The Heaven Is for Real Controversy: Was It Fake?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Heaven Is For Real" by Todd Burpo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

What repercussions did the Burpo family face after going public about Colton’s story? What was the Heaven Is for Real controversy?

Todd Burpo went public about Colton’s visit to Heaven in 2007, four years after Colton’s visit. Since then, the Burpos have been berated with questions and criticism. This eventually led to the Heaven Is for Real controversy.

Read on to find out more about the Heaven Is for Real controversy.

The Burpos Share Their Story

On January 28th, 2007, Todd publicly spoke about Colton’s experience for the first time while giving a sermon at a Colorado Springs church. The sermon’s theme was people without faith. Todd described how his faith had wavered when Colton was sick, but it had grown again when he heard about Colton’s heavenly experiences.  

Sharing Colton’s experience with the world had—and continues to have—numerous consequences for Todd and the rest of the Burpo family including the Heaven Is for Real controversy:

  • People now approach Todd with difficult questions about the afterlife. For instance, one woman asked him whether Colton had seen her stillborn child in heaven. Todd did his best to reassure the woman by telling her that since his miscarried daughter was in heaven, there was every reason to believe her late child was, too.
  • People frequently ask Todd: Why Colton? Why did Jesus choose him to have this experience over other sick children? Todd still isn’t sure. Maybe it was to help him and Sonja come to terms with their miscarriage or help Todd’s family grieve Pop?
  • People share stories about other heavenly experiences with the Burpos. For instance, shortly after Todd’s first sermon about Colton, a congregation member sent the family a link to a news story about a 12-year-old girl from Idaho who’d been having visions of heaven for eight years. The girl had painted a picture of Jesus based on her visions. When shown the portrait, Colton stated that it was an accurate depiction.
  • The Burpos have to relive the traumatic experience of their son’s illness each time they tell his story. Doing so often brings them to tears. However, they still consider telling Colton’s story worth it, since it brings hope to others—for instance, by reassuring them that there is an afterlife. 
  • The Burpos now spend a lot more time thinking and talking about heaven. They visualize what it’s like, and feel confident that they’ll see it one day. 

At the time Todd finished writing Heaven is for Real, Colton was about to turn 11. He hadn’t experienced any more major health struggles and hadn’t revisited heaven. However, he remembered his first trip in great detail, and he was still adamant that heaven is for real. 

The Heaven Is for Real Controversy

Heaven is for Real drew widespread media attention following its publication. The book debuted at number 3 in the New York Times’s non-fiction bestseller list, and many readers hailed it as faith-affirming.

However, Colton’s narrative has been met with some skepticism and Heaven Is for Real controversy. For instance, some critics have questioned how Colton could have visited the afterlife when there’s no medical evidence that he died during his two surgeries.

The Heaven Is for Real controversy intensified in 2015 when a teenager who’d made claims similar to Colton’s admitted that he’d lied. In the wake of this scandal, Colton—then aged around 16—posted a statement on his website, acknowledging that some people doubted he was telling the truth. However, he stands by his narrative.

The Heaven Is for Real Controversy: Was It Fake?

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Todd Burpo's "Heaven Is For Real" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Heaven Is For Real summary :

  • Why 4-year-old Colton Burpo believed he had visited Heaven
  • What Burpo saw during his time in Heaven, including proof it was real
  • How the experience strengthened the faith of the Burpo family

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

9 thoughts on “The Heaven Is for Real Controversy: Was It Fake?

  • August 26, 2021 at 4:28 am


    Just letting you know that the boy, Colton, that went to heaven came out publicly after all of this controversy and stated that he stands by everything he’s said since he was 3. He said others may be lying, but his story is 100% factual.

    Your write up doesn’t include any of his statements, and only talk about his “parents” saying it’s not true, despite no evidence actually showing those were his parents.

    Again, he say’s he is not lying and Jesus loves everyone.

    • January 23, 2022 at 5:31 pm

      I hope,and Pray that Todd isn,t lying;that for the love of God,he’s telling the 100% Truth about Heaven,friends.

  • January 22, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    I believe Heaven is for real. I was told by my friend who was in a car accident that she saw heaven. She had a near death experience. My husband died 2001 from lung cancer. Day he was buried. I saw him in my back yard. He smiled at me and he looked so happy. I do believe there is some kind of miracle I witnessed. I do believe there is something other then here. It did frighten me at first when I witnessed seeing him after he died. But also his friends that came to his funeral witnessed also something about his passing. I believe my husband was with jesus. But it still a strange thing that happened. Isn’t it a miracle how a baby is formed inside a Hume being. Isn’t that a miracle?

    • August 21, 2022 at 10:53 pm

      Has anyone read “Embraced By the Light” by Betty Eadie? That was written some years ago, about 10 years before Colton’s experience. It is different from “Proof of Heaven” and from “Heaven is for Real”. The NY Times did an article attacking Colton, and lumping him with the Malarkey kid, who lied about his experience. In the article Jewish experts (who don’t believe in heaven) were tough on Colton and his experience.
      People who nearly die in a car accident say they saw “their life pass before their eyes”. We believe them. The end of life is a mystery. It is unexplored ground. Even if these experiences differ, let’s show kindness to what they offer.

  • December 11, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    People don’t believe Heaven is Real because if they do then they haved believe their sinners and the Bible is real and their on their way to a devil’s hell. Jesus Christ is Real and coming soon to get His church. Repent, it is the most wonderful thing to have Him. There is nothing greater than having Him. I love you my Lord Jesus.

  • May 14, 2023 at 6:38 pm

    Those who have a negative reaction to the book seem to be “putting God in a box.” There is no reason to think that everyone’s experience in Heaven will be the same.

  • May 19, 2023 at 9:37 pm

    I had a after life experience 1 year before this movie came out and the same picture was the sky opened up and her he comes ! Ask me any questions I answer them all ! Ya heaven is 4 real !!

  • July 24, 2023 at 12:49 am

    I believe in Heaven, absolutely no doubt, and Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I have the movie “Heaven is for Real” and the puzzling thing is Nancy Rawling’s son, who was a Marine and died, it showed on his tombstone he was born 1990 and died 2009. Colton was born in 1996 and was only 4 years old, so that does not make any sense. Not only that, but their second son, Colby, was born in 2004. So, how could they have footage that her son passed away when Colton was 4 and Colby wasn’t born, if her son passed away in 2009?

    • July 24, 2023 at 1:12 am

      Correction: Colton was born in 1999.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.