My brother, Ryan, and I went through Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright to celebrate Easter last year. The book is essentially a reminder (to some, a surprising revelation) that God’s plan for His people is not for us to float around as disembodied souls playing harps for eternity. His plan is to change everything, to make the physical and the spiritual world new, uniting the two.
We set goals and discussed what we read every week, so I had to keep up on my reading (even if that meant Papa had to multi-task during potty training!).
It was a good read, easy to digest. I don’t suggest books besides the Bible to new Christians or non-Christians interested in, but unfamiliar with, the worldview. But if I did, I think I would recommend this one.
Overall, I was surprisingly unsurprised by the book. This is a good thing. Many books in many fields of study strive to offer fresh takes that no one has ever considered before. This practice has benefits, but mostly just results in fluffy-headed people not really minding the truth. So it’s nice to see that Wright’s work really isn’t that at all. His book is surprising to a world filled with people who have taken the name of the Lord but do not take their eschatology (among many other types of beliefs/practices) from the Bible. It’s the type of thing that would have blown my mind back in my nominal Christian days, but (thankfully) is all familiar and fairly basic to me now. So I’m glad to see someone giving clear and easy-to-understand exposition to these age-old teachings.
I love the quote below. It’s a good example of how Wright phrases things in a very conversational way that should pack a punch to readers of almost any intellectual level.
“The crucifixion of Jesus was the end of all [his disciples’] hopes. Nobody dreamed of saying, ‘Oh, that’s alright—he’ll be back again in a few days.’ Nor did anybody say, ‘Well, at least he’s now in heaven with God.’ They were not looking for that sort of kingdom. After all, Jesus himself had taught them to pray that God’s kingdom would come ‘on earth as in heaven.’ What they said…was, ‘We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21), with the implication, ‘but they crucified him, so he can’t have been.’ The cross, we note, already had a symbolic meaning throughout the Roman world, long before it had a new one for the Christians. It meant: we Romans run this place, and if you get in our way we’ll obliterate you—and do it pretty nastily too. Crucifixion meant that the kingdom hadn’t come, not that it had. Crucifixion of a would-be Messiah meant that he wasn’t the Messiah, not that he was. When Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant; we backed the wrong horse. The game is over. Whatever their expectations, as far as they were concerned hope had crumbled into ashes. They knew they were lucky to escape with their lives.” [pg. 39-40]
Here are a few great quotes from the book which also help to summarize a little of what Wright is aiming to get across in this work:
“In 1 Corinthians 15, we find Paul declaring that as the goal of all history, God will be ‘everything in everything,’ or if you like, ‘all in all’. This is one of the clearest statements of the very center of the future-oriented New Testament worldview. At this level, the problem with a Teilhardian evolutionary optimism, as well as with any form of pantheism, is that it collapses the entire future into the present and indeed into the past. God will be all in all. The tense is future. Until the final victory over evil, and particularly over death, this moment has not arrived. To suggest it has is to collude with evil and with death itself.” [pg. 101]
“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us. If we can get this straight, we will rediscover the historic basis for the full-orbed mission of the church.” [pg. 200-201]
“Let’s be quite clear on two points. First, God builds God’s kingdom. But God ordered his world in such a way that his own work within that world takes place not least through one of his creatures in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect his image. That, I believe, is central to the notion of being made in God’s image. God intends his wise, creative, loving presence and power to be reflected—imaged, if you like—into this world through his human creatures. He has enlisted us to act as his stewards in the project of creation. And, following the disaster of rebellion and corruption, he has built into the gospel message the fact that through the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, he equips humans to help in the work of getting the project back on track. So the objection about us trying to build God’s kingdom by our own efforts, though it seems humble and pious, can actually be a way of hiding from responsibility, of keeping one’s head well down when the boss is looking for volunteers. Not that one can go on eluding God’s call forever…but still.” [pg. 207]
Have you read anything by N.T. Wright? If so, what did you think? What other books or authors would you recommend?