form their after-death but before-resurrection body takes should still bear some similarity to the way they looked in this life. Maybe the fact that they had wings is evidence that they were NOT united to their resurrected bodies yet. That is just a thought. I’m not married to the idea.

    And where Moses and Elijah are concerned, we don’t know how the disciples recognized them. They had never seen them before.

    But, a good question for you to answer is, exactly how does this book deceive us? It challenges none of my ideas about salvation or the after life. If anything, it reinforces them.

    And remember this. The book is not theology or revelation. It is just one little boys experience and it upholds one huge concept:

    We do live after we die and we need to be prepared for that.

    And he is not alone. If his testimony was the only one of its kind maybe we could be incredulous but it isn’t. There are literally thousands of similar testimonies and while they might differ in some small point or other they all leave us encouraged in this life as we anticipate the next. By the way, we would have more reason to question if they were all the same. The differences suggest they are genuine.

    Thanks for the visit and your comments.

  7. Brent H says

    Thanks for your reply, Ennis. You are quite right in what you say, and I should have given my initial comment a little more thought and not just grab the first things that came to my mind. However the book does leave me with a feeling of uneasiness because of things that don’t seem to be Biblical. For example, my Biblical impression of the ‘new Jerusalem’ with the pearly gates has been of a 1500 mile square habitation that descends to the Earth AFTER the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus. Colton’s experience suggests that the city with the ‘pearly gates’ exists now and is where Jesus lives. Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus will rule the world for 1000 years from the old Jerusalem; and that believers will rule with Him?
    Also, doesn’t the Bible teach that people will be united with their resurrected bodies when Jesus next returns to Earth. In Colton’s account, the dead already have their resurrected bodies, and they are younger versions. Also, during ‘the transfiguration,’ Moses and Elijah were recognizable. Would that be true if they appeared as young men?
    Finally, I don’t think it would be prudent to completely rule out deception. The most effective lie is mostly truth. Deception is so effective because it seems right, feels right, looks right and we want it to be right. And if just one thing in Colton’s experience is contrary to what the Bible teaches, it is deception. It might be just as simple as getting people to worship an image or painting and violating the First of the 10 Commandments.

  8. says

    Thanks for the comment Brent but you’re a little off on a couple of things.

    The inability to look on God applies to human flesh in this life not to life in heaven. John saw and reported some fantastic glimpses of both God and Jesus in the Book of Revelation and there is nothing to indicate he was the only one who could see God.

    Also, Isaiah 53 is describing Jesus in the throes of suffering for sin at the cross. He was in His human form then but He is now in a glorified state and, again, is described in John’s vision as quite majestic.

    Nothing in Colton’s experience involved deception. He describes what the Bible has suggested and believers have expected for a very long time. And, logically speaking, I can’t imagine why the devil would want people to be deceived into believing in heaven.

  9. Brent H says

    I just read ‘Heaven Is For Real.’ I found it to be intriguing, but I am a little skeptical. In some ways it doesn’t square with the Bible. For example, the Old Testament says that we cannot see God and live. Even Moses was only allowed to see God’s back. Additionally, Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus as follows: ‘He has no stately form or majesty that we should look on him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.’ This certainly doesn’t square with the description of Jesus provided by Colton or the painting, ‘Prince of Peace.’ I think we all need to be aware of deception that will become more and more prevalent in this world. The Bible says that deception will become so convincing that it will fool even the ‘elect.’ The Bible also says that Satan and his demons can appear as angels of light. I’m sure they can take on many forms, even appearing as loved ones who have died. Furthermore, Satan would have full knowledge of the events that occurred in the Burpo family; and he could exploit them. I’m sure that Colton saw what he said he saw. That doesn’t mean that it was a true representation of the afterlife. As for me, I will cling tenaciously to the Bible for my ONLY source of Truth.

  10. says

    Well said Katie. My sentiments exactly.

    Glad you are reading so well and your writing is great for 13. Keep it up. In fact, you might think about starting a blog. There are several free platforms – WordPress, Blogger, etc. It will give you an outlet for your thoughts and experience in sharing them.

    Thanks for the visit and the comment. All the best.

  11. katie exum says

    i am 13 years old and while i was in the store with my mom and one of my sisters i went to the book area. i saw this book and read the back, i knew this book was going to be a great one by reading the back! so when i got home i started reading right away. i read the whole time until i finished it. this book is definitly my favorite because its one of those “life changing” books. this book is inspirational and gives not just me but many other people who read this book hope! i know alot of people who should read this book because it would probably change their attitudes towards other people. i just hope that reading this book will help not just me but everyone of its readers to be change their life and just do as God would want them to! :)

  12. says

    Hey Allan. Thanks for the visit and the contribution but…

    That philosophy is correct if you are discussing all things earthly. There’s a big difference between this life and heaven and the difference isn’t easy to comprehend. That is a truth to which believers have always admitted.

    For example, heaven is eternal and our existence there won’t be measured by time – no watches or calendars in heaven. Although I can’t say I fully understand how that will feel I accept that, and by extension, since boredom is strictly a time based sensation it won’t be an issue.

    The video was cute and funny but it only illustrated our inability to compare apples with oranges.

    One thought though: If we are eternal beings – and that really is the issue – where would be the best place to spend it?

  13. says

    Hey Chris,
    Good point. I can’t speak for Stephen but I didn’t think he was suggesting the Shroud was genuine but only a resemblance was evident.

    If I am wrong maybe he will verify.

    Thanks for the visit.

  14. Chris Wilkes says

    But the Shroud of Turin is all one piece. The Bible clearly states that there was a napkin over Jesus face that was folded and in a separate place. (John 20:6-7) How can the Shroud of Turin be genuine in light of that Scripture?

  15. Stephen Kimble says

    I need to rephrase the last sentence of my post. I should have written “I find that her painting bears a strong resemblance to the digital reconstruction from the Shroud of Turin as presented in “The Real Face of Jesus”, a History channel production.”

  16. says

    Interesting. I wasn’t aware of the connection between Akiane’s painting and the Shroud.

    Colton’s experience in particular makes me think that God’s eternal presence and man’s temporal existence run so closely parallel that we shouldn’t think it strange when we are occasionally given a glimpse of heaven.

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Stephen Kimble says

    Having read many books on the near-death experience I find this one very special since it was from a 4 year old. What is very interesting to me is that Colton corroborates the Prince of Peace painting by Akiane Kramarik as the likeness of the face Jesus. I find that her painting is also corroborated by the digital reconstruction from the Shroud of Turin as presented in “The Real Face of Jesus”, a History channel production.

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