The Biblio-Files

bib·li·o·phile (bĭb'lē-ə-fīl') n.

1. A lover of books.
2. A collector of books.

29.7.08

Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

Well, a while back I finished N.T. Wright's book on eschatology. You can find a much better review of this book by Tom Schreiner here. But, I will give my thoughts briefly.

N.T. Wright is a brilliant New Testament scholar. The material I have read by him has always presented me with hefty ideas that I enjoy wrestling with. As a historian who has mastered the ancient cultures in which early Christianity was birthed, the product of his studies of the New Testament often reveal the many ways that Western Christians have misread Scripture. Therefore, in many ways Wright is very helpful. He helps me think outside of my 21st century Americanized box. And when it came to reading this book, it was no different.

Here's why:

The thrust of Wright's book is that many contemporary Christians think wrongly about their future heavenly hope. Namely, it is commonplace for believers to promote the idea that our final heavenly destination is an otherworldly, immaterial state that exists away from "this evil earth." Much Christian preaching, songwriting, and literature tends to leave one with the impression that the great hope that Christians await is to be done with this earth and dwell somewhere in the sky in a bodiless, phantom-like existence. Wright argues convincingly that our great hope is finalized not by us leaving the earth and going to heaven, but by heaven coming to us in a renewed heavens and earth. Yes, in the intermediate state we do go to be with the Lord, but this is only a temporary provision until the full consummation occurs. The final hope of believers is resurrection, with Jesus as our great Pioneer who is "the firstborn from among the dead" (Col. 1:18). We will receive new physical bodies that will dwell for eternity on a renewed physical earth. Easter, not Christmas, is clearly the holiday that Christians should put the most effort into.

Wright argues that the theme that colors the entire Bible is creation/recreation. Thus, Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is primarily the inauguration of the new creation. So, we are to make much of Jesus' resurrection (Easter) because of the everyday implications it has for having a renewed life. Wright emphasizes that when Scripture says that when a man is in Christ he is "a new creation" (or, according to Wright's translation, "If a man is in Christ, behold, new creation," p.228), it means that he is and should live as a small glimpse of what is to come in the final resurrection. On the first Easter, Jesus was the first glimpse of the new creation. This is why Jesus' resurrection is the anchor for our hope of salvation--if Jesus has been raised, we can be confident that we will be raised too.

In addition, Wright takes issue with a lot of contemporary theology that denigrates the implications to a thorough resurrection/new creation eschatology. He challenges fundamentalists who simplistically view evangelism as a decision-centered effort that reduces the gospel merely to a "go to heaven when you die" message. Wright argues that the gospel is much more global than we often make it out to be, requiring Christians to take involvement in social reform more seriously. (Schreiner (see link above) has some good thoughts about this idea in his review.) Also, he strongly expresses his irritation with rapture theology, mostly arguing that it demeans a Christian's concern for this world. Ultimately, he traces most rapture theology to a cousin of Gnosticism (ultimately a product of Platonic dualism) that promotes a disdain for the physical world. I'll let you read his full arguments that are found throughout his work, but that's the gist of it.

Concerns:

Well, writing a section on my concerns in this book is actually a joy, especially with N.T. Wright. I do disagree with Wright on some issues, and some of his ideas are just straight-up far fetched. But, reading people who are not like minded has a refining effect. Plus, he is usually honest as he writes, and gives the reader a heads up that he is giving a rare, controversial, or altogether new perspective or interpretation on a topic. He is well reasoned and I enjoy wrestling with his ideas; some have helped me to think outside of my box, others have just annoyed me. Either way, there are some things here that you should be on guard for. (I refer you Schreiner's review for a better treatment of these issues.) First, in writing a book on hope, heaven, gospel, and salvation, Wright hardly mentions sin. He does mention it, but he leaves it out of the discussion for the most part. His negligence makes you wonder what role individual salvation from personal sin plays in the gospel. He makes you think that it's too simplistic to go around telling people that they need to be saved from sin. So, head's up. Second, his view of hell is altogether...well, he even admits that he is crafting his own view of hell. Namely, humans were created to fulfill their humanness by imaging God for His glory. Sin, or not imaging God properly, is above all dehumanizing. Thus, the ultimate destination for those who die in unbelief is to experience the full extent of dehumanization. Wright does this by trying to wed annihilationism and universalism--it's bizarre, which he admits, but you'll have to read it to see how it unfolds. Finally, he advocates praying to saints, though not in a mediatorial way. Yeah, he can keep that one. There are other minor things that strike me as "eh?", but those are the main ones.

Quotes:

"[The resurrection] is not an absurd event within the old world, but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation" (67).

"Take away the stories of Jesus' birth, and you lose only two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection, and you lose the entire New Testament and most of the second-century fathers as well" (43).

"[With] Easter, God's new creation is launched upon a surprised world, pointing ahead to the renewal, the redemption, the rebirth of the entire creation. Hands up, those who have heard the message that every act of love, every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity--doing justice, make peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom--is an earthly event in a long history of things that implement Jesus' own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as a signpost of home, pointing back to the first and on to the second. . . . I thought so. Thank you" (294-95).

Because of Wright's book, I have gained a higher view of baptism, the new creation, the celebration of Easter, a reason to kill sin in my life, and ultimately, my own resurrection in light of Jesus' resurrection. Though discernment is required at times, I benefited from this book. Check it out.

Peace.
Thoughts? Questions?

5 comments:

Adam Cates said...

Eron,

I just finished the book HEAVEN by Randy Alcorn.
It seems to be pretty similar to this book by Wright in some aspects.

The main point the book made was that the church's concept of heaven isn't really scriptural, so we have a need to view it in light of scipture, which the book describes.

It was a bit lengthy and repetitive, but pretty good overall.

Eron said...

Cadam,

Thanks man. Yeah, I have Alcorn's book and have read through some sections. He has good discussion and I will get around to reading it in it's intirety.

Wright is more philosophical in a lot of ways. He doesn't quote Scripture a lot. When he does it is really good and helpful, but he is more historical and orients his discussion around 2nd Temple Judiastic culture. It would probably be a good complement to Alcorn.

Aight bro. Kari and love you guys and are glad to hear that you both are doing well and trusting the Lord. Call me sometime. I lost my phone contacts so I don't have your number.

Peace

Adam Cates said...

eron, i don't have your number either.
mine is 325 227 0376. call me or text me so I can have yours.

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