Before Tom Wright discusses the future for the individual he goes where the Bible goes: first the corporate and then the individual. In chp 5 of Surprised by Hope he examines two ideas that shape how even many Christians think of the future. He’s not afraid to say that these are not in fact Christian hopes; they are myths.
Too many Christians have packaged Enlightenment individualism and theories of progress with Platonic dualism and soul-ishness to form a theory of heaven that is far from what the NT teaches. This, so I think, is the heart of Tom’s appeal.
The first myth is “evolutionary optimism.” The myth of progress. He digresses into political rhetoric and affirms me in my crankiness about the eschatology of politics (heard on this blog but even more frequently in my home!): “… the politicians are still trying to whip up enthusiasm for their versions of this myth — it’s the only discourse they know, poor things — while the rest of us have moved on” (81). This utopian dream is parody of the Christian hope. This myth of progress is instead a “goal that will emerge from within rather than being a new gift from elsewhere” (82). He sees Christian mutations in social Darwinianism and the social gospel, and I fear far too many in the emerging movement have opted for the latter.
What’s the problem: Wright says “The real problem with the myth of progress is … that it cannot deal with evil” (85). “The world is in fact still a sad and wicked place, not a happy upward progress toward the light” (86). This myth doesn’t work; it can’t solve evil’s problems retrospectively; it underestimates the nature and power of evil and thus “fails to see the vital importance of the cross” (87). Let the reader hear me out: without an atonement there is no Jesus kingdom and no Christian hope.
The solution to evil in this world — and here I’m summarizing Wright — is not to try harder or to work at education more; the solution is otherwise. (Only then does education make sense.)
The second myth is “souls in transit”. Here Wright connects the spiritual soul-ishness with
Induism Hinduism, Platonism, Gnostics, etc. The goal is to get rid of this body. For these “creation itself is the fall” (89). “Basically, if you move away from materialistic optimism but without embracing Judaism or Christianity, you are quite likely to end up with some kind of Gnosticism” (89).
Complete nonmateriality is not a Christian hope.