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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Based on a true story

Heaven Is for Real

Plot Overview

If heaven is for real, how should the salt-of-the-earth community of Imperial, Nebr. live out their lives here below? “Heaven” gives them a lot to pray for, what with calamities and sickness and what­not. They use the standard Lord's prayer for, (Matt. 6:10) “Thy will [to] be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” When prayers go unanswered, parish­ioners struggle with bitter­ness. When prayers do get answered, they struggle with publicity, the poor sick kid's, i.e. four-year-old Colton Burpo's (Connor Corum), miracu­lous cure being a bit graphic in terms of heavenly contact. His father Pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) and mother Sonja Burpo (Kelly Reilly) are floun­dering some­where in the middle.

Sonja leads choir practice in their home—and boy do they need it—inducing Colton and Todd to drown it out with howls on the front step (“The next time I'm practicing your favorite hymn and you howl like a dog, I'm going to whip you like a dog.”) During a vacation trip they preempt the hymn-singing in the car with a raucous “We Will Rock You.” The philos­ophy in this movie is a bit deep for this reviewer, but the angels found this family's musical confusion amusing and so do I.


The critics make a great deal about the boy's vision(s) of heaven, but I believe we need to keep the perspective that for the most part God communicates to us today through his word, a rare vision or two not­with­standing. Colton established his credibility with Todd by identifying a photo of Pops, Todd's grand­father. There­fore his recognition of Jesus as painted by a visionary from Lithuania carries some credence, other paintings didn't look like the Lord Colton saw. But let's carry this discrimination over to Todd's sermons: which Bible version(s) did he use and what is the correct one? He only ever quoted part of one verse, (1John 4:8) “God is love.” Which version is that from? I think it's from all of them, although (historic­ally) the King James Version (KJV) would have been first, before the modern derivatives. Since they pray the Lord's prayer from the KJV, we'll just call it that from default.

At least half the movie deals with economics in the sticks, so let's think in those terms for the moment. Suppose we wanted to make a new Bible version—and many people have. We'd quite quickly have to deviate from the KJV, even though many (most if not all) its verses are quite service­able, because in order to get a copy­right, our new version has to be different from the others, and we're not going to make any money on it with­out a copy­right. With a lot of new consumer versions to choose from, bibles become a healthy capital­istic enter­prise. The movie does start off with scenes from Todd's side business: Garage Door Emergency Service and Repair, the customer being unable to pay cash so he makes a donation of carpets to the church. With a good capitalistic Bible business down here below, God should be raking in the donations which should make him happy.

Unfortunately, that's not the right perspective according to Psalm 50. The Almighty, Psalm 50:1-6, goes into great detail, Psalm 50:7-10, that he owns “the cattle upon a thousand hills,” that he doesn't need all our offerings, Psalm 50:11-13, to alleviate some deficit of his. He doesn't give us the Bible for us to make some capitalistic enter­prise out of it to pay him off. What God likes is, Psalm 50:14, thanks­giving and a payment of vows, more easily accomplished when we remember his word from familiarity rather than retranslating it until it escapes our minds, and also to remember him, Psalm 50:15, as a deliverer on whom to call.

To make a new version by negating the KJV is not going to please God, Psalm 50:16-17. The first problem, Psalm 50:18, is that it takes away the word, KJV, I have memorized in my heart already to hear it quoted differently, and second is that it does funny things with it. For example, when I hear (KJV) quoted: (Prov. 29:2) “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn,” I remember the ham radio op. I contacted in Belgrade who was vocifer­ously mourning when NATO bombers were dropping their loads on his city after Clinton connived a little military campaign to distract the press from his personal troubles. When some­body quotes a different version (NASV, NIV, etc.), that “the people moan,” I think of a ribald cartoon I saw of Monaca Lewinski, endangering me with that which Carter confessed to: “adultery in the heart.”

Then there are the customary scams employed, Psalm 50:19, to get consumers to buy these new bibles by over­stating the need vis-à-vis the KJV. Then there's the way the reading public is slandered, Psalm 50:20, by being portrayed as either too stupid to under­stand the KJV or unwilling to man up, per 1Cor. 16:13, and look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

It's possible God can use a movie such as this one to remind us, Psalm 50:21, which side the bread is buttered on, and that he expects us to get it together, Psalm 50:22-23.

In “Heaven is for Real,” Todd turns down a loan from his friend Jay (Thomas Haden Church), a banker and church board member, even though he needs it, because it wouldn't look good for the pastor to preach Christian charity and then be a recipient of it him­self. This is similar to Elisha turning down an offering from Naaman the cured leper in 2Kings 5:15-16. When the servant Gehazi of the man of God went and took some­thing on his own, he contracted the leprosy of Naaman, see 2Kings 5:26-27. It was not a time to do business. Similarly, Prof. George P. Marsh in a graduate lecture on the English Bible, given in 1859, states categorically that it's not a time to do a new redaction of the KJV, and that trans­lations into common English would affect the reader negatively as exposure to the unclean. He was ignored and hundreds of new versions were since made. Were I to participate in the consumer feeding frenzy of these bibles, I'd run the risk of picking up worldliness from them. For example take (Psalm 2:2) “The kings of the earth set them­selves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed … .” The curses the rulers make explicitly against God are rendered in the synonymous “the LORD” as he is not cursed that way, and as against Christ are rendered “his anointed” because Christ is not cursed with that word. The New American Standard Version (NASV) uses the very words those cursing God and Christ use, thus tending to resurrect in my mind worldly phrases I'd clean escaped since becoming a Christian.

In “Heaven is for Real” Todd as a volunteer fireman responds with his crew to a fire. An old man out­side an isolated tinder­box shack that is quickly becoming toast urges them to save “my family” inside. Todd dressed in fire­man's regalia breaks in and sweeps the shack. When he sees what “my family” consists of, he shouts out, “Clear!” and the fire­men let it burn itself out. After reading Marsh's lecture, I'm clear that there is no call to retranslate the Bible into a more common English, and to repeated urges from brother Christians to accommodate a modern English, I respond with an indifference akin to saying, “Where's the fire?” This has not made me popular with my church that wants to devote resources to accom­modate modern versions, distancing me from a lot of their Bible studies or what­ever, as was Todd from his church in this movie when he thought his son actually saw heaven. I think this movie has more application to how we view God's word than to how we respond to visions.

Production Values

“Heaven Is for Real” (2014) was directed by Randall Wallace. Its screenplay was done by Randall Wallace and Chris (Christopher) Parker based on Rev. Todd Burpo's and Lynn Vincent's book, Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. It stars Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, and Thomas Haden Church. Kinnear is the actor who carried it, the others just maintaining. Connor Corum was the boy with the cute eyes and the strange hair­cut—but hey, you might be a little mussed too if it happened to you.

Ursula Clark played the Lithuanian girl who painted her visions. There is a real girl painter Akiane Kramarek whose painting we get to see. Looks like Jesus to me, but what do I know? This movie holds its own as a drama. There's a lot more to it than some woo woo freaky stuff. The editing was pretty smooth, the music appropriate.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

Todd Burpo is pastor of the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebr. John Wesley (1703–1791) founded Methodism in England—you may be familiar with some of his brother Charles's hymns. He described it as a system in which people could think for them­elves and allow others to think, too. This movie gives one a lot to think about whether Heaven is real, but there's no shortage of an opposite view presented that the kid suffered from an over­active imagination. In fact the viewer doesn't have to think about Heaven at all if he just wants to take it as a drama about country people learning to get along together after some­thing strange happens.

Todd is not very preachy in the pulpit. The only Bible verse he quotes is “God is love” and unless you already know it's in the Bible, you might just think it's a saying among believers. The only other scripture in the movie is the Lord's prayer which isn't explicitly associated with the scripture. If you don't like the Bible, you can ignore it. If you don't like to be preached at, you've come to the right church. This guy enter­tains questions, discussion, and group hugging during his (very informal) sermons. His musical taste is only semi-religious as well.

You should be warned, however, that there's a big hairy spider that puts in more than one appearance, there's a graphic sports injury, and there's an awe­some stack of bills. Other­wise, it's just drama that plays itself out. There's no altar call at the end, just some pictures, running with the credits, of the real characters.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Special effects: Average special effects. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: three stars out of five.