Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop (Or What Mormons Have Been Saying for Almost 200 Years)

The most read article this past week is “Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop,” in which the Church of England’s Bishop of Durham, N. T. “Tom” Wright, tries to set the record straight concerning what the Bible teaches about heaven.

Wright makes the following claims:

  1. When you die, you enter “an intermediate state.” In Luke 23 “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.”
  2. When Christ returns, “the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies…. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.”
  3. The Jews “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. . . . If people think ‘my physical body doesn’t matter very much,’ then who cares what I do with it? “
  4. “Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.”
  5. “In almost all cases, when I’ve explained this to people, there’s a sense of excitement and a sense of, ‘Why haven’t we been told this before?'”

Unless, of course, you tell all of this to a Mormon.

For Latter-day Saint Christians, the Bishop’s “revelations” have long been a part of Gospel 101, so to speak. Though I, as a Latter-day Saint, certainly do have a sense of excitement in saying this.

Latter-day Saints believe that there was a universal apostasy (or falling away) not long after the deaths of Christ and the apostles. For centuries good men and women lived, but the Church of Jesus Christ was nowhere to be found. During this time, the authority to speak in the name of Jesus Christ was gone and many false ideas were introduced, choking out many of the true doctrines of Jesus Christ (a big part of this was the Hellenization, or Greek influence, of Christianity, mentioned by the Bishop).

Then, beginning in 1820, Jesus Christ restored his Church again to the earth, through the young prophet Joseph Smith. As part of this restoration, many truths about God, man, Christ, and the afterlife were brought back to life. Several of these core truths are basically what the good Bishop is saying in the Time article. It is remarkable how the Bishop’s “revelation” is the top read article in Time Magazine, whereas the Mormon revelation of these truths has been around for almost 200 years.

Let me quickly spell out these doctrines that Mormons believe were revealed by Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith (and click here for another good post on the topic):

  1. In The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which Joseph Smith translated with the power of God, a prophet named Alma teaches his son, “There is no resurrection … until after the coming of Christ. Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet…. There is a space between the time of death and the resurrection” (Alma 40: 1,2,9). Alma goes on to describe the “paradise” that Jesus referred to on the cross, saying that during this in-between state, the spirits of the righteous are in “paradise” and the spirits of the wicked are in “prison.” But this is only a temporary state — until for every person, “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame…. And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God” (vv. 23, 25).
  2. It was revealed to Joseph Smith that “Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Articles of Faith 1:10).

These excerpts are just a tiny sampling of the Latter-day Saint beliefs concerning the importance of the body and the earth. Latter-day Saints believe that both are basically good, as the Bishop suggests, and that eternal life is a life that is lived by embodied beings here on the earth, after it has received its “paradisiacal glory.” The journey of humankind is not one of escape from their bodies and the world, but is one of progressing to live in a state of glorified embodiment in a glorified, material world. Moreover, on this world, we all definitely have a job to do, which is nothing less than assisting Jesus Christ in His never-ending work and glory, in bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:30, The Pearl of Great Price).

May I suggest that it is no accident that Latter-day Saints have long taught and believed these things. Rather, Jesus Christ Himself revealed them to us in these last days, in preparation of His returning to the earth in all His glory. We, as Latter-day Saints, invite all women and men to join with us in such a preparation. As the good Bishop said, “We have a job to do.”

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