"Heaven Is for Real," the movie based on the near-death experience of a young boy who believes he visited heaven and met Jesus, is generating divided opinions among Christians on whether it presents a biblical message on heaven as it hits theaters Easter weekend.
The movie is based on the best-selling 2010 book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, where pastor Todd Burpo reports on the near-death experience of his then 4-year-old son, Colton, who shares of meeting Jesus in heaven as well as a number of his deceased relatives after undergoing emergency surgery in 2003.
The film adaptation of the book, directed by Randall Wallace, opened on Wednesday, and has received the backing of some Christian groups, including Faith Driven Consumer, which reviews faith or Bible-based films.
With an overall rating of four stars out of five, Faith Driven Consumer states that while the movie "does not clearly present the biblical teaching on how a person gets to heaven or comes to know Jesus, it is a high quality outreach tool for Christians to share with non-believers about the reality of heaven and the Gospel."
In the category of Faith and/or Biblical relevance, the movie scored three-and-a-half stars out of five. Some Christians "may take issue with the hint of universalism and lack of overt reference to repentance and faith in Jesus for salvation and attainment of heaven," Faith Driven Consumer says. Still, "Heaven Is for Real" "gently shares biblical truths in an accessible and non-preachy way – offering hope, encouragement and a strengthening of faith for both Christians and non-believers alike."
Not all agree. Christian TV producer and author of over 30 books Steve Wohlberg argued that the movie promotes an unbiblical view of heaven by suggesting that a person's dead relatives are already there.
"There's one major problem," Wohlberg wrote on Thursday. "Neither the Old or New Testaments teach anywhere that our dead relatives are floating around in heaven waiting to talk to us. Instead, they 'sleep' (1 Cor. 15:51) quietly in their graves awaiting 'the resurrection at the last day' (John 11:25)."
In November 2013, Burpo spoke with The Christian Post and commended the film, calling the parts he had seen "accurate" and well-made.
"They're sharing Colton's message accurately and honestly, and they're doing it incredibly well," the pastor told CP. "I think God is telling people the story."
He added that he believes Hollywood is a "great medium," as many more people will go to the movies rather than read books.