Mark McLeod-Harrison’s new book, The Resurrection of Immortality (Cascade, 2017) is a welcome contribution to the growing literature related to personal eschatology. His concern in the book is to explore the question of human immortality. Historically, parties to the debate have generally affirmed either that human beings are essentially immortal or conditionally immortal. Those taking the first view maintain that by nature human beings will live forever. As human beings we naturally possess the property of immortality. Conditionalists deny this, maintaining that humans may or may not live forever. God grants immortality to some, depending on certain conditions (e.g., redemption in Christ).
McLeod-Harrison defends a third alternative, which denies that immortality is intrinsic to human nature but says immortality is an enduring property possessed by human beings. On this view, immortality is an extrinsic property, one which God confers on human beings based on other properties that God gives us. And much of the book is devoted to constructing an argument for this claim—an argument that is philosophical, rather than theological, in nature. Though purely philosophical in methodology, McLeod-Harrison’s argument is nevertheless “in-house,” aimed specifically at Christian scholars in that it assumes certain basic claims of Christian theology—the existence of God, the reality of an afterlife, and the biblical doctrine of salvation.
The author admirably devotes the first couple of chapters to laying conceptual groundwork for his argument, especially defining key terms. Since “immortality” is a privative concept (like “infinite” or “unbiased”), he begins with a careful review of the concept of “mortality” and the modal varieties of meanings potentially associated with the term. Thus, he notes, we may understand mortality as referring to the possibility, actuality, or necessity of the death of the body. Alternatively, we may understand mortality vis-à-vis the soul and its possible, actual, or necessary destruction. In the second chapter, McLeod-Harrison lays out, in somewhat parallel fashion, the varieties of immortality. This conceptual backdrop is very helpful preparation for the ensuing discussion and is one of the strengths of the book.
The author’s main target of refutation is conditional immortality, which he defines as the view that humans may possibly suffer soul-death. In chapter three he addresses this claim head-on, considering whether God can cause humans to cease to exist. He addresses the question primarily in terms of God’s “moral purview to cause humans to cease to exist” (29). Though understanding that the moral and metaphysical conditions for God’s destruction of human persons are distinct, he rightly notes that “if it is morally permissible for God to bring about soul-death for humans, then it seems that it also is metaphysically possible for God to bring about soul-death” (29). Here the author appeals to Kantian notions regarding the relationship between “ought” and “can.” So although his argument in this chapter appeals primarily to what is in God’s moral power, the author regards his findings as having significant implications regarding what is metaphysically possible for God.
For the rest of my review, including my criticisms of McLeod-Harrison’s arguments, go here.
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