After a teenager admitted this week that his well-publicized story of ascending to heaven and meeting Jesus during a near-death experience in 2004 was entirely made up, another boy who has risen to fame in recent years after claiming to have experienced something similar is defending the veracity of his account.
Colton Burpo — the 14 year old whose story of nearly dying and meeting Jesus was told in a book and movie titled, "Heaven Is For Real" — defended himself after Alex Malarkey, whose similar experience was told in the 2010 book “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven," came forward to tell the public that he "did not die" and did not "go to heaven," as was claimed in his bestselling book.
Malarkey's admission has sparked both critique and questions surrounding so-called "heavenly tourism" books and stories, which detail the claims of those who say they have visited heaven during near-death experiences, leading Burpo to publicly affirm his own experience.
He posted a statement on the Heaven Is For Real Ministries website Friday responding to controversy over Malarkey's revelation and standing by his claims of visiting heaven and meeting Jesus.
"I know there has been a lot of talk about the truth of other Heaven stories in the past few days. I just wanted to take a second and let everyone know that I stand by my story found in my book Heaven is for Real," the statement read. "I still remember my experience in Heaven. I want to keep telling people about my experience because it has given hope to so many people."
Burpo added that he knows some people have doubts about his story but said that no one coaxed him into sharing it.
"I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus," he wrote. "He really, really loves you."
It’s been more than 10 years since Burpo came perilously close to dying during emergency appendectomy surgery when he was 3 years old. He and his family have previously defended their story against critics.
His father, Todd Burpo, told TheBlaze last year that his son’s story has never changed and that there are thousands of people in their small town who would corroborate and defend the details. Colton, too, is aware of his critics, but said he pays them little mind.
The Burpo family (Crossroads Wesleyan Church)
“Well, with me, my main response is, ‘OK you can believe what you want to. That’s not going to stop me from sharing what I saw,’” he told TheBlaze last April. “I am decently easygoing. It takes a lot to rattle my cage, so I take the pacifist approach.”
Some skeptics point to the fact that Colton never actually flat-lined during surgery — something they say would preclude him from a visit to heaven.
Todd Burpo doesn’t dispute that his son never stopped breathing or actually died on the table and said he's spent time reading Scripture “soul-searching” to understand how his son’s experience could be possible.
“In the Bible there’s several examples of people who actually died and came back, but there’s several examples of people who never died,” he explained.
While Todd Burpo admitted to not having all the answers, he said the theology surrounding heaven is complicated. Read more about Burpo's story here.