Todd Burpo has a response for skeptics, including theologians, who question whether his son, Colton, actually died, went to heaven and returned to tell about it.
“They’re not reading a lot of their Bible,” he said during an interview Thursday. “In the Bible, there’s many, many examples of people being raised from the dead.”
Burpo, the pastor at Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska, is the author of the best-selling book and subsequent film, “Heaven is for Real,” co-written by Lynn Vincent.
He and Colton will talk about their experience at Shady Maple Banquet Center on Thursday and Friday. Their visit is being sponsored by Melvin Lapp International Inc., a local nonprofit Christian organization headed by Melvin A. Lapp, of New Holland.
In 2003, as Colton, then 4, underwent emergency surgery for a burst appendix, he described how he sat in Jesus’ lap while being serenaded by angels, saw Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and witnessed Mary kneeling before God’s throne.
He also described events that were said to have been unknown to him, including details of his great-grandfather’s death 30 years before he was born and his mother’s previous miscarriage.
To date, more than 10 million copies of the book have been sold. In 2014, a movie of the same name was released.
Colton’s story has attracted followers as well as critics. Among those who have questioned the legitimacy of the story is theologian John MacArthur, host of the radio program “Grace to You.”
Discussing Colton’s description of the afterlife on the website Answers in Genesis, MacArthur has stated: “They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies and, in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.”
Citing John 3:13 and 1:18, MacArthur wrote: “There is no reason to believe anyone who claims to have gone to heaven and returned.”
Unlike the story of Alex Malarkey, who recanted his alleged visit to heaven following the publication of the book, “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” the Burpos have never wavered on their claims about Colton’s heavenly visit.
The following Q&A with Todd Burpo took place this week.
What was your initial reaction when Colton began telling you about what he experienced?
The movie was very accurate in that I was stunned. You’re desperate whenever your son is dying. We were screaming out to God, “Please save my son.” When we got out of the hospital, I remember a nurse saying, “Mr. Burpo, I don’t believe in God, but I want you to know this is a miracle.”
So when I left the hospital, I knew we had a miracle, but when (Colton) started talking about sitting on Jesus’ lap and having angels sing to him I was unprepared for that. It took us a while for that to sink in, but as we continued to question him, he would not only answer our questions but offer information we had never given him. There was no way a 4-year-old could invent or exaggerate or make up the things he was saying and be right all the time.
What prompted you to write the book?
I had strangers come to my door and say that God had sent them to tell me he wanted me to write a book. And then I had an overwhelming group of voices in town. Funerals are a big deal here. At funerals, that’s when people said, “Hey, we heard your son said. ...” In a town of 2,000, there’s no way people don’t find out about something like this. At funerals, that’s the time where people are especially thinking about eternal life. The whole funeral dynamics of a small town really gave Colton’s story a platform, and that platform grew to where people were saying, “You’ve got to write this down.”
What has been the general reaction of the public to Colton’s story?
Initially, it was very positive. Here’s a little 4-year-old. When he could answer questions that were so much deeper than a 4-year-old (could) give, their heads were spinning. Most people were really inquisitive. Today, Colton is 17 and a lot of people ask, “Do your classmates pick on you and torment you?” But you have to understand the same 55 kids he’s graduating with are the same 55 kids he went to kindergarten with ... so they’ve grown up with it. They know Colton’s story’s never changed.
What about those who claim it is either a hoax or perhaps part of a dream?
My best answer to that is the small town. There’s no way we could make up something like this and put out a book and have it turn into a movie if people in my town didn’t believe in it, too. The fact that I have 2,000 witnesses is probably my strongest support. I mean, how many witnesses and believers do you have to have who say, “I remember this, I’ve talked to the kid. These events are accurate.”
Has the controversy stirred by the Malarkey story hoax affected Colton’s story?
We’ve never met the Malarkeys, but we’ve had lots of people try to say that was Colton (who recanted his story), which has been very unfortunate. Colton put out an answer saying, “Hey, I’ve never made up anything or exaggerated anything.” He said, “The truth is, I have always wanted people to know what I saw.” I think people that have received hope from Colton’s experience need to understand that it is true.
Pre-registration is required for the event. Cost is $14.95 per person. For more information and to pre-register, visit KingdomEvents.today.