Tomorrow morning (November 19) I’ll be speaking from 9 AM – 12 PM at McKernan Baptist Church in Edmonton on the question “What on Earth Happened to Colton Burpo?” If you are asking yourself “Who is Colton Burpo?” I have to wonder where you’ve been. The book Heaven is For Real (Thomas Nelson, 2010) was released last November with an initial print run of 40,000 copies. The story is narrated by Nebraska Pastor Todd Burpo as he tells the story of how his son Colton allegedly went to heaven during a time of deep illness.
Forty thousand copies. That’s a decent print run. For a little bit of perspective, every year in North America about 300,000 new book titles enter the market. And the average title sells 200-300 copies. The world of publishing has produced more broken dreams than Hollywood and Nashville combined. (Think of how many poor chumps self publish these days on the impulse of a slick marketing website and the hope of being the next The Shack … only to end up up giving away copies of their magnum opus that are stacked up in their basement to family and friends.)
Heaven is for Real sold out that initial run in no time at all. By March Thomas Nelson had gone to press twenty additional times and the book had topped out at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. As I type it is still #1 in the non-fiction list with over four million copies sold. (In case you were wondering, that is enough copies to give each giant panda living in the wild in China four thousand copies.)
So is it a good book? Well let me hedge my bets by saying this: It’s not as bad as some people say and it is not as good as some others say. But never mind that: did Colton actually go to heaven? Is there any evidence of that extraordinary thesis in the book which might persuade the hard-nosed skeptic? Well for that you’ll have to come to my seminar. (I recognize that this is short notice for readers in Russia and New Zealand, but if you manage to commandeer an SR-71 Blackbird in the next hour you should be able to make it.)
Perhaps this won’t be my last word on the subject of Heaven is for Real. I presently have a book proposal being considered by several publishers which would serve as a companion to the book in the vein of Finding God in the Shack. A phenomenally popular book like this provides a marvelous opportunity to challenge Christians on their understanding of eschatology while introducing critical thinking skills, and doing so without all the acrimony of the book’s many vocal critics.