Hollywood these days is rolling out religiously-themed movies for the big screen with marquee name actors. So far we have seen Son of God, God’s Not Dead and Noah. Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale, will be released in December. Heaven Is for Real is the latest in this line-up of the faith-based genre.
Based on the bestseller of the same title written by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, the film focuses on the experiences of Burpo, a Wesleyan pastor in a small Nebraska town and his four-year-old son Colton, who has a near-death experience while he is undergoing emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.
Colton’s experience is unusual in that he does not die during surgery, which is the case with most near-death experiences. On the operating table, Colton sees himself being operated on and is then escorted to heaven by angels where he ultimately meets Jesus. Jesus then proceeds to take him on a quick tour, introducing him to some of Colton’s relatives including his great-grandfather and older sister who died in the womb. As Colton describes it, heaven is more beautiful than anything he has seen before. The remaining focus of the film shifts to his father’s struggle to make sense both personally and theologically of his son’s experience. This in turn has a serious impact on Todd’s congregation.
The movie paints a picture of a typical Midwestern farming community in which everyone, the Burpos included, is struggling to make ends meet. Todd pastors a small Wesleyan Church, but like so many contemporary churches, he must maintain a full-time outside job in order to take care of his family.