40 Questions About Heaven and Hell (40 Questions Series) by Alan Gomes, 384 pp. Kregal Publications, 2018.
The Bible has a lot to say about both the afterlife and the future. Obviously, Christianity is often perceived as an “afterlife” religion. Christians can seem fixated on saving a person’s soul. The good news is Alan Gomes book provides a wealth of information on the afterlife, theological anthropology, and other related topics. Once again, in line with the 40 Questions Series, each chapter is short but quite detailed. Gomes rightly points out that thinking about the afterlife is important for several reasons. First, humans hunger for justice and things to be set right. If humans are just particular clumps of stardust and are not made in the image of an eternal God, who are we accountable to? Without God in the mix, we are only accountable to each other. Yet, many injustices aren’t dealt with in this world. But if God exists, then one day God will compensate fully those who have suffered unjustly and punish the guilty with perfect justice (pg. 19). Also, a belief in the afterlife motivates us to live sacrificially for others. Yes, people who are not Christians can live sacrificially for others. But historically speaking, Christians have laid their lives down for others with a great personal cost. Gomes cites one example when he notes that the early Christians risked their own lives to care for pagan enemies who had contracted an infection in a time of a plague when even their own family members cast them into the street to avoid contracting the disease (pg. 21). Furthermore, the belief in the afterlife has given many the ability to endure and thrive in the midst of trial and tribulation. Obviously, the motivation for this endurance is based on the factuality and reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
Gomes discusses the various views of the afterlife outside the Christian tradition. He is also aware that there is plenty of interest in people wanting to contact their dead relatives (see Question #2).
In relation to theological anthropology, Gomes discusses the relationship between “soul” and/or “spirit” (see Question # 5). He notes that “both Testaments tend to view human beings as holistically. Thus, the Bible views humans as beings in which the body, the mind, the emotions, our physical biological life, etc., all cohere to make a unified, integrated whole” (pg. 45). Also, in some places, the soul and spirit seem to mean the same thing? As Gomes notes, “the spirit refers to the immaterial part of a human being, while the word “soul” refers to the person in his or her totality. That is, “a person has a spirit and is a soul”(pg. 49). But in some New Testament passages, it seems both soul and spirit are synonymous (see Heb. 12:23, Rev. 6:9, and others). Gomes says that “when we have a disembodied soul” what we have is an incomplete person, whom we rightly call a “soul” (person), in an incomplete state, possessing only his or her spirit and no longer a body” (pg. 50). Therefore, when we have people who have died as “souls” (Rev. 6:9) or “spirits” (Heb. 12:23), both words refer to incomplete people awaiting the resurrection. In the first case, the stress is on the person (i.e, soul), who no longer has a body, while the latter refers to an incomplete person by naming the part of him or her that survived death (i.e., the spirit) (pg. 50).
Gomes takes a traditional view on the intermediate state and provides support that we survive physical death (see Question #6). He is aware of alternative views such as “soul sleep” and Christian physicalism. He discusses the vocabulary for the afterlife (i.e., heaven, hell, Gehenna, Sheol, Tartarus, etc).
In Question #9, he takes a skeptical view of those who have died and claimed to have had NDE’s (Near Death Experiences). He tends to think the Bible is sufficient to speak to such matters. There is no need to appeal to such experiences. Some may disagree with his stance on this. I am aware of many books that provide evidential support NDE’s. Gomes also provides support for his other positions such as a rejection of purgatory (Question #13), as well as an opportunity for salvation after death (Question #14).
Gomes rightly points out that there is a final judgment for Christians based on works (see Question #16). The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by the finished work of Jesus and our faith in Him . All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them (Romans 8:1). But we see passages such as the following. Romans 14: 10-12 says, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (ESV). 2 Corinthians 5: 10 tells us, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In context, it is clear that both passages refer to Christians, not unbelievers.
Gomes also devotes chapters to the topic of the New Jerusalem, and the nature of the eternal state. In all honesty, when it comes to the exact nature of the “eternal state” (which is a subdivision of the greater study of eschatology, or the doctrine of last things), I wonder if Christians can even think this far ahead. If our focus on the here and now (and yes, heaven), it can be hard to think beyond that. Gomes also agrees that many of us assume that the final destination is to be in the intermediate state (i.e., “heaven”). However, salvation in the Bible is not the deliverance from the body, which is the prison of the soul. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. Eternal life is a quality of life that does not start when we die, but right now in the present (John 17:2). In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21).
Gomes does not side with the ever-increasing popularity of annihilationism. He provides support against it. He sides with the traditional view of everlasting, conscious awareness of being separated from God. He answers objections to this view (see Questions, 35, 36). He also provides a chapter on the problems of assuming Jesus did actually descend into hell (as stated in the Apostles Creed). He notes this section was not originally part of the Apostles Creed.
As noted, Gomes tends to side with most of the traditional views of the afterlife. This is a fine addition to one’s library on the topic.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback or any specific type of review.