I have been fascinated by eschatology for quite while now. “Eschatology” is the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. I find this aspect of theology to be quite telling of a person’s beliefs about not only themselves but about others. For example, if someone thinks only they’re “tribe” has a favorable afterlife it really kinda shows that they think they’re better than everyone else. However, if someone thinks that if everyone has a favorable afterlife that elevation of their tribe doesn’t exist, but it brings up common universalistic questions like why anyone would live a good life if everyone ends up in heaven.
Our Latter Day heritage provides a unique model. Sections 76 and 85 of the Doctrine and Covenants introduce “The Three Kingdoms” which are also often called the “Three Degrees of Glory” (I refer to them as “The Three Realms” in order to move away from monarchial imagery). This model got rid of a dualistic heaven/hell dichotomy and replaced it with 4 different afterlives (the 4th being “Outer Darkness” which is a stereotypical hell). These different afterlives are considered relatively comfortable afterlives for the different people in them.
In the 1800s and early 1900s RLDS preachers used to create large and intricate tapestries to convey their eschatological model to help in their preaching. These are referred to as “Preaching Charts”.
Over time Community of Christ has talked less about gaining a more favorable afterlife and focused more on improving this life for others. I think this is a responsible and compassionate shift in focus.
That being said, I am still quite fascinated by what our eschatological model is and how The Three Realms fit in. I have reached out to a couple folks, but have turned up empty handed on more contemporary resources. Apostle Art Smith pointed me to an article in the Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation’s newsletter which just recently had an article on preaching charts. He also told me that Dr. William Moore, who was featured in the article and is the director of the American & New England Studies Program at Boston University and associate professor in the Department of History of Arts & Architecture, just gave a lecture at the John Whitmer Historical Association on preaching charts, and his lecture should be uploaded sometime this year.
I wanted to find more, so ultimately I contacted the temple for historical resources and they sent me these preaching charts and pointed me to a couple of old Herald articles.
Truth be told, I haven’t figured out what I believe eschatologically. This post represents a step towards me finding an understanding. I thought it was a fascinating topic and look into our history, and I thought I’d share with you!