- If anyone has a reason to dislike Heaven Is for Real, both the book and the movie, it’s me. As the co-writer of another Heaven book, My Journey to Heaven, I could be insanely jealous of the 2010 Thomas Nelson smash hit, as that book far outsold the back-from-heaven book written by Marvin Besteman and me. (By “far outsold,” I mean if My Journey to Heaven had matched the sales of Heaven Is for Real, Doyle and I would have a cottage on Lake Michigan and all three of our kids would have a shot at paying for, if not getting into the Ivy League.)
- But somehow, I don’t dislike Heaven Is Real in book or movie form. The book benefits from Lynn Vincent’s masterful storytelling, and the movie? Well, I’m not gonna lie. I liked the way the script, by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director Randall Wallace (“Braveheart,” “The Count of Monte Cristo”), mostly left Heaven to our imaginations. And I am crazy about the way the cinematographer displayed my stunningly beautiful home province of Manitoba. The fields of sunflowers, canola, and golden wheat took my breath away. I felt like I had been home for 100 glorious minutes, and by home, I mean the outskirts of Winnipeg, not Heaven. (By the way, I abhor badly made “Christian” movies. I don’t personally believe a “good message” should ever, ever trump the craft of film-making, much less books, music, or art.)
- Heaven is for Real has its moments veering on cheese, but overall, it’s pretty good. It’s a mistake to look down on “Heaven is for Real” because it seems to be a “Christian” film and therefore sanitized and sub-par. Greg Kinnear is always amiable, likeable, and relatable, and he sells the role of small-town Nebraska pastor and dad Todd Burpo. I seem to be the only one who feels like Kelly Reilly was a disastrous miscast, but her breathy delivery and hippity dippity mannerisms seemed all wrong for Sonja Burpo’s Midwestern, softball-playing solidity. But whatever Reilly’s shortcomings may be, Connor Corum, the little boy who plays Colton, makes up for them. You know how child actors are usually given ridiculously profound and/or witty comments that not even the most precocious child would ever say in real life? This kid talks like a real four-year-old. Someone should give him an award.
- I was relieved that the film mostly didn’t try and depict Heaven as described by Colton. They just let this adorable little boy tell people what he saw. It is left to viewers to decide if the boy was dreaming, hallucinating, lying, or telling the truth.
- The movie critics all seem to hate the two biggest watercooler moments in the book! I found it fascinating that the film received criticism for including the two details that sold the book into the outer space, numbers-wise. The same two things that everybody talked about after reading the book: Colton seeing his miscarried sister in Heaven, and recognizing Jesus from a painting he saw by Akiane, a young artist who also claimed to have had a Heaven experience. How could they possibly leave those two things out and satisfy the book’s millions of readers? They couldn’t, despite the fact that some critics believed the filmmakers crossed the line between storytelling and cheesiness.
- I was once a cynic of Heaven books myself. You can’t please everyone. The cool kids, especially the Christian ones, will turn their nose up at the movie, believing themselves to be above such fare. This group is cynical, wary of buying in to the Heaven craze and therefore being gullible and too easy to please. I understand that objection, because I was once very cynical about Heaven books. That is, until I met Cecil Murphy, the co-author of 90 Minutes in Heaven. Understanding what I do about co-writing a book (“Through the Storm,” my 2008 book with Lynne Spears, Britney’s mom, was also rife with controversy!), I knew that the co-writer knows all the secrets. If Cecil was convinced, so was I. Three weeks later, I was invited to meet a man named Marv Besteman to explore the possibilities of writing a book with him. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
- With all due respect, John MacArthur, you’re way out of line
Back to the doubters: The not-so-cool kids, the non-jaded folks among us, will also take a pass, but for different reasons. Our more conservative friends are wary of it. One of their leaders, John MacArthur, recently gave the scalding assessment that the “Heaven is for Real” movie is a “hoax from start to finish.” GAAAAHHHH! That man tests my sanctification process. Thankfully, most of my conservative pals don’t go that far. They accept that Marv’s not a crackpot and I’m not a con-artist, but worry that any revelation given to Marv (or Colton or Don Piper) that is not explicitly stated in the Bible must be denounced as extra-biblical.
- This is me, shouting from the rooftops: MARV’S BOOK IS NOT “EXTRA-BIBLICAL”!!!!
Part of me wants to fight this, to shout from the rooftops that our Heaven book is not wishy washy, New Age-y, bright white light-y like some of them. “My Journey to Heaven” couldn’t have been produced by safer Christians if it came with a Soul Winner’s New Testament. I am a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. Marv was an elder in the Christian Reformed Church. Vicki, our editor, is a graduate of a Baptist seminary. We were a triple threat for biblical fidelity; we were fierce about making sure nothing in Marv’s story contradicted Scripture.
- Heaven “previews”: Where the Christian cool kids and 7-8 point Dispensationalists are on the very same page!
I do find it curious and intriguing that Heaven “previews” are a nexus at which the hipsters and the 7-8 point Dispensationalists unite. These two unlikely allies have, to some degree, both sniffed at dear Marv’s story. This frustrates me, but would have been fine with him. He also would have told me to relax, and offered me a peanut cookie.
- Grief changes everything. It changed me.
Marv knew there was a third group, believers and non-believers both, who were open and curious about Heaven. He knew there were people whose beloved parents, siblings, children, and friends had died, and they were starved for any bits of information whatsoever to indicate what those beloveds were now doing. Marv had lost a baby son, his mother, and his treasured son-in-law, and he knew loss often changes everything.
Heaven draws people, even those who have serious doubts. Even usual non-book readers will devour Colton’s story or Marv’s or Don Piper’s (“90 Minutes in Heaven”) after suffering a loss that cracks their world in half: Before and After. Grief has a way of blowing one’s mind wide open to the possibility of life resuming/life continuing on the other side. Losing my dad and my beloved uncle Al within sixteen months definitely changed me and knocked a few rough, jaded edged off, too.
Call stories about heaven cheesy, mercenary, religiously deluded, inspiring, comforting, or enlightening, you can’t deny the cultural conversation going on right now. Call Marv’s, Colton’s, and Don Piper’s stories extra-biblical, or hopeful and heartening. But give Heaven itself your consideration. Can we slow down in our lives long enough to consider possibilities about what exists out there, beyond our direct experience?
What do you think? Have you read one or all of the Heaven books? Why or why not? Did you see the movie? Do you think God allows his children to glimpse Heaven? What do you picture going on with your lost loves?
That’s a bunch of questions, I realize. But I really want to know the answers, the more honest the better!