Here’s What I Believe About the Afterlife

(or the alternative title, "BODY MATTERS: A Defense of A New - But Really Old - View of Creation & Body in Eschatology" - but no one wants to read a paper and I'd rather keep my blog readers)

I’ve recently been giving some talks about the role and value of creation in our view of how things turn out in the end. Spurred on by recent incidents, I began in earnest some reflections about the fate of our bodies – renewed in the new heavens / new earth (verses a perpetual spiritual existence). Truth be told I started this discussion earlier on during last Easter, when I spoke about things like the Lord’s Supper and the Ascension of Christ

– but this time around it seems like it really struck a nerve.

I’ve been receiving more and more feedback about how this proposition (which isn’t uniquely mine own, I might add) has messed up a lot of people’s thinking on matters ranging from funerary practices to taking care of our health, to rapture and end-times prophecy, to how we view our bodies right now.

And I say good!

The basic summary of what I have been saying is this:

  1. We have been popularly misled.
  2. The idea that life after death is an eternally ethereal, spiritual existence is more gnostic than it is Christian.
  3. The Christian hope is: in the end, our physical bodies and all creation will be renewed, restored, resurrected.

While I encourage dialogue, at the same time I want to provide resources to guide and focus it. So here below are the strongest defenses of this view. To my knowledge there are very few, if any, legitimated defenses for the opposing view. Of course, there are the gnostics, but as I argued these were dismissed for very good reasons I care not to discuss here and now. So here are the (re)sources:

  • 1 Corinthians 15 – a very difficult chapter. Let me just say: when Paul says, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body,” some use this to legitimate an exclusively spiritual afterlife. This is an exegetical, contextual misunderstanding – the larger context doesn’t follow this line of thinking… plus everything Paul says in the surrounding verses supports the idea that this is not a separate spiritual existence, but the one and the same body, resurrected imperishable.
  • The ancient Jewish worldview concerning resurrection – from which the Scriptures are shaped and we derive our essential Christian beliefs. Admittedly Wikipedia isn’t the greatest source on this, but read below for more on NT Wright, who is a leading scholar on these matters…
  • The Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body
  • The Nicene-Constantinople Creed: “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
  • The Athanasian Creed: “He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all (humanity) will rise again with their bodies.”

For you hardcore Reformed types:

  • The Westminster Catechism: Ans 87 “We are to believe, that at the last day there shall be a general resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust: when they that are then found alive shall in a moment be changed; and the selfsame bodies of the dead which were laid in the grave, being then again united to their souls forever, shall be raised up by the power of Christ. The bodies of the just, by the Spirit of Christ, and by virtue of his resurrection as their head, shall be raised in power, spiritual, incorruptible, and made like to his glorious body.”
  • Heidelberg Catechism: Ques 57 “What comfort does the “resurrection of the body” afford thee?” Ans: “That not only my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head; (a) but also, that this my body, being raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul, and made like unto the glorious body of Christ.”
  • Reformed Church US blog: “Belief in the resurrection of the body is the gospel’s hope. Its foundation is Christ’s own resurrection.”

And, more contemporary resources:

  • Tom (NT) Wright, leading New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop – anything written by him in the last decade will have this strong emphasis of a new heavens and a new earth, entailing renewed bodies and a renewed creation.
    rockin' the purple shirt and cross
    one of the more contemporary, stronger and persuasive arguments for this view

    Wright's latest offering. Hey, with a name like "Wright" you can't go wrong. I'm sorry.
  • Scot Mcknight’s review of the above books – a leading evangelical scholar and blogger: “First, Easter is about new creation. Second, ascension is about the enthronement of Jesus as the king of new creation — it is not about Jesus, in some spiritual non-bodily state disappearing into heaven where spirit existence is established. Third, the second coming is not a “return” to earth so much as the reappearance of the Son of God where new creation will be finally establishedresurrection is not about some ethereal existence but about a physical, bodily existence.

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

4 thoughts on “Here’s What I Believe About the Afterlife

    1. Hey James – hope you are well man.

      Yup – I’ve done a lot of speculating on the Intermediate State as of late – but it’s one of those things I think aren’t very concretely laid out in Scripture;

      at best I think of Darrell’s words “thousand years go by like a blink of an eye” – and heard other things from our school days… but still not sure how to think theologically about it. What do you believe about it?

  1. Well the phrase I tossed around with Ross when he was reflecting on the same thing (after Sharon’s death) was liminal dualism, wherein there is some sort of division between soul and body for a time but this is not are ultimate end. Immortality of the soul is a Greek idea not a Judeo-Christian one, but Jesus is the way truth and life and on the strength of the resurrection, I think the dead in Christ could be said, in some sense to be with Christ, though not in their fully resurrected state.

    I think the Biblical evidence for this is sparse, but there are references to those who have fallen asleep in Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-14). I think their ultimate resurrection is future, but I think it’s proper to see them as in Christ now. Or at the very least, under his care. Pastorally I would want to say as much to those who are grieving. Though when speaking about life after death, I have no direct experience from which to draw. I am skeptical of the rash of books out about those who died and went to heaven and lived to tell about it.

    1. well said – love havin your 0.02 over here @ the blog – it’s like old days @ Regent sittin in the Atrium discussing theology over really darn good coffee..

      “liminal dualism, wherein there is some sort of division between soul and body for a time but this is not are ultimate end… I think the dead in Christ could be said, in some sense to be with Christ, though not in their fully resurrected state.

      when I studied this closely recently, what you just described is also Packer’s view (in his Systematics class). I can understand. It’s not the final destination, but there must be some kind of reunion?

      I like how Darrell handles this. He theorizes the intermediate state as going by in the “blink of an eye” – kind of like when I went under for my surgery… so, there is almost a seamless transition from the moment of death… right into life. Except it is life in the sense that the Resurrection has occurred – and we, along with the entire host enter simultaneously.

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