Five Interesting Facts About "Heaven is for Real"

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A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son's extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
April 15th, 2014

"Heaven is for Real" is the story of four-year-old Colton who, while undergoing an emergency appendectomy, visited heaven, then returned to earth to tell his tale. A New York Times number one best-selling book in 2010, "Heaven is for Real" was quickly snapped up by Sony Pictures. The 2014 movie version is directed by Randall Wallace, the writer of "Braveheart," and stars Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly. While "Heaven is for Real" has generated some controversy, with some people choosing to believe the little boy's tale and others disbelieving, there are some interesting facts about the story that not everyone knows.

What Colton Saw in Heaven

While Colton was having his near-death experience, he was able to look down on his own body in the operating room. He later described the doctor's actions while operating on him, and also reported that he had seen his dad praying. These experiences are similar to many people who have been declared clinically dead in the operating room; Colton, however, was not declared clinically dead.

While Colton was in what he called heaven, he met a sister he had never known about, an unborn baby his mom had miscarried before Colton was born. He also reported on seeing Jesus riding a special rainbow-colored horse, God sitting on a very large chair, angels singing "Jesus Loves Me," and the Holy Spirit sending power down from heaven to people on earth. Colton also reported meeting his great-grandfather, who died long before Colton was born.

The Surprising Background of One of the Movie's Producers

One of the producers of the movie version of "Heaven is for Real" is Joe Roth, who has produced over 40 movies and been the head of both Walt Disney Pictures and 20th Century Fox. However, in 1959, when Roth was a child, he was one of the children who were part of Engle v. Vitale, the court case that ended up before the Supreme Court and led to the Court outlawing prayer in public schools.

The Book's Bestseller Status

"Heaven is for Real" debuted at number 3 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2010, and has stayed on the list for over 175 weeks. It held the number 1 spot on the list for a solid year in 2011, and returned to that top spot on the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list in April 2014, shortly before the movie version was released.

The Study Guide for "Heaven is for Real"

Though it may seem unusual for a little boy's story to be taken so seriously that people want to study it, the publishers of "Heaven is for Real" have in fact put out a study guide to accompany the book. The guide is aimed at helping people formulate discussion regarding their beliefs about heaven. It encourages readers of the book to meet together in small groups to discuss their reactions to the book, their worries about their own eventual deaths, their concerns about loved ones who have already died and any confusion they have that may have been engendered by reading the book.

The study guide provides discussion questions on a chapter-by-chapter basis. It also encourages individuals to keep journals as they go through the study guide. The guide is also accompanied by DVDs that provide theological bases for some of the narrative claims made in the book, as well as sample prayers for individuals or families to use.

Controversies Surrounding "Heaven is for Real"

A surprising amount of controversy has risen up around "Heaven is for Real." While one might expect Christian believers to be excited at what appears to be a corroboration of some of their beliefs, in fact many people identifying as Christians have tried to disassociate themselves from the book and the movie. Some feel that because Colton's story differs from the few descriptions of heaven in the Bible, it is not to be trusted. Others question the validity of near-death experiences, or point out that Colton was never actually declared to be clinically dead. Some Christians even claim that Colton's visions or hallucinations were caused by demons, and that he never actually visited heaven at all. In addition, some people feel that Colton simply had an overactive imagination, and that his parents may have embellished the surprising stories that he initially told them after his operation.

It's rare for a major motion picture studio such as Sony Pictures to put up money to make religiously based films. Although at $12 million, the budget for "Heaven is for Real" is modest by Hollywood standards, it speaks of Sony's confidence that there is indeed an ample audience for this simple story. Given the potent combination of the book's extremely strong bestseller status and the controversies stirred up by the provocative topics, the movie is likely to be very successful not only at the box office but in its after-markets as well.