“Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” by N. T. Wright

Posted: November 5, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Church, Pastoral Ministry, Theology and Faith
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This really was a fantastic book.  It will likely be one that I have to read again just to fully comprehend all that Wright is putting on display concerning the bodily resurrection.  Even a short synopsis of this book doesn’t do it justice.

However, mainly for my own benefit, there were several things that really stuck out to me.  Wright combats the Gnostic, dualistic idea of a disembodied heaven.  Resurrection takes the stuff of this creation and renews it.  It is the old creation that is transformed into the new creation.  Or, as Jesus taught us to pray the resurrection initiates and implements the Father‘s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  As such, heaven is not simply a place that we retreat to after we die.  When Christ comes again, we meet him “in the air” so as to be the procession that welcomes the King’s “descending” to earth.  It is the descending of the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, that will be established on that day.

But, for now, we live in a “now and not yet” Kingdom.  The Creation is still very broken, but like a tiny mustard seed, God’s Kingdom is even now expanding and making itself manifest in the world.  We are called to participate in this work as ministers of reconciliation.  The resurrection is significant because it reminds us that the Creation is to be renewed and God calls us to work toward that end, while we still live in anticipation of the day that everything will finally be redeemed.

Some believe resurrection to be a life after death that is the soul living in some ethereal spiritual realm.  That is Gnosticism, which leads to escapism.  Or, it creates the attitude that the Creation can be used up however we want because God is simply doing away with it at the end.  But, this fails to see the vital connection between resurrection, new creation, and new covenant.

This understanding also pours into other arenas of life.  Salvation now becomes something more than the saving of the “soul.”  Tasks and works like art, justice, and evangelism are viewed in a more holistic light.  Finding ways that the Kingdom of God is already blooming in our world while working to change those dynamics that are far from the Kingdom is what it means to be a missional church composed of resurrected people.

Overall, this was a very powerful book.  It challenged some of my assumptions through strong consideration of the Scriptures, as well as, historical, orthodox Christianity.  At the same time, Wright challenges some of the underlying foundations that have become such an ingrained part of Protestant evangelicalism.  He exposes the roots of modernism and postmodernism, as well as, thinking deeply about many of the cultural traps that the Church has imbibed.  Wright concludes by discussing practices that can help us live into this resurrected life that God has so graciously given us.  I would recommend this book for reflection.

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