In a fascinating interview with Time Magazine , the Anglican Bishop of Durham, N.T. “Tom” Wright, who is the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England, says that most Christians misunderstand the Biblical teaching of the the afterlife. The view he advocates bears a striking similarity to the Mormon teachings of Joseph Smith.
Here are excerpts:
Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal.
There is Luke 23, where Jesus says to the good thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” But in Luke, we know first of all that Christ himself will not be resurrected for three days, so “paradise” cannot be a resurrection. It has to be an intermediate state.
The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have been times when the Greek view was very influential.
It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.
What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.
Latter-day Saints will find all of this very familiar. I wonder if the good Bishop is aware that his doctrine is so Mormon? He would likely enjoy reading the Doctrine and Covenants.