Heaven Is For Real: Navigating the Mystery and Controversy of a Cinematic Glimpse into the Afterlife

Heaven Is For Real is the newest movie from director and co-writer Randall Wallace, whom I recently had the privilege to interview. Wallace has a long and illustrious film career in which he has directed blockbusters such as Secretariat, Man In The Iron Mask and We Were Soldiers to name a few. Wallace has also received critical acclaim for being the Oscar-nominated writer of Braveheart. In Heaven Is For Real, Wallace feels movie goers will be engaged by the nature of the real life story played out in this film. “I found the story to be a powerful, emotional story. It is powerfully entertaining,” says Wallace. Sony summarizes the plot as follows:

Based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL brings to the screen the true story of a small-town father who must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.

The film stars Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® award winning actor Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo and co-stars Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, the real-life couple whose son Colton (newcomer Connor Corum) claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. Colton recounts the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth… things he couldn’t possibly know. Todd and his family are then challenged to examine the meaning from this remarkable event.

The nature of this film is bound to draw people in. During my interview with Randall Wallace he mentioned, “The mystery and intrigue will grab people’s attention.” The thought of heaven and hell is bound to capture most people’s imagination. Since the average church goer’s perception of heaven has visions of angels with tiny white wings and harps floating around on clouds, they are immediately captivated when they hear someone claim they have seen heaven with their own eyes.

The book that inspired this movie, which has sold over 7 million copies, has drawn in a hoard of fans since being published in 2010. Yet, this story has also drawn in a number of critics, which have come to include prominent pastors such as John Piper and David Platt, who have called Heaven Is For Real into question because of its content standing contrary to the biblical accounts of heaven. When I asked Wallace about the criticism of the content of the film he simply offers, “I am not aware of any of the criticisms.” However, he went on to say that, “This movie allows for doubts.”

So what does the Christian do with a movie that claims to offer an account of heaven and eternity? Like everything in life, we have to view the claims through the lens of Scripture. We cannot depend on the basic picture of heaven being built on the cultural assumption of angels strumming harps anymore than we can depend on a four year old’s description. The best bet for the Christian, is to turn to the biblical passages that talk about heaven—such as, throughout the book of Revelation, Isaiah chapter 6 and 2 Corinthians 12.

As we absorb the content of Scripture that describes heaven, we cannot miss the fact that heaven is not ultimately about what it is like, but the emphasis on who it is about. Every scriptural account of heaven is centered on the magnificent glory of God and the worship that is due to Him. Every biblical picture gives scant attention to the detailed inner workings of heaven because of the fact that heaven is defined by the glory of God and nothing else.

With Hollywood recently cranking out a number of faith based movies, such as Noah, God’s Not Dead and now Heaven Is For Real, we are faced with the constant question of how to approach these movies. The answer is to minimize the words (and movies) of man and to maximize the Word of God. The Word of God alone has the authority and guiding vision for all of life. When we use this approach, we will have no trouble seeing these films only as fanciful fiction and not definitive depictions.