Views of Christian Hope from the Theological Center and Margins: A Comparison of Anglican and Latter-day Saint Eschatology

For my Fall 2020 term paper in Anglican Theology and Ethics at Bexley-Seabury Seminary I wrote a descriptive overview that compared some of the key eschatological perspectives between the Anglican and Latter-day Saint theological traditions. I wanted to further explore Anglican views of the afterlife and compare them with those of the tradition that I was raised in.

Aside from my personal curiosity, this provided an interesting perspective precisely because the two traditions are so different. Anglicanism (and the Episcopal Church in the United States) has traditionally been at the “center” of Christian theology and praxis, culturally-speaking. In contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a young upstart tradition commonly perceived to be at the periphery of the Christian community, if not outside it altogether. “Given these strong differences,” I write, “a critical comparison of their respective theologies can provide useful leverage in mapping out a landscape of Christian orthodoxy. Commonalities between traditions ‘at the center’ and ‘at the margins,’ for instance, suggest a stronger claim to a well-established, ecumenical eschatology.”

One important difference between the two traditions is that the LDS Church has a magisterium that can definitely pronounce orthodox theological positions (LDS General Authorities, specifically the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency) but the Anglican Communion has no parallel institution. In looking at Anglican eschatology, then, I relied primarily on the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, research by prominent Anglican theologians N.T. Wright, John Polkinghorne, and Christopher Beeley, supplemented heavily with prominent works by Jürgen Moltmann.

A brief outline of the key points of the paper are as follows:

 Anglican perspectiveLatter-day Saint perspective
Human beingsWe are bodies and spirits, although the nature of the spiritual aspect is somewhat unclear. An recent increased emphasis on the physical body as essential to our natures.

Classical Cartesian dualism is NOT orthodox position, this derives instead of Greek/Roman thought.
We are bodies and spirits. Our spirits were created prior to our bodies and united at birth. They separate at death and the spirit lives on (similar to classical dualism). The physical body is essential to our natures.
After deathSpirit experiences “restful peace,” somehow in God’s presence, unclear as to whether we are conscious or not in this state.Spirit is assigned to either “Spirit Paradise” or “Spirit Prison” depending on having received LDS baptismal sacrament; NOT in God’s presence (that comes later).
ResurrectionLiteral and physical; bodies are perfect and “divinized.”Literal and physical; body and spirit are reunited forever; bodies are perfected, glorified, and immortal (raised to a “degree of glory” – 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 KJV).
Life of World to ComeWe live in our bodies in a “redeemed” Earth (a “New Heavens and New Earth”). God comes to live on this redeemed Earth together with us. We live in society with others, as “vice regents” in God’s Kingdom. Our job, as it were, will be to act as “vice regents” in the new Kingdom, “reigning” and “ruling wisely over God’s new world” (in the words of N.T. Wright).Those raised to “Celestial Glory” live in a resurrected, glorified Earth which takes its place in the Celestial Kingdom where God lives and reigns. We live in societies (with strong emphasis on family units). We become co-creators and co-rulers with God (Romans 8:17).

Others live in a lesser Kingdom of Glory and, while glorious, do not participate in co-regency with God.

Concluding take-aways:

  • The general picture is that, in broad strokes, the two traditions have more in common than differences in terms of their eschatological expectations of the afterlife. They both emphasize the necessity of death, a temporary in-between state, a bodily resurrection, and a transformed and glorious eternity with God in the “new heaven and new earth” that will be established right here on Earth.
  • Anglican orthodoxy arguably has more in common with LDS orthodoxy than it does with what most rank-and-file Anglicans believe on the issue, where a common perception from the 19th century onward has been simply that we “go to heaven when we die” as a disembodied spirit.
  • “That these very different expressions of Christianity have so much in common on this topic suggests a strong basis of confidence upon which to base our faith as Christians. In my view, a renewed focus on this eschatological vision would be an effective way (one among many!) for Anglicanism, and Mainline Protestantism more broadly, to speak to the anxieties and questions relevant to a rising generation in a 21st century world. “

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