LaGard Smith believes there must be a “radical” correction in the teaching of most Christians today (see Radical Restoration, Cotswold, 2001).His ongoing quest to achieve that goal is pursued in his latest book, After Life. Therein he challenges what he calls the “orthodox understandings” pertaining to death and eternity.
While this book does address certain sectarian views, e.g., Watchtowerism, Mormonism, Millennialism (rapture theory), and Catholicism (purgatory/limbo), these topics appear to be merely the “salad” that accompanies the “main course,” namely, an assault upon some of the most universally-held, end-time views of Christian history.Consider the following brief points.
- The author argues that “human mortality is not the result of sin”; rather, death is but a natural consequence of having been made “of dust.”This suggests that death is an extension of divine benevolence, and that God intended this experience from the beginning.Supposedly, passages that relate death to sin refer only to spiritual death.
The problem with this theory, which the author admits bucks “centuries of theological consensus,” is that the “dust-to-dust” destiny of man clearly results from the “curse” placed upon humanity for its rebellion.That is the explicit testimony of Moses (see Gen. 3:19; cf. Rom. 5:12).One can only marvel at the arrogance of one who believes that he has an almost unique understanding of a biblical theme that has eluded the greatest minds of Christian history.
- Also advanced is the notion that all the dead are unconscious between the time of one’s demise and that of the Judgment Day.The case of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-30), which demonstrates the contrary, is dismissed as a “parable” due to certain figures of speech employed in the narrative, e.g., Lazarus’ “finger,” and the rich man’s “tongue” (that are necessary symbols in conveying ideas related to the spirit realm).
However, this narrative does not bear the characteristic marks of a parable.Note that the persons are identified by name; that format never occurs in a parable elsewhere in the Bible. See: “Are the Dead Conscious?” and "Are the Dead “Asleep”?"
Passages that refer to death as “sleep” are applied to the “soul,” rather than the body – as is the actual case.Daniel was very clear that the part of man that “sleeps” is that which is deposited in the “dust of the earth” (cf. 12:2).
Smith affirms that the condition of the lost and the saved in Hades is identical.Or, as he illustrated it – Hitler and “Mother Theresa” presently are experiencing the same status!Is it not obvious that the illustrious “scholar in residence” at Lipscomb University believes that “Mother Theresa” was redeemed by her “good works,” irrespective of her obedience to Christ?
- The author contends that Christ will banish the wicked to hell, but “not with on-going torment.”Rather, “sooner or later,” those cast into hell will cease to exist.Logically, this theory is flawed; it suggests that the “punishment” actually is non-punishment.If hell’s “destruction” is “annihilation,” and if one enters “destruction” at death, then one is “annihilated” at death, and there is no actual punishment.A non-entity cannot be punished. See: “The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment”.
It is alleged that the adjective “eternal” speaks of the nature of the punishment, rather than its duration.But the expression “eternal God” (Rom. 16:26), affirms the Lord’s unending existence, and “eternal life” is everlasting in duration (Mt. 25:46).In terms of afterlife reality, “eternal” is not “temporal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
This volume is a serious disappointment from a talented man who produced some helpful books in days gone by, but who, in recent years, has revealed a rebellious and radical disposition that is tragic indeed.
After Life — A Glimpse of Eternity Beyond Death’s Door
by F. LaGard Smith
Nashville: Cotswold, 2003
334 pages, softcover, $14.99