Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Surprised by Hope Thoughts

I finished N.T. Wright's fascinating Surprised by Hope. A very good book, I highly recommend it. There were only a few parts I found a bit troubling but all in all good, sound, historic biblical teaching from a "fresh" perspective. Below are some gleanings I took from his thoughts about the resurrection, heaven and the future.

Primarily a rebuttal to gnostic tendencies so prevalent in modern evangelicalism concerning heaven and the resurrection; be it the liberal or conservative variety. Wright is not traditional in that sense. He talks scarcely little about the second coming or judgment day, although he does have some things to say about those topics. He has much to say about rethinking heaven, the resurrection and practical implications for here and now. He stays away from speculation about what the future will look like other than bringing attention to "signposts" that point us into the "mist," i.e. "seedtime and harvest." In that sense he's very optimistic and focuses on the victory of Christ over the grave and how that has implications for those who believe. Let me give you a for instance: He says when you read in the Bible about Jesus going to prepare a place for us, he compares that to a friend who tells you he's got beer in the fridge. That doesn't mean you've got to go into the fridge (heaven) to drink it. What your friend will do (hopefully), is break it out in the open to enjoy.

According to Wright heaven and earth is/will converge into one and even now heaven is overlapping or poking into this world, but more about that in a moment, (he says this a lot too!!!) His focus is how eternal life has already begun and ways the church ought to be about the business of putting that into practice now instead of waiting to float around as a disembodied spirit on a cloud somewhere strumming a golden harp. In that spirit he attacks head on, Dispensatinoalism put forth in such popular books as the Left Behind series. Yuck! Away with such gnostic drivel!

Wright talks a lot about 1 Cor. 15 and believes it to be the heart of what the New Testament teaches concerning the resurrection. Almost every time he mentions it he brings up the last verse, 58 and says this is Paul's conclusion of the matter:"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

His encouragement to those who would read his book is that what is done in the here and now has ramifications for the future. As for John 14, he would say Christ is here, yet in another dimension, i.e. heaven.

His description on Hell was confusing, however he does a good job at explaining how purgatory, as defined historically, is a ridiculous idea, unless you consider the world we are in now as a type of purgatory, as in the stage on which our sanctification is played out. I found this to be a very intriguing idea.

He defines Jesus' parousia as an appearing rather than a coming, which he thinks is misleading. Again, the heavenly realm is very much present, yet we cannot see it. Christ is Lord over all and is transforming this world into something that looks more and more like heaven. And he says the dimensions of heaven and earth are interwoven, with heaven spilling over into this world. Two two are converging until one day they will be one. You see it happening when the hungry and poor are fed and clothed in the name of the risen Jesus Christ. So Christ's appearing is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth and yet there is a future aspect to his appearing, but it's more like a curtain being pulled back and this world being allowed to see what's actually going on. Christ has been here all along. But as for now we're not sure exactly what that will look like. But what we ought to be doing in the meantime, as God's people, is painting, planting gardens, writing books, building homes, teaching Sunday School, feeding the hungry, etc. all because this is the new way to be human and is living proof of the resurrection.

All in all, a thought provoking and challenging book.

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