Is Heaven Real?
Near Death Experiences and Return Visits to Heaven and Hell

Is Heaven Real?  Today hosts of people are citing and circulating their favorite book to support their assertion that heaven is real.  But their favorite book may not be what you think?  It's not the Bible and, in many cases, it is quite different than the Bible.  The same goes for the question "Is Hell Real?"   The Book list continues to grow for both of these questions.  Not only are they best sellers in the Christian world, a number have become so-called crossover hits surging to top positions on secular best-selling book lists too.

As anyone who knows me is aware, that Heaven and Hell are real is indisputable.  How do I know this?  On what authority am I resting that such places exist?  I know and believe them to be so, solely because the Bible says so.  What I know about them is only what the Bible teaches.  The Bible as God's complete and full revelation of Himself, and all that I need to know of the spiritual realm, is all that I need to confirm what is true and expose what is false.  So a question remains; "Why all the hype and popularity of the plethora of heaven and hell experience books in the last few decades?"  And perhaps a second question should be added; "Should we (Christians) be promoting these works?"

So how do people select which account they like?  The following seems to be the most popular methods:

    1) The vision matches up with the reader's preconceptions about what the place is like, or at least a majority of it.

    2) The author holds to a similar religious view as the reader.

    3) The vision seems to match up with another that was felt to be good.

But what exactly is being taught?  What message is being sent by these books?  To answer this question we'll examine a scattering of such accounts, many relatively current and a few going back quite a few years.  Yes, this type of book or account has existed throughout many centuries, though I would suggest that it has increased in the last half-century or so.   Showing modern acceptance, the International Association of Near-Death Studies ("an educational nonprofit 501(c)3 organization", gathers and disseminates these accounts (currently around 1000 of them) and hold conferences about "Lives Changed Forever".  When one or more of these match-up with your personal beliefs, they seem great, but many of these events are from wildly differing perspectives; Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, New Age, and Atheist.  Not surprisingly many of the accounts conform nicely to all or some of their respective religious convictions.24  So what does the afterlife truly hold?  

Heaven is for Real

The account which has generated the most recent buzz is "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo (published November 2010).  This account is not his own, it is that of his son - his four year old son Colton.  Perhaps that is its highest selling quality... how could the account of an innocent four year old be anything but true?

A quick summary of the Burpo story goes like this:

During a life threatening delayed operation Colton has a near death experience (NDE).  It is not a traditional NDE as he never clinically died, so it may be better to call it a vision. During this time Colton professes to have left his body, viewed some earthly happenings and then gone to heaven, subsequently coming back with memories of all this.

While in heaven...

  • Colton meets Jesus and sits on his lap 3

  • He meets John the Baptist 2&3

  • Some people have rings of light over their heads, or halos. 8

  • Angels sang to him (Colton) - specifically "Jesus Loves Me" and "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho".  The angels refused to sing a rock song (We Will, We Will Rock You) when Colton asked. 1&4

  • He met his great-grandfather Pop who had died 15 years before at age 61.  (Colton says his great-grandfather didn't look like the man in the photo in his house, but instead looked like the man in the picture sent months later by his Grandmother, a young man without glasses at age 29.)  1

  • He met his sibling who had died in his mother's womb (miscarriage) before he was born.  When his mom asked who told him about this, he said "she did Mommy, she said she died in your tummy).  He told his mother that she was a girl and that "she looked familiar and she started giving me hugs and she was glad to have someone in her family up there".  She didn't have a name in heaven because her parents never named her.  Colton's parents claim they never had told him about the miscarriage. 1&3&4

  • Colton describes the appearance of Jesus.  He saw "marks" on Jesus' hands and feet.  Jesus had the most beautiful eyes, brown hair, a beard, a white gown, a purple sash and a crown. 1&3&4&5

  • He talks about Armageddon and how God told him his father would fight in this future final battle.  Colton's dad claims he never talked about these things with Colton before. 1

  • Satan is not in hell yet (until after the battle of Armageddon).  The angels use swords to keep Satan out of heaven.  Colton saw Satan but refused to talk about it. 4

  • There are thousands of colors we have never seen. 3

  • No one is old in heaven, but many are children (in other words old people get to be young adults, babies and children get to be older children).  All people had wings of various sizes and flew around (including Colton while there).  3&4&5

  • Jesus sits on a throne at the right hand of God and Gabriel is on the left.  3

  • There were all kinds of animals everywhere. 3

  • It never gets dark in heaven because God the Father and God the Son are the lights.  The gates to heaven were made of gold and pearls and the city was made of something shiny.  3&4

  • Jesus "shoots" power down from heaven to his father while he is preaching.  In fact Jesus had gone to Colton's dad and told him he wanted him (dad) to be a pastor.  Jesus was now really happy that Colton's dad became a pastor. 3&4

  • Colton saw and understood that God is a Trinity, but could not describe the Holy Spirit but he was colored blue.  Colton sat on a small chair next to the Holy Spirit.  3

  • Jesus rode a rainbow colored horse.  Brilliant colors of the rainbow were in heaven. 4&5

  • When asked what they did in heaven, Colton said it was like school; Jesus was the teacher and he taught the children. 5

  • Colton claimed he came back to his body because of prayers and that Jesus sent him back to earth from heaven. 5

Colton saw and experienced all this and more (enough to fill 162 pages of a book) in the three minutes he was in heaven.  In fact, Colton professed to be able to see events in the operating room and in other rooms at the hospital during the time he left his body and went to heaven.  It took the Burpo's four years to get the whole story out of Colton.

"If he was making it up, he would have gotten something wrong," Todd Burpo says. "But he got nothing wrong. He got it all right. That's what started our journey." 2

But is it "all right"?  Or are some things wrong?  And is it right if there is no way to verify it?  This leaves lots of questions...


  • Where does it say that Gabriel is on a throne at the left hand of God?  (Consider the view of Revelation 4 & 5)

  • Where does it say that some people will be nameless in heaven because they had no name here?  Does not the Bible say that every believer in heaven has a name written down in the Lamb's book of life from before the creation of the world? (See Revelation 20:15, 17:8)

  • Is knowing something hidden or secret on earth proof of this being heavenly in origin?  Is there other ways Colton could have known about "unknowable" things (ie grandfather, dead sister, where his father and mother were at hospital, etc.)?  Don't even demons have knowledge of private physical events happening at present and in the past?  (See Acts 19:13-15)  Are signs and miracles of this type valid proof?  (See Matthew 24:24)

  • Does the description of Jesus match John's description of Jesus in heaven?

Revelation 1:12-17a  I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.  17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.  (NIV)

  • Why does Colton's view of the present heaven have aspects of the New Jerusalem (or final heaven), including pearly gates and golden streets? (See Revelation 21:18, 21)

  • Where are people in heaven shown to be anything other than adults, or that there would be lesser or greater people in heaven (as some being children and some being adults who imply)? In fact doesn't the Bible imply that until we have our new bodies at the resurrection that we may still have appearance of our old body?  For example, when the witch of Endor was surprised to get to see the spirit she was summoning, she described Samuel as "An old man wearing a robe is coming up. (1 Samuel 28:14, emphasis mine)" 

  • Where does the Bible show any of us in heaven as having special concern over our physical family on earth?  Is not our only focus in heaven our ultimate family (See Revelation 6:11, 12:10, 19:10 "brothers"). 

  • Where does the Bible ever show angels singing to any but God?  Is the focus in heaven people, or God?  (See Revelation 4 & 5)

  • Why is seeking knowledge from the dead forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18:10-12), but seemingly permissible as long as the person professes to have gone to heaven to do it (as did Colton)?  This includes having messages to bring back to others about their earthly life.  No person in the Bible, given opportunity to visit or see heaven, is ever shown speaking to departed people to gain knowledge or wisdom from their previous earthly existence.  In fact, a primary wicked earthly example is Saul with the witch of Endor and he was judged for this (1 Samuel 28:7-19).  Even using this to find out for sure if someone is in heaven (as they did with Colton's great-grandfather Pop) is highly dubious.  It is all functionally a "Christian" version of an old fashioned séance.

  • Where does it say that any other than angels have wings in heaven?  We are not even told for certain, in Scriptures, that all angels have wings merely that some of them do.  (Consider Isaiah 6:2; Ezekiel 1, 10:5, 16; Revelation 4:8).

  • While halos are common in old art works and even cartoons, there is no basis for them whatsoever in Scriptures.

Prophecy and Prophets

Even if you attempt to set aside that Colton has given a message that is being accepted by many as if it was Scriptures, consider its' specific content.  Colton revealed things that are said to be messages from Jesus to individuals and predictive things regarding the future.  This makes him one speaking prophetically.  If he professes to be a prophet, the same standard applies in the New Testament as did in the Old for discerning whether someone is a true prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:20-22).  Plus, in the example of Scriptures, all authenticated prophets gave testable prophecies that would be fulfilled in their lifetime wherein God had also given them a future prophecy. 

While the church is commanded very clearly to not despise prophecy, we are additionally called to judge any that come to us with a message that is beyond God's written word (which was always by authenticated prophets and apostles).  This is God's standard for the church both then and now:

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21   Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.  (NIV)

The standard God set for testing prophecies is fixed and unchangeable: His written Word!  If we don't test Colton's prophecy by that Word we are in violation of God's command to "Test everything".  Testing by how we feel, or based on our emotions, doesn't come close to meeting this standard and is a subjective trap which can quickly lead astray.

Additional issues

Colton's parents kept questioning him on what Jesus looked like, showing him numerous traditional earthy paintings and drawings, each of which he rejected - except for one.  It was a representation by Akiane Kramarik, a girl, who started having visions at age four (even though born into a family that was atheistic).  Colton's parent's now believe they are "looking at the face of Jesus" when they look at her painting.

  • Are we supposed to have a focus on any earthly representation of Jesus?  Is this not by definition idolatry?  Does this representation have anything in common with the inspired description given by John, of Jesus in heaven (where Colton professed to see Him)?

More on this young girl and her paintings will be in the second section of this article.

Does confirmation from another person's vision provide proof that their personal experience is truth?   While Scriptures command us to legally establish everything from the mouths of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19), the context is earthly and verifiable things.  It also presupposes reliable and consistent witnesses.  Even with all this, it does not guarantee the truth; it becomes a good minimum standard.  In regards to spiritual things, whether two or three witnesses or 10,000, it makes no difference if they contradict God's written word.  God is the most reliable witness and any who contradicts or add to His word is shown to be a liar.

Proverbs 30:6   Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.   (NIV)

Romans 3:4b  Let God be true, and every man a liar.  (NIV)

A third witness for Colton comes from another published author, Don Piper, who professed to have his own heavenly journey.  He has subsequently endorsed Colton's account, saying: "Compelling and convincing. It's a book you should read."   More on Piper and his books, "90 Minutes in Heaven" and "Heaven is Real", in the second section of this article.

De facto equivalence with Scriptures

The General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church [the denomination Colton's father is a pastor with], Jo Anne Lyon, wrote this about this story: "Colton's story could have been in the New Testament-but God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of a child, revealing some of the mysteries of heaven. The writing is compelling and the truth astonishing, creating a hunger for more." 5  (Square parenthesis mine for clarification)

Are we supposed to be adding to Scriptures?  Quite specifically, are we to be adding to God's revelation of heaven and the end times? 

Revelation 22:18-19    I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.  (NIV, See also Proverbs 30:5-6 and Deuteronomy 4:2)

Does the writing create a hunger for more of God's word or merely more "secret" revelation?  (i.e. Amos 8:11-12).  Is the first thought after reading such an account, "I must seek out more of what the Bible teaches" or does it merely fuel desire to seek out another individual's sensational account that with give me more previously unreported detail?

Writers of Scriptures were always authenticated prophets or apostles.  Is Colton (or others like him) qualified to be a writer of Scriptures?

Ephesians 3:4-5   In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.  (NIV)

2 Peter 3:2  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.   (NIV)

Even if not accepting Colton's revelation as Scriptures, in the least does not his "revelation" become a greater interpreter of Scriptures than the Holy Spirit?  Things that the church has wrestled with throughout history become crystal clear statements in these new revelations.  For example:

  • It makes clear that all Preterists, Amillennialists, and others who hold to a less literal view of Armageddon are wrong.  It clarifies, with authority, something that many godly people have wrestled with from Scriptures throughout history.

  • (On a side note, it also authoritatively rejects the beliefs of Advent Christians and others who hold to "soul sleep" that we sleep in the ground at death until the time of the resurrection.)

  • It guarantees that babies go to heaven... again something that people have wrestled with due to the relative silence of Scriptures.

  • It guarantees that there are animals in heaven.  While there are some Bible passages that imply such in the new heaven's and earth, nothing is said of these in the present heaven.

Those last two statements are emphasized as new revelation, in this fashion, by one Christian book reviewer, who said: "There are a couple things I learned about Heaven from this book that made me really happy". 6   Obviously God had failed to provide these details for almost two thousand years.

A pastor wrote:

Colton Burpo's story was a refreshing and surprisingly accurate portrait of what awaits each of us whose destiny is Heaven. ...  There were a couple of things that made me raise my eyebrow but I can't quote a verse that says Heaven couldn't be like that, just a couple of things that didn't fit my expectation or interpretation of what Heaven would be like. 10  

When someone can make both of those statements, in the same review, it's dangerous.  How can you judge accuracy, except by the word of God alone?  And if the word of God alone, why do you need this book?  Ultimately the extra details (that you can't prove or disprove) become the focus and a source of new revelation. 

So, in effect, does this make Colin's work a better "revelation" than the Book of Revelation or Scriptures as a whole?

It appears that Colton's dad has, to some degree, come to accept them in this fashion. 

When the stories first began, Todd Burpo says he didn't want to hear them.  "It scared me," he admits.  After Todd Burpo began preaching about his son's story... 2

A pastor is called to preach the infallible word of God and not the fallible account of anyone, whether his own son or otherwise.  Colton's experience being preached elevates his words to being equivalent to the word of God and calls on the listener to accept them as such. 

Puffed Up and Richer

Everyone likes to point out the humility of this book writer 9 and, of course, the child himself.  But does this meet the test of what God has shown regarding visits to heaven?

2 Corinthians 12:1-10   I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. 3 And I know that this man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.  7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (NIV)

The apostle Paul, to us a pretty humble guy, was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him down to earth after his personal visit to heaven.  Not to mention that he was not permitted to speak of this personal journey - it was not intended to be Scriptures.  John, whose Revelation was intended to be Scriptures by God, did not need another thorn, he was already in exile and ongoing suffering for the cause of Christ.  Does being on every talk-show and celebrity venue have anything to do with the humility displayed by Paul or John?

Can you image Paul or John selling their account "that God wants everyone to hear" for $13.95?  Does making many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from this professed revelation have any comparison to Paul or John? 23  Even if some of this gain is publicly given away, as the Burpo's did with at least a little 7, even for a good cause or two, does this aid in humility or act as a means to conceal the fullness of their personal gain?  Paul specifically made this clear...

2 Corinthians 2:17   Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.  (NIV)

Is All Experience Wrong?

God unquestionably does use experience to confirm things to us personally - but experience is not an infallible source of authority.  People like to rest in using their experiences solely because it is almost impossible to argue with.  How can you say that someone else's experience is wrong?  Some churches even say that you should make your experience the focus of your witnessing, solely because it's hard to argue against.  But in the end, this elevates your experience above God's perfect word.  And, in the post-modern mindset, the contradictory nature of all experience makes it easy to dismiss everything as being merely your own truth.  This is why all experience must be judged by an infallible authority, namely the word of God.  If any experience is contradicted by properly interpreted Scriptures, the Bible wins every time!  The Bible is clear that Scriptures is wholly sufficient in preparing us for life, the experience is good when it confirms this and to be rejected when it doesn't.

2 Timothy 3:16-17   All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (NIV)

So, do I lightly dismiss Colton's vision?  Not at all.  It is professedly his experience and we can read it as that.  He, and we, must judge it by the absolute standard God has set.

Helpful or harmful to the cause of Christ?

"So far, the book shows no signs of slowing down. It's a true phenomenon," says Matt Baugher, vice president and publisher of Thomas Nelson, which specializes in Christian books and Bibles. "We now have 3.4 million books in print, and that doesn't include the popular e-book version. This little book of hope and comfort is being bought in bulk by people all over the world."  2

My answer to the heading "Helpful or harmful to the cause of Christ?" is where I'm sure to get hate mail:  I believe that all such works are harmful to the cause of Christ.  Here's why:

    1) They hold subjective truth to a higher value than objective truth (God's Word).

    2) They confuse people as to what is true and important.  If God's word is complete and sufficient, give them God's word and have them learn from Him.

    3) When used for witnessing, they convert people to a human theological view rather than to the God who is revealed in fullness in His word.  This is a shaky foundation for faith.

    4) They implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) teach that experience can be elevated above Scriptures or to clarify Scriptures, rather than using Scriptures to clarify experience.

    5) They implicitly allow people to seek truth from anyone's experience or vision.  For unbelievers this enables them to find it in Catholic mysticism, cults, hosts of false religions, and from virtually any professed believer who has a fantastic experience.

Colton's work is perhaps more widely accepted that some other similar heavenly visits for one main reason:

"This one is very specific, in a voice people can relate to, from a child's point of view. From the mouth of babes, as they say," she says. "People buy it, believe it, and talk to their children about it." (Comment by Jane Love, religion book buyer for Barnes and Noble) 2

Why do we believe a child is less likely prone to error, or to being deceived, than an adult?  As one who has had children and works with children on a regular basis, I can testify to something the Bible makes very clear: we're born sinful.  Apart from the grace of God a child can be as deceived as an adult and even demon possessed (consider Mark 9:17-22).  I'm not claiming that Colton is possessed, merely that we have to consider the possibility that, yes, even a child can be a willing or unwilling party to a deception.

Any perceived apologetic value that could come from the truth that is intermingled throughout the unverifiable experiences and thoughts within this book make it truly useless as an apologetic work.  How do we expect an unbeliever to be able to pick through such a work, recognize and cling to God's absolute truth, and discard the human and unreliable aspects?  Truth mixed with error is dangerous as it makes the error more palatable for an undiscerning mind. 11

John 8:31b-32   Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."   (NIV)

Michael Patton's very valid remarks on this subject bear being repeated:

In the book [Heaven is for Real], it is told that a baby sitter heard Colton's testimony. She was a Christian who was wavering in her faith, riddled with doubt. As the story goes, her faith was confirmed by Colton's experience. This is the type of stuff that scares me. When our faith is built on this type of tabloid theology, true or not, we can expect to have a tabloid faith. We do not need stories about people who have come back from the great beyond to confirm our faith and we certainly don't need these as the foundation of our faith. So, from an apologetics standpoint (defending the faith), please don't hand this type of book out to your unbelieving friends.  (Square parenthesis mine for clarification, italics his)  3


Section 2

For those wanting more specifics and examples this section provides such.  In giving this it is not necessary to repeat much of what has been already said and which certainly stills applies.  For this reason, this section should not be read apart from the first.  I cannot attempt to be exhaustive; accounts go back for hundreds of years 25, some attracting widespread and long lasting followings. 

For example, one famous individual is Emanuel Swedenborg's (1688-1772), father of the cult of Swedenborgianism or what is also called "The New Church".  Within his writings is the claim that he had been given permission to freely visit heaven and hell for a twenty-eight year period.  His subsequent testimony is filled with unorthodox beliefs including a denial of the Trinity (in contrast to Colton's experience in Section 1).

Moving towards the present, other books that could be examined include the New York Times bestselling book (78 weeks at number 1) "Embraced by the Light" by Betty J. Eadie.  This 1992 book, which sold over 13 million copies, was followed by other books all to teach what she professed to have learned from Jesus during her 1973 Near Death Experience.  The decidedly New Age Jesus that she portrays deviates widely from the Jesus portrayed in Scriptures.  Yet her works profess to be giving you the message Jesus wants you to hear on "why there are so many religions; why evil exists; the effects of abortion and suicide; the meaning of life; dreams, visions, NDE's, do pet's go to heaven, and many more." 18   Other elements of her experience include a stereotypical review of her life's works and more exotic things such as see souls getting ready to come to earth (i.e. preexistence of the human soul).  There is no message of repentance and need of salvation, merely "what Betty learned is the greatest of all God's gifts: unconditional love". 18

This leaves us to focus on some accounts that have gained widespread popularity within the evangelical Christian word, as did Colton Burpo's. 

Painting Heaven

Akiane Kramarik is the child of a Lithuanian immigrant and an American father.  She and her siblings were homeschooled and had no television and few books.  Because of this, when she started telling her parents about seeing visions at age four they were fairly certain it wasn't from outside influences.  She began writing poetry and sketching and advanced to painting by age 6.  Akiane told Children's Digest "I am a self-taught painter.  God is my teacher" 12  Both of her parents were atheists at the time but have since converted to Christianity on account of her paintings and visions.  Her first completed self-portrait sold for $10,000 and she continues to sell original artworks and prints based on her visions.

Her paintings and thoughts invoke statements such as the following:

Children are so fresh from God it's no wonder some of them are given visions and signs from heaven. Their innocent and trusting natures allow them to believe what we adults would never accept. This must be part of what Jesus meant when he said: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven - Matthew 18:3.  12

One published comment about one of her visits with God is as follows:

"I was with God again, and He told me to pray continually. He showed me where He lived. I was climbing transparent stairs; underneath I saw gushing waterfalls, and as I was approaching Him, His body was pure and intense light.  What impressed me the most was His hands - they were gigantic! I saw no bones, or veins, no skin or blood, but maps and events. Then He told me to memorize thousands upon thousands of wisdom words on a scroll that did not look like paper, but more like intense light. And, in a few seconds, I got somehow filled up. From now on I will get up early to paint. I hope one day I'd be able to paint what I was shown." 12&13

Whether this description or her widely circulated image of a blue-eyed Jesus ("Prince of Peace"), are either representative of how Jesus and the Father are represented in Scriptures?  Does it really matter that some have claimed her image is compatible with the image found on the Roman Catholic Shroud of Turin? 14  What message is she selling to the world through her book (Akiane: Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry) and venues such as Oprah, World News Tonight, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Good Morning America, Craig Ferguson and more ("Featured on almost 50 international television shows and documentaries" 15)?  My wording "selling" is not accidental; she has certainly capitalized on her message as her website features the claim "Inducted into the Richest Kids-Entrepreneurs of America" 15.

When asked how she knows that it's God who is speaking to her, her response was "Because I can hear His voice....quiet and beautiful." 13  The Scriptural test for recognizing the voice of God has never been its beauty, rather it's remains the message.  God will not contradict his revealed written word.  Remember even the devil can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

A few more quotes from Akiane will help to understand her overall message: 16

  • Akiane: Some of the things he shows me in the first vision I do remember but I am not allowed to tell. It is a secret between me and Him, but probably later in life I'll tell.

  • Akiane: All I can say is heaven is soooooo beautiful. It's so huge and there are many different colors there. There is so much nature, so many flowers, animals, it's so beautiful.

Shawn: So there are animals in heaven? 

Akiane: OF COURSE! 

Shawn: Like our pets? 

Akiane: OF COURSE! Why do you think he gave them to you in the first place! They are part of your family!

  • Akiane: Each time I go up to heaven it feels like an eternity there but it's only a few hours down here. One story when I was around five years old I was literally missing, no one could find me. I was physically taken up to heaven. In Rolla Missouri the police were looking everywhere for me. I was there for around six hours. Then I appeared right in the middle of the room where they were with my family.

  • Akiane: This is a self-portrait of me and I blended myself in the universe and am painting and co creating with God. This is how I envision me and God creating together. Like when he creates a star, I take the color from that star and we work together. You can see the pallet is in the background. I am creating with God.

Shawn: This is one of the most meaningful paintings for me that you have done. You know me, I love all your paintings especially the space ones and creation ones. But I loved the theme that we don't just help God create but we get to be co-creators. You opened something up that not many people even think about.

  • Paula: How often does he take you up to heaven? 

Akiane: I can't count it 

Paula: Is it more than once a week? 

Akiane: A lot, almost every day

Akiane certainly has one up on the Apostle's Paul and John, who only got to see heaven once.  And as with many such accounts, she got to establish doctrine nowhere established in Scriptures, such as that we get to keep out pets for eternity.  Heaven help the poor person who had 100 cats in their lifetime!   But serious, is this not an addition to the Book of Revelation?  (See Revelation 22:18-19).

Heaven is So Real

Choo Nam Thomas, a Korean American, became a Christian in 1992.  Two years later she had a vision of Jesus at her church (Neighborhood Assembly of God in Tacoma Washington).  In 1996 she professed to have been taken to heaven and this visit and subsequent visits ("17 different times") became the subject of her book "Heaven is So Real".  It has been translated into at least 43 languages and has been endorsed by the well-known Korean Assemblies of God pastor David Yonggi Cho (his church is called the largest in the world with over a million members).

This grandmother spells out clearly some of what she professedly learned in heaven...

  • Heaven is so Real is our Lord Jesus' end time book. He only used my body to write this book. He wants all believers and unbelievers to read it and prepare for His coming. He said, He is letting people know what it takes to enter His Kingdom, through this book. 17

  • Remember, none of our salvations are secure until the end. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). 17

  • The Lord himself took me to heaven 17 different times, in my transformed spirit body... and showed me countless things in heaven that He has prepared for His people, and showed me hell twice. 17

  • He also showed me things during the time of the tribulation, after He took His people to heaven. 17

  • This book is a great tool for the salvation of souls. Those who read this book and convicted by it, are sharing it with others. Some get dozens, hundreds, and thousands to give away.The book is our Lord Jesus' end time book and He wants all Christians to read it and witness with it to others so they can prepare for His coming. ...  The devil hates this book. 17

  • Currently over 60 countries are translating and re-printing this book and most of the translations are being done by pastors who were transformed by the book after reading it. ... it was the #1 bestseller in Korea. All these things are happening because it is our Lord's book. It is truly an end time book. 17

  • Whoever judges "Heaven is so Real" and other prophetic books should read Matthew 7:1-6, repent and stay ready for the rapture before it's too late. Christians should never judge other Christian's work of God. Remember any kind of message from God that doesn't bear fruit is not from God. "Heaven is so Real" is bearing more fruit than most prophetic books around the world. The Lord has been saying that because of this book, at least 1,000,000 people will see His face. 17 

  • I was certain the rapture would happen in 2009 but it did not and I was very, very disappointed.  During the first week of 2010 the Lord explained to me that the rapture was supposed to have happened in 2009 but He had delayed it for only a twinkling of an eye.  17

  • The Lord said children up to 7 whether they believe or not will be saved. 17

  • Jesus' heart aches for His people every second, but there is nothing He can do for those who don't believe in Him. 17

Let me summarize a few thoughts from all these statements...

    1) God added another book to the Bible for these end times and it's her book  (Why add to the book of Revelation when you can add another whole book?)

    2) God will use her book to save people

    3) God passively cannot do anything about or for those who don't believe in Him

    4) All children go to heaven up to age 7 (If you took Romans 9:3 and merged it with this thought, would you be great if you killed as many children as possible before they go to be 8 years old?)

    5) Pre-Tribulation is the only correct eschatological view for end-times.

    6) God changes his mind regarding the date of the rapture.  (Contrast this to 1 Samuel 15:29; Numbers 23:19; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18)

Once again, the "revelation" of her writings pales in comparison to God's word.  True experience confirms God's word; deceiving experience is not "His book".  The church, contrary to her misquoted Bible reference, is repeatedly called to judge what is taught by God's absolute standard: His Word (Matthew 7:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:20).  Fruit is not judged by how many copies of a book are sold or the popularity of a message.

Ninety-Minutes in Heaven

Baptist pastor Don Piper professes to have spent 90 minutes in heaven following a catastrophic vehicle accident, where he was pronounced dead at the scene.  Another pastor, waiting at the scene of the accident, prayed for him after 90 minutes and Piper was returned to life.  His memories of paradise are a small portion of his book (less than 20 pages).  To be fair, the remainder of the 205 page book spends more time chronicling the accident, his rescue and recovery, plus and lessons learned and applied.  This book also became a New York Times Bestseller (with over 4 million in print).

Since this heavenly encounter is so short, it provides far less material to evaluate.  Actually it doesn't intersect with the Bible in too many places.  Another reviewer has said this well:

Piper's description of heaven left me cold. I was dismayed to find that his heaven seems largely man-centered. In fact, if you were to ask your unbelieving friends and neighbors to describe heaven, they would probably create a place very much like this. Piper did not see Jesus, nor did he see God, though, to be fair, he saw only the "outskirts" and did not pass through the gates. Despite this, he was exceedingly joyful and feels that he experienced the very joys of paradise. For ninety minutes he walked through heaven, greeted by those he knew in this life, all of whom were (quite conveniently), the same age they were when he had last known them. As I read this description of heaven I thought immediately of a quote from John Piper's book God is the Gospel. He asks:

The critical question for our generation-and for every generation-is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

From the descriptions in 90 Minutes in Heaven we would have to respond, "yes!" It seems that Don Piper's heaven is a heaven where we are fulfilled without Christ. Piper's heaven was a place of reunion with loved ones, a place of beautiful music and a place of literal pearl (or "pearlescent") gates and literal streets of gold. It is a heaven that can be so easily described to a human mind using mere human words, as if it had originated in a human mind. Piper is able to describe it in some detail, but what he presents is surely far too human to be heaven. 19

Two further excerpts from Don Piper's book:

"I didn't think of it, but later I realized that I didn't hear such songs as "The Old Rugged Cross" or "The Nail-Scarred Hand."  None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus' sacrifice or death.  I heard no sad songs in heaven."  Page 35 20

"I was in heaven and ready to go through the pearlescent gate". Page 39  20

While it's not a sad song, the Bible clearly tells us that one of the heavenly songs is about Jesus' sacrifice and death (see Revelation 5:9 & 12), which contradicts Piper's experience.  As with Colton Burpo's account, Don Piper also seems to have merged details of the New Heavens and Earth (including streets of gold and pearly gates, see Revelation 21:15 & 21:21) with the present heaven, yet they are clearly two separate places in Scriptures.  It sounds to me more like the product of a fallible mind than a perfect revelation.  Moreover, I agree with the reviewer quoted earlier, Piper's heaven is too down to earth and doesn't sparkle with the wonder of seeing Jesus which is what heaven will be all about (and what John is so clearly fascinated with in the Book of Revelation).

A Divine Revelation of Hell

A Divine Revelation of Hell (published in 1997) is in a similar genre to heaven-visit books, of which there are others including 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese.   "A National Bestseller", it found widespread acceptance in Christian circles and was widely promoted by Christian booksellers and was subsequently translated into Spanish.  Its' author, Mark K. Baxter, was conveniently granted a follow-up visit with Jesus that enabled her to publish a sequel entitled "A Divine Revelation of Heaven" (published in 1998).   She has additional books featuring her revelations on prayer, deliverance, spiritual warfare, angels, and more.

Baxter professed to have had many meetings with Jesus "each night for forty nights", as well journeys to heaven and hell.  A look solely at her first book, A Divine Revelation of Hell, will provide sufficient details as to the types of things she is teaching.

  • "My child, I will take you into hell by My Spirit, and I will show you many things which I want the world to know.  I will appear to you many times; I will take your spirit out of your body and will actually take you into hell. 21

  • Tenderly Jesus spoke and said, "My child, hell is real.  But you could never know for sure until you had experienced it for yourself. 21

  • Jesus said to me, "My child, for this purpose you were born, to write and tell what I have told you and shown you. 21

  • When Jesus first appeared to me, He said, "Kathryn, you have been chosen by the Father to accompany me through the depths of hell.  I will show you many things which I desire the world to know about hell and about heaven.  I will tell you what to write so that this book will be a true record of what these unknown places are really like.  My Spirit will reveal secrets about eternity, judgment, love, death and life hereafter." 21

According to this, Mary was commissioned by Christ to write another book of Scriptures.  It would reveal secrets that no one ever knew before.  And certainly Mary's books are filled with such fanciful things.  Her description of hell attempts to rival Dante 22.  Perhaps the greatest lie is one she attributes to Jesus, whom she has telling her the she could never know for sure that hell is real unless she had experienced it herself.  I praise God that I can know hell is real, solely from His word, and that I never have to go there.  This whole genre of books featuring "secret" knowledge is merely a modern form of Gnosticism.  God's word isn't hidden, it's clearly revealed for all of us to read and know!

End Notes

Rather than quote from "Heaven is So Real" itself, in most places I've referenced just a few of the multitudes of published comments from other people who have read the work.  This is intentional to show how the same statements and issues are foremost in the minds of a majority of the readers.

1. Reported on Fox 31 Denver News (

2. Reported USA Today, 4/21/2011 by Craig Wilson

3. Reported in Reclaiming the Mind book review, 2/06/2011 by C Michael Patton

4. Reported in Fallen From Grace book review, 4/05/2011 by Bruce Gerencser

5. Reported in A Bible Commentary book review, 05/27/2011 by Mural Worthey

6. Prayer Kingdom book review, 08/22/2011 by K Zhang

7. "Colton's mother says the family already supports four orphans in Kenya." 2

8. Reported in Facebook Blog on "Heaven is Real", "90 Minutes in Heaven" and other books about visits to heaven and hell, by Randy Alcorn, 5/09/2011

9. An example of published statements include:

What allows me to take this story seriously is the sense of humility and circumspection present in the narrative. The Burpos tread carefully with Colton letting him tell his story as he was ready. Seven years passed from the first inklings of Colton's experience to the publishing of the book.  (Pastor Matthew Hickman, review on

10. Book Review on by Baptist pastor Micah Mauldin, 11/30/2010

11. Fiction or Non-Fiction: Colton's experience is selling as a non-fiction work.  While we have no particular reason to think that Colton's experience is contrived, what makes a personal non verifiable experience something to be labeled non-fiction?  Certainly the vision was truly something he experienced personally but does that make the contents of his vision non-fiction?  Would this not make Joseph Smith's visions incorporated in the Book of Mormon equally non-fiction?  Traditionally only verifiable accounts were considered to be, and sold, as non-fiction. 

12. The, article: Akiane Kramarik: Visits to heaven and visions of Jesus, 4/07/2011

13. New Connection, March/April 2006 Living Now "The Inspired Vision of Akiane Kramarik"

14. Shroud of Turin Blog, post by Dan Porter, 2/23/2011

15. as of 9/9/2011

16. "I am Co-CREATOR" July 5, 2007, Interview of Akiane with Shawn and Paula (

17. as of 9/9/2011

18. as of 9/9/2011

19. Book Review - 90 Minutes in Heaven, 4/23/2006 by Tim Challies

20. Book: 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

21. A Divine Revelation of Hell, 1997, by Mary K. Baxter

22. Dante Alighieri's 14th century classic "Dante's Inferno"

23. A recent announcement adds perspective on the marketing of Heaven is for Real...

Kerusso licenses 'Heaven Is for Real'

The family behind the surprise best-seller Heaven is for Real have signed a licensing deal with apparel and accessory company Kerusso.

A T-shirt and wristband will go on sale in stores from mid-October. The yellow tee with the book title on the front and the message “and you're going to like it!” on the back, will retail for $18.99-$20.99, depending on size.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the demand for products, and Kerusso has now taken that burden off us,” said Todd Burpo, who authored the account of his son Colton’s near-death experience and account of visiting heaven.

Since Thomas Nelson released the book late last year, it has sold 5 million copies, been translated into 30 languages and rested on the New York Times best-seller list for 42 weeks. A children’s edition of the book releases in November.   . . .

“Kerusso’s mission is ‘Proclaiming the Good News to the world through products about Jesus,’ ” said Vic Kennett, Kerusso president and CEO. “I can’t think of a more exciting way to do that than helping the Burpo family spread Colton’s amazing story. We’re thrilled to help them tell the world that heaven truly is for real.”   (Christian Retailing "Serving the $4.6 Billion Christian Products Industry",, 09/13/2011)

24.  One published account, on a parody website, merges the contradictory elements of many reports to illustrate how these narratives are seemingly written to appeal to everybody...

The success of Todd Burpo’s “Heaven Is for Real” has reinvigorated the Christian base and allegedly proselytized former non-believers. But Wendy Chousmatison, a 14-year-old student from Bennington Vale [San Narciso, California], offered reporters a much different depiction of Christ’s Kingdom this week.

Wendy was rushed to the hospital on New Year’s Day after she was discovered passed out on the kitchen floor by her parents. ...  [She] was clinically dead for three minutes before medical teams managed to resuscitate her.

And Wendy, like young Colton Burpo, also claimed to have ascended to Heaven during her moments between life and death.

“Heaven is for real,” said Wendy Chousmatison, “but it’s not like the Burpo’s book paints it.”  ...

“Jesus was there, in a way,” Wendy continued, “but he said that he had many names, and Jesus was just one of them. He looked like a dark-skinned homeless man. But kinda asexual. He could’ve been a woman. Hard to tell. Really, everyone in Heaven looked like that. And poor. There was no wealth, and no one had any possessions. But then, they didn’t need anything. I met people who had been Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Native Americans, Druids, you name it. There weren’t any Scientologists, though. After a while, Jesus introduced me to the Buddha and told me what a great influence he had been. I guess Jesus traveled to India to learn about his teachings at some point. That’s what he said, anyway. Then he reunited me with my Uncle Carl, who was gay. I was blown away. But Jesus said that God was gay too, because God was all things. Then he whispered in my ear, ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also.’ It was truly a gorgeous experience.”  (The Bennington Vale Evening Transcript.  Article "Local Girl’s Near Death Visit to Heaven Contrasts Colton Burpo’s Account in Best-Seller “Heaven is for Real”" by BC Bass, 03282011)

25.  "Hundreds of years" is a gross understatement.  After first publishing this article I stumbled across a much older example:

It appears that professed journeys to heaven and hell may be one of the oldest genres in Christian history.  The Apocalypse of Peter (or Revelation of Peter), part of the New Testament Apocrypha, which was written circa 135 A.D. is an ancient text claiming such a journey.  This book is not to be confused with the similarly named Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter as found at Nag Hammadi.  The Apocalypse of Peter was one of a number of Apocalypses that came on the scene following the Revelation of Jesus Christ by the apostle John, all notably as Pseudepigrapha (works published under the name of someone else, often long dead).   Clement of Alexandria (lived circa 150-215 A.D) and the Muratorian Fragment (circa 150 A.D.) both imply that some churches actively considered this work to be Scriptures for a time.  Its canonicity was never upheld as it failed the test on many levels, most of all being fraudulently attributed to an apostle.  While the content was not blatantly heresy, as many other circulating works of the day were (filled with Marcionism or Gnosticism for example), the substance of the work was still out of character to the remainder of canonical Scriptures.  It taught, as do most heavenly or hellish journeys, things beyond (or in addition to) Scriptures - including details that some people would want to be true.  For the record, a quick summary of some of its teachings include:

On Heaven:

  • The inhabitants have light coming from them and are inexpressibly beautiful.

  • There are everlasting flowers, beautiful trees, blessed and plentiful fruit and fragrant smells.

  • The saints and angels both wear shiny clothes of light

  • Everyone sings in choral prayer

  • Infants are given to a care-taking angel who educates and helps them to grow up.

On Hell:

  • Blasphemers are hung by their tongue

  • Adulterous women are hung by their hair over bubbling mire.

  • Adulterous men are hung by their feet with their heads in the mire.

  • Murderers are in a pit of creeping things that torment them.

  • Men who act as women and lesbians are repeatedly driven up and off a great cliff by punishing angels.

  • Girls who did not keep their virginity until marriage will be dressed in darkness and their flesh torn to pieces - with complete feeling.

  • Women who have abortions are up to their necks in a lake of gore and blood plus they are tormented by the spirits of their unborn children.

  • Sorcerers and sorceresses are hung on a wheel to burn in a pit.

  • Those who lend money with excessive interest are on their knees in a lake of foul matter and blood.

While this work may not be exactly the same as the visions and near death experiences that this article is primarily examining, mostly due to its fraudulent authorship, it is similar in that it professes to be a first person journey into heaven and hell.  It certainly opened the floodgate of copycat works which would follow (including the 4th century Apocalypse of Paul and the Apocalypse of the Virgin [Mary].  These later works even have Paul or Mary persuading God to give everyone in Hell a day of rest each Sunday).

Article by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries
(c) 2011 BJM/LTM, Version 2
As posted on
Non-profit duplication or citation permitted - a courtesy email is appreciated