We begin a series today with N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope::Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. For more than a decade or so Bishop Tom Wright has been making comments, dropping suggestions, and prompting the curiosity of his many readers about what he thinks about “heaven.” Now he comes forth with a book that I think may well be one of Tom’s most significant books ever.
Tom, as many of you know, has written the best book we now have on the resurrection (Resurrection of the Son of God) and one its highlights is its exploration of a theology of resurrection instead of just focusing on proving the resurrection. Now, out of that spade work of history and exegesis Tom turns toward the Church’s theology of resurrection and its significance for life and mission. This is the proper order, and it gives the book in this series an integrity not all books have.
The overemphasis of evangelical Christians and both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox on “heaven” as well as the evangelical obsession with things like the rapture have led now to a vaccuum of solid thinking on what the Bible says about the future, about life after death, about resurrection and about how a biblical hopes shapes how we live now. How often are you hearing a biblical message of hope, a biblical study of resurrection, etc, in your community of faith? How often is it nearly always tied to “going to heaven”? Is a hope for our immediate future wishful thinking or is it profoundly biblical?
Today I want to give a sketch of the book and then offer a few reflections on chp 1. The book has three parts: setting the scene, God’s future plans, and Hope in practice. The first part sketches what folks think today and three chps on what resurrection and the after life is all about in the Christian tradition. Part two deals with the cosmic scope of biblical hope before it turns to personal hope. Part three deals with how hope shapes Christian mission. If this doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.
Two questions shape this book: First, what is the ultimate Christian hope? And, second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? Wright knows that many think it is all about going to heaven that, therefore, the second question doesn’t really matter. This is profoundly unbiblical and this book is dedicated to exposing why. “But if the Christian hope is for God’s new creation, for ‘new heavens and new earth,’ and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth, then there is every reason to join the two questions together” (5). He’s right.
There is confusion everywhere. To begin with, the world’s religions aren’t remotely similar when it comes to future hope. Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Buddhists and Christians. Three views shape much of what goes in the world today:
2. Reincarnation in all kinds of forms and shapes. New Age-ish stuff mentioned here.