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Film based on boy's near death-experience sparks debate

Four-year-old claimed he saw John the Baptist and sat on Jesus' lap
Film based on boy's near death-experience sparks debate

Picture: Sony Pictures/Youtube

Published: April 30, 2014 05:27 AM GMT
Updated: April 29, 2014 06:53 PM GMT

Is it possible to die, take a quick look around, and come back to life to describe what you found? Seekers have asked the question for millennia, with the answers elusive and inconclusive at best.

A new film purports to give a glimpse into what people of all faiths -- and those of none -- frequently debate about heaven’s defining features: angels, fields of green, tunnels of light and other common descriptors of life after death. It's reviving a conversation among not only the religious, but also the small and growing community of Americans who research and say they know first-hand about the near-death experience.

"Heaven is for Real" is a $12-million Christian drama about Colton Burpo, the 4-year-old son of a Nebraska pastor who comes close to death during an emergency appendicitis operation, only to recover and tell a tale of visiting heaven, where he speaks with characters from his family's history. They include the great-grandfather he never met and the older sister he never had (his mother miscarried before he was born, an agonizing ordeal his parents had kept to themselves). He also describes seeing John the Baptist and meeting Jesus, who rides a rainbow-colored horse and lets the boy sit in his lap.

The movie is based upon a best-selling book by the same name, co-authored with Colton Burpo's father Todd, the pastor. It has grossed an estimated $28 million since its Wednesday release.

"There's an incredible interest over the years in this idea of dying and coming back to life and having a peek into the heavenly," said Gary Smith, a history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who wrote the book Heaven in the American Imagination. The film, Smith says, hits "a precise point of fascination and contention among Americans.”

Smith cites past releases such as 90 Minutes in Heaven, a 2004 book by Don Piper that stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for four years, and 2010's The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, in which Kevin Malarkey, a Christian therapist in Columbus, Ohio, writes about what his 6-year-old son described to him as a short visit to the afterlife after a paralyzing car accident. In 2012, Eben Alexander's book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, garnered headlines for his recounting of being turned from an atheist to a believer during his seven-day coma battling meningitis.

The makers of "Heaven is for Real," which has so far received mixed reviews, say they aren't just producing entertainment, but hoping to spur a discussion.

"Churches should talk more about heaven," said Todd Burpo, a pastor at Crossroads Wesleyan in Imperial, Neb. He says he rarely studied or preached about heaven, and had doubts about near-death experiences before Colton's journey. "We seem to avoid talking about things like life and death until we are confronted with them, like at a funeral, but it can be comforting to know there is more out there. Still, heaven is so much bigger than one person or one story."

For that very reason, the film has its share of critics, and not only among skeptics of religion.

"For anyone who truly believes the Biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies -- with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God -- are simply untrue," Baptist author and radio host John MacArthur wrote last month. "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."

Full Story: 'Heaven Is For Real' Spurs Conversations And Controversy On Near-Death Experiences

Source:Huffington Post Religion


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