What happens when we die?
Alison Morgan, Kingsway Publications, 1995, 224 pages,, ISBN-10; 0854763368
This is one of Alison Morgan’s earlier titles, evangelistic and apologetic in approach, reflecting to a large extent the enquiring that she did, academic and otherwise, that made a contribution to her becoming a Christian 12 years before the title was published.
While the content is good and sound, the approach seems quite dated viewed from 2008, although it was perfectly appropriate and well-matched to the mid-1990s. Today people are less concerned with examining Christianity through apologetics, scientific and linear argumentation, and much more interested to approach this through a (we hope) positive experience of Christians, of a Christian environment such as Alpha, of talking issues through and asking questions, and of experiencing God in one way or another; all in an open, friendly and enquiring environment. The material is quite like the Alpha talks in approach, especially chapter 6 “Who is Jesus?”, understandably as it dates from the same time as Alpha was publicly released - in this respect the Alpha talks are showing their age quite markedly these days, although the Alpha environment and modus operandi remain suitable for today.
The material in book is nevertheless still very relevant in 2008 as the question on the cover remains key. Although it is not a question that is on the mind of people every day in the 21st century, their being far more concerned now than people were in the 1990s with today than tomorrow and life before rather than after death, the question will arise not infrequently. For example, through people’s own experiences of bereavement of friends or family, or through seeing the frequent media reports of violence and killings. We have the all too common sight of rather bewildered and often young people gathering round and laying flowers in memory of a friend no longer with them - but where? Most people today have no reference point at all as to the where or what of things after we die, and seem left with simply a wish or hope, rather wistful, that they will be all right, somewhere, somehow. The book directly addresses this.
Chapters 1, 2 and 4 cover a lot of good ground in looking at a variety of religions, covering not only their beliefs on life after death but also, in quite some detail, their other characteristics. Chapter 5 does this through examining the credentials of the prophets of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is all well, if not captivatingly done, although there are many more titles today than there were then informing readers on world religions, so some readers may find that they have to read more than they want to find out simply what each religion believes happens when we die. A major point well discussed is that the major proponents of reincarnation (Hinduism) or rebirth (Buddhism) see a series of successive lives as an unpleasant nuisance to be avoided. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing 21st century view of reincarnation as a rather nice opportunity for lots more lives to enjoy!
In between all this, I found chapter 3 on “Evidence from Science and the Paranormal” fascinating and very enlightening, postulating some fascinating propositions and conclusions from Morgan. One of the best chapters I think, albeit a bit spooky!
Morgan really gets into her own in chapter 6 on “Who is Jesus?” with some excellent and very persuasive material. She also gives full credit to the Holy Spirit and the part the Spirit plays in the whole scenario, which is expected given her charismatic tradition, but nevertheless is often underplayed. This same emphasis holds good on chapter 7 on “The death of Jesus”, although I felt that the early parts of this chapter were not too strong on argumentation although getting more helpful as it went on.
The heart of the book is in the final chapter 8, “What happens when we die?” which is an excellent review of the biblical material and gives better information and coverage than most experienced Christians may well be aware of on what the Bible says (and what it does not say!) on life immediately after dying, on the eventual return of Jesus, new heaven, new earth, new body, heaven - and hell. Morgan on several occasions reminds us that the popular view of heaven, and especially of hell, is heavily conditioned by medieval depictions and the view becomes quite different and makes far more sense when we go back to the biblical accounts.
I imagine that many readers would skip straight to this final chapter and then catch up with the rest - I tried it this way and it works fine! It would be helpful for readers simply wanting to find out about the question that is the title of the book to be able to know what pages actually cover the topic in respect of other religions, read these alongside chapter 8, and then catch up with the rest of the book or whatever of it they are seeking further information about. And then, in true Alpha and 21st century style, to be able to meet with other people to talk over their findings, uncertainties and further questions, and to get more information and help in the kind of open, friendly, enquiring environment that I described at the beginning.
Reviewed by Charles Freebury, Chairman of the Cliff College Committee and south-west regional consultant for the Emmaus Course.