Today we conclude our series of brief excerpts from N.T. Wright’s book, For All the Saints. I encourage you to pick up a copy and read the whole thing. It is a short little book and well worth your time and effort.
Nor do I think, as some have suggested, that it was just the First World War that caused the rise of the modern doctrine of a creeping universalism, which then necessitated a kind of purgatory-for-all. True, the fact of tens of thousands of young men many of them at best nominal Christians dying in the trenches probably did strain to breaking point the charitable assumption the army chaplains wanted to make at their funerals, that they were all in fact true Christians. But people had died in their thousands before, in wars and plagues, without precipitating this theological reevaluation. Rather, what seems to have happened is a steady erosion of belief in hell during the nineteenth century, preparing the way for a more explicit change occasioned by events like the great wars of the twentieth century.
Where does all this take us? We have witnessed a sad sight in the theological climate of much mainstream church life during the last century. So many have been afraid or embarrassed to utter the clear warnings of the New Testament about the peril of neglecting the gospel that they have become unable to articulate, either, the clear promises of the New Testament about the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, to read what some have written, and observe what some see fit to do liturgically, we have to say that the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life has been replaced, for many Anglicans at least, by the vague and fuzzy possibility of a long and winding journey to somewhere or other. And at that point my taste for Anglican fudge disappears entirely.
I therefore arrive at this view: that all the Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. This is not the final destiny for which they are bound, namely the bodily resurrection; it is a temporary resting place.
—N.T. Wright, For All the Saints