Life beyond the Grave: Christian Interfaith Perspectives, edited by Alonzo L. Gaskill and Robert L. Millet (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2019)
As suggested in the title, Life beyond the Grave is a compilation of perspectives about the afterlife from a range of Christian denominations. The book’s contents were taken from a 2016 academic conference hosted at Brigham Young University. Titled “Beyond the Grave: Christian Interfaith Perspectives,” the ecumenical conference was designed to build understanding among Christian groups. Editor Robert L. Millet noted on the conference, “There has been no effort whatsoever to ignore theological differences between the various traditions, nor was it ever expected that a presenter compromise in the slightest what he or she holds to be true. . . . We came together to listen, to learn, to ask questions and inquire, in short, to better understand one another” (viii).
Life beyond the Grave reports on the presentations of ten scholars, each from a specific faith, including those who are Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Calvinist, Latter-day Saint, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh-day Adventist, and Episcopalian. Some presentations are general introductions to a faith’s basic beliefs: for example, in “Heaven Opened in the Soul: The Religious Imagination of Methodists,” David McAllister-Wilson explains the Methodist open-ended or “ad hoc” belief of the afterlife. “Methodists seem to believe in the afterlife in the way we believe there will be life found elsewhere in the universe some day and a cure for cancer will be found: we expect so; we hope so. And our hopes are loosely derived from our belief in a wondrous creation and a loving God” (54).
Other pieces narrate theories or specific concepts regarding afterlife. Metropolitan Nikitas, for example, in “Changed by Grace: Some Introductory Thoughts on the Eastern Orthodox Understanding of Death and the Afterlife,” looks at some Eastern Orthodox traditions regarding burial of the dead: “The body is not to be cremated or given to science for research. These actions are understood by many to be a type of irreverence shown for God’s creation. . . . In fact, in traditional Orthodox lands there is no embalming, so the body may return to the earth as soon as possible” (22).
Two of the ten chapters present Latter-day Saint perspectives: Brent L. Top’s “The Near-Death Experience: Why Latter-day Saints Are So Interested” compares recorded near-death experiences of Latter-day Saints with the Church’s doctrine, explaining that “core elements [of near-death experiences] feel familiar to most Latter-day Saints because of unique teachings regarding the immortal human soul, the nature and capacities of the spirit body, and the purposes and conditions of the postearth spirit realm” (96).
In “Christ’s Descent into Hell: A Latter-day Saint Perspective,” Robert L. Millet addresses the enduring Christian “soteriological problem of evil” (113) with an explanation of the Latter-day Saint doctrine of the redemption for the dead; he extensively quotes Joseph Smith and the teachings of the Restoration, concluding that “Latter-day Saints’ hope in Christ is in the infinite capacity of an infinite Being to save men and women from ignorance as well as from sin and death. . . . His influence and redemptive mercies span the veil of death” (131–32).
Life beyond the Grave will appeal to readers interested in comparative religion, eschatology, and cultural awareness.