I just came across a fascinating Time Magazine interview with N. T. Wright, Anglican bishop of Durham, in which he takes on the dualistic body-versus-soul view of the afterlife espoused by many Christians in favor of what I agree is a more biblically and creedally orthodox view. Here's how the interview is introduced:
N.T. "Tom" Wright is one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought. As Bishop of Durham, he is the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England and a major player in the strife-riven global Anglican Communion; as a much-read theologian and Biblical scholar he has taught at Cambridge and is a hero to conservative Christians worldwide for his 2003 book The Resurrection of the Son of God, which argued forcefully for a literal interpretation of that event.
It therefore comes as a something of a shock that Wright doesn't believe in heaven — at least, not in the way that millions of Christians understand the term. In his new book, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne), Wright quotes a children's book by California first lady Maria Shriver called What's Heaven, which describes it as "a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk... If you're good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]... When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him." That, says Wright is a good example of "what not to say." The Biblical truth, he continues, "is very, very different."
Read it all.
I note that there's a chapter in Bishop Frank E. Wilson's Faith and Practice (Morehouse, 1967) entitled "Paradise" that supports Bishop Wright's argument. According to Wilson, during the first fifteen centuries of the Church's life it was taught that there are "three stages of life - first, the probationary stage in this world; second, the waiting stage in Paradise; third, the final completion in heaven" (p. 234). "All through the writings of the early Church Fathers," he continues, "it appears again and again - an Intermediate state for waiting souls" (p. 235). Wilson argues that the Reformers strong reactions against the doctrine of Purgatory and related teachings about "a Treasury of Merits and Indulgences" helped to blur the lines between the intermediate and final stages, such that we ended up with what Wright is attacking as contrary to scripture - namely, that we go straight to heaven as disembodied souls after we die. So regardless of whether it's the influence of Greek philosophy, or the Reformers going too far, or some combination of both, Wright and Wilson are recovering a more biblically faithful theology of "the afterlife."
(You can watch a story and interview with Wright about all of this here.)