Finally Read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

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SBH-WrightI finally got around to reading Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright on the trip to Bakersfield this weekend. The book could have been called “Surprised by What the Bible Actually Says About Heaven and Resurrection and What That Has to do with the Mission of the Church.”

This is the most important book on heaven, resurrection, and the afterlife that I am aware of. I already had a decent grasp on Wright’s view of heaven and resurrection but this book was so much more than just a new take on the new heavens and the new earth. The book also serves as an apologetic for the Christian faith, grounding our belief that the resurrection actually happened and what that means for us as Christians. Wright assures us that our hope in the resurrection, as Christians, is very well grounded. More than that, he offers a critique of popular teaching regarding resurrection vs what the Bible, early Christians and ancient Judaism actually taught on this in opposition to the pagan views of their day. All of this leads into discussions of the afterlife

In this book, Wright argues that the popular belief that eternal life is about dying and being in heaven is completely misguided. He does believe that Christians actually do “die and go to heaven” but that eterenal life is about so much more than that. He says dying and going to heaven is life after death, then resurrection is “life after life after death”. What he means by that is there is a time when our bodies are dead and subject to decay but that ultimately the New Testament teaches that God will redeem, restore and renew our bodies into glorious new creation. That is what resurrection is actually all about and Jesus is the prototype. So heaven alone is not the ultimate resting place of the soul. It isn’t for two reasons: 1) the New Testament doesn’t talk about being in heaven forever after death, rather, it talks about being with God in a renewed post-resurrection bodily existence where heaven and earth are brought together and it isn’t the old earth but a new and redeemed one and 2) the ultimate end of the afterlife isn’t about heaven being a resting place for disembodied souls but a new creation (union of new heaven and new earth) where we have bodily existence.

Now, if Wright is right all of this has many implications for just about everything you can think of. It has implications about how we view creation, salvation, anthropology, theology, Christology and especially missiology (which he spends nearly a third of the book on). If the earth is hurdling headlong toward redemption, what does that mean for the church’s ministry and mission? What does the church look like given God redeeming and renewing all of creation? His view changes the fundamental framework through which we see our current existence and our ultimate hope.

Last, he believes the Lord’s supper and baptism are connection points between Christians today and the new heaven and new earth. That is something that I hope will be explored at next year’s Pepperdine Bible Lectures as the 2014 theme is “Enter the Water, Come to the Table”.  Read this book and you will never think about heaven, resurrection, afterlife or eternal life ever the same.

7 Responses

  1. My favorite quote from SBH is near the end (p.288) – I try to read this almost every day:

    “The point of 1 Corinthians 13 is that love is not our duty, it is our destiny.
    *It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to learn how to speak it now so we can converse with him.
    *It is the food they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. *It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton.
    *It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now.
    *Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as the resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way.
    *Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to hope.”

  2. One reason why Surprised By Hope was so meaningful to me is that it seems that the Resurrection was almost downplayed in my CofC upbringing – the focus was overwhelmingly on Friday’s cross (which is of course important), but Sunday’s empty tomb was almost forgotten. But NT Wright makes the case that for the early church Christ’s Resurrection was The Point of It All – The Thing That Changed Everything.

    1. I remember as a kid hearing Jimmy Sites preach about how we talk all about Good Friday but not Easter Sunday in the Churches of Christ. Kind of misses the point.

  3. Long ago I read a book on the resurrection by James Orr on the resurrection that opened my eyes to the resurrection being much more than evidence that Jesus is the Son of God and that one day we will also be raised to glory. We are joined with Jesus in his resurrection at our baptism. Today, we live with resurrection power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead working in us.

    If we can ever grasp this fact, which is clearly taught in scripture, we will live today much more victoriously. Yet,I must confess that though I grasp this intellectually I have great difficulty grasping this at a deeper level that enables that enables me to live that resurrection life now.

  4. SBH and ‘After You Believe’ were groundbreaking for me because they opened the door to a God who’s focus is bigger than just getting everyone baptized and into heaven. There is a redemptive plan being carried out right here and now on earth -and he invites all to participate. You are right -that has major missiological implications for the church. His focus on space, time, and matter for the Kingdom was timeless and it allowed for more creativity in the way I share the Gospel. And I loved his call to celebrate Easter on a grander scale. Given the CoC’s (often) downplaying of Easter, how do you suggest church leaders encourage celebrating it within the context of the local CoC?

  5. I have heard sermons on Moses which were preached on Easter so as to not have to discuss the resurrection. I have also heard on Easter Sunday what would have been an excellent Good Friday sermon. I wondered for years why all holidays were downplayed. I can tell you there were plenty of cofC people in the Methodist and episcopal churches on Good Friday and Easter for the grand services. Now when your own members have to go somewhere else to worship around the holiest day of the Christian year and what founded the faith, then you have a major problem.

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