Review: Next Life
Not your average book about heaven
In a current cultural climate that celebrates the temporary, idolizes the now, and worships the pragmatic, any work that encourages and facilitates an eternal perspective is welcomed (and needed). And that’s what Swavely offers in Next Life: A Novel.
In this short work of fiction, the author creatively pushes the reader "outside the box” when considering the afterlife while, at the same time, explicitly calls for a rootedness in Scripture when doing the same. I’m not a fiction writer (I’m barely any type of writer!), but I’ll assume that isn’t an easy balance to strike. Swavely does so with skill and winsomeness.
There are three other elements of Next Life that stoke me as worth mentioning, only because it seemed to me that they were important to the author himself.
First, the book is used as a subtle(ish) rebuke of the “heaven tourism” genre. On more than one occasion the author points out the folly of such writing and suggests there’s a better way of knowing of “what comes next” (hint: the Word of God). As a pastor, I don’t think this genre can be publicly corrected and challenged enough. That said, Swavely’s contribution is unique in that he does it while writing almost within the genre itself! (I know, it’s a work of fiction, but it’s written in the first-person.)
Second, the book provides an imaginative call for Christian hope. I mentioned this already, but it deserves to be highlighted. Too often Christians, like the world around us, can lose—or become distracted from—our eternal perspective. Scripture calls for the opposite! “Look forward!” “Tell everyone about the hope that you have!” “Be prepared for the coming of our Lord!” “This world is not our home!” Swavely encourages the reader to think beyond their own life, beyond this world, and into the heavenlies.
Finally, this book teaches theology. Swavely could not have made it more clear that this work is one of fiction. However, all fiction carries with it the ideologies and worldviews of their authors (think Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth). In fact, fiction is a powerful teacher. The author of this book knows that well and does not hesitate to inject theological quips, assertions, and sermonettes into the tale. At times, I found it a bit distracting and heavy-handed as the author clearly has particular theological convictions (who doesn’t!?), many of which are popular in Christian publishing right now, e.g., calvinism, ceasationism, amillennialism, a refromed systematic, and lordship salvation. Then again, I may have been imagining those and have just proven myself hyper-sensitive. Either way, conservative theology needs to be taught and I applaud Swavely for his efforts in doing so through an enjoyable, well-written story.
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