The purpose of this book ought to be clear from its title. It is an attempt to sketch briefly, mostly by way of suggestion, what significance may be discovered, for men and women living today, in the traditional scheme of the ‘last things’ -- death, judgement, heaven, and hell. It admits frankly that this scheme, as it has come down to us, is incredible, however valuable and helpful, not to say apparently ‘true’, it was for many who have gone before us in the path of Christian discipleship. But it tries to point out certain indispensable realities in human, above all in Christian, life which that outworn scheme somehow managed to present to those who accepted it.
I should like to emphasize that at best this is a ‘sketch’; and that it is ‘mostly by way of suggestion’. I should be the last to assume that I have said everything that might be or ought to be said on the subject, and I am very conscious of serious omissions as well as of many shortcomings. In extenuation, however, I plead that in the compass allowed me -- for these chapters were originally lectures -- nobody can say everything. What I have done is to select, according to my best judgement, what seemed of crucial importance and hence could not be omitted. And that is all that I can say, as an excuse for this book’s inadequacy to the theme with which it attempts to deal.
It remains to thank the authorities of the several divinity schools in the United States which were kind enough to ask me to lecture in February 1970. The principals, deans, and other officials, as well as the theological students and others who heard the lectures, will know how deeply indebted I am to them all. The lectures, practically in their present form, were delivered at the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, and the Boston Theological Institute.
Two further chapters (on The Centrality of Love and After the ‘Death of God’) have been added, since they deal with related subjects. The second of these (Chapter Eight) originally appeared in The Church Quarterly for April 1969; I am indebted to the Editor for permission to reprint it here.