Thursday, May 25, 2017

What Happens After You Die by Randy Frazee

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware a free book isn't enough to assuage my cutting honesty. If I've failed to write a bad review, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

Randy Frazee is a good pastor. I've read a number of his books and I'd characterize him, above all, as someone who loves and cares for people. He's not an ideologue or someone in search of fame. I've also dedicated most of my theological exploration in recent years to issues of afterlife and scripture. So seeing a book called What Happens After You Die by Randy Frazee was an easy choice for review.

Frazee addresses this looming question in a loving, careful and personal way. It's rooted in the narrative of his mother's death and both her questions and his explorations relating to what happens when we die. He sets the book up as a biblical exploration of the matter and I'm certainly glad to see a popular pastor and author talking about resurrection vs afterlife and new creation vs disembodied heaven. We need more access to such important, foundational scriptural concepts beyond what's available from NT Wright.

However, I was a bit disappointed in the way Frazee goes about structuring the book. Rather than actually present texts dealing with various issues of life, death, afterlife, resurrection, and new creation, he more explains his conclusions on the matter and provides some scriptural support to back them up. In most cases, his interpretation is certainly not the only reliable and orthodox opinion; it would be better to deal with the passages themselves and guide people through possible answers, rather than supplying the answers and ignoring differing opinions. In this way, readers of this book will not really be able to internalize and process the very questions he hopes to answer. A theologically conservative approach that leaves conclusions open to the reader can be found in Steve Gregg's All You Want to Know About Hell.

I disagree with some of the specifics Frazee presents as "biblical" fact, although certainly he nails the basic outline from scripture with great ease. Frazee essentially lays out a traditional, systematic system of answers for the questions he poses from with the framework of penal substitution theory. Essentially he's working under the assumption that "justice" is God's core character trait - specifically a kind of justice that's informed by our treatment of justice in human society today.

While I won't take a ton of time to present alternative interpretations and conclusions in this space - Rob Bell's book Love Wins deals with the same material in a different way. It's not exactly how I'd answer the questions, but I think it's a much better framework.

Frazee does not beat people over the head with his opinions, while he takes a perspective on eternal destiny that offends my understanding of God and the world, he does it with great sincerity and utmost care. My disagreements are with the substance and not the style of a well-written book that comes off genuine, positive, and encouraging.

I think his lack of symbolic treatment where the specifics of resurrection and new creation are concerned probably creates more problems than it solves. Issues of the cubic footage of the new Jerusalem of how one might be marked on the forehead are simply unnecessary at best and distracting at worst. It provides an incorrect perception on what is an entirely symbolic book - and one already difficult for Christians to understand.

Similarly, I find his picture of heaven far too indulgent to be reflective of Christ or the Kingdom of God. Frazee did not put in enough effort (or explain that effort well enough) to wrestle with the call of God to sacrifice and selflessness in terms of heaven and resurrection life. To say heaven is where our dreams come true without doing the hard work of examining what our dreams are and whether they might be righteous in the first place, is to leave untouched the most difficult aspects of heaven and hell.

I've written plenty of other places, and would be happy to speak personally at more depth, but I just don't believe a future in which some are forever lost, punished, or destroyed accurately represents the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Similarly, a God who lets us off the hook is also unworthy. But a God who loves us unendingly and allows us to be shaped and formed and transformed by the love of God into the beings we were created to be over whatever time it takes is surely the kind of God to whom I can commit my life.

Frazee takes a decidedly hopeful position on the future and the present, but I think there is even more cause for optimism and celebration to go along with our good struggle to be more like Jesus. For what it is, What Happens After You Die is well-written and compassionate, but I'm not sure it adds much of anything to the conversation besides pointing the cultural searchlight to important topics that need more attention.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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