During surgery for a ruptured appendix, young Colton Burpo reportedly had a near-death experience. He maintains that he went to Heaven and, according to his preacher father Tod, there are things that strongly corroborate the report. And even confirm it: e.g., Colton’s claim that he met the sister his mother sadly miscarried years ago when the boy’s parents had never mentioned to him the miscarriage. What the Burpos encountered has been translated to the movie screen, though first it was a book, in Randall Wallace’s Heaven Is For Real (2014), and whether the story is true or not I have no idea. Neither do I much care.
What matters is that the film is a lively and very charitable achievement which is wholly on the side of Jesus Christ and yet resistant to various kinds of Christian teaching. For example, there is no bona fide “prosperity” message here. Tod Burpo (Greg Kinnear) and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) are born-again believers, with two children, who continually suffer financial problems despite Tod’s job as a pastor and sundry other occupations. Additional difficulties come along as well.
Example #2 is that the film seems to prefer universalism to the traditional concept of the damnation of the majority. Hell is not quite for real in Heaven Is For Real, even though the real-life Colton has apparently said that only people who believe in Jesus are in Heaven. I agree with that, but also hold that ALL people will believe in Jesus in the distant future, which accounts for everything from Jeremiah 3:17 to John 12:32.
To me this is refreshing stuff and Wallace’s film is recommendable, but in its second half it disappoints. It becomes confused and confusing. Still . . . wonderfully honest and persuasive are the financial-struggle scenes. And the picture can be genuinely moving. In addition, it is willing to show Christian Sonja getting sexy-seductive with her husband. Reilly is sapid and energetic in her part, but even more convincing and natural is Kinnear.