Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tom Wright on the future

Suprised by HopeSuprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book examines Christian hope for the future. The former Bishop of Durham robustly defends the bodily resurrection and from it works out a useful and useable theology. He emphasizes 'life after life after death', a new heavens and earth to which Jesus returns, and helpfully criticizes the fuzzy and low-res views of heaven and hell that most of us Christians default to. A renewed Universe in actual bodies is our future, and there's continuity with the present earth as well discontinuity with it. This has consequences for how we live now: nothing we do here is wasted. In justice, in beauty, in evangelism, in everything, we can build for the coming Kingdom.

This is a remarkable, radical, and eye-opening restatement of Christian hope, post-modern in the sense of criticizing modernism, and it makes me go back to the Bible to find out if what he is saying is true. Mostly I found him persuasive, and his fresh statement has many consequences. A simple gospel is one: A new Lord, Christ, has been installed in the world. His new rule is already among us. You can join in or not. What are you going to do?

As well as inaugurating a new creation, Wright claims the resurrection inaugurates a new way of knowing. Thomas starts by asking 'show me the evidence' but after encountering the risen Christ says 'My lord and my God'. Wright calls this 'an epistomology of love': science and history can get us a long way, but the resurrection breaks out of these categories of knowing and demands a new one. It's heady stuff, to my mind building upon the work of Leslie Newbiggin. Taken to heart, I can see it revitalizing the Christian message.

The downsides of this book?

The editors at SPCK appear to have gone AWOL and could have usefully been employed crossing out unnecessary sub-clauses, querying the odd tone of intellectual arrogance, and delousing the MS of tics like 'This won't do' and 'No, it's not' which grate when repeated as often as they are. It's a shame: Wright is brilliant, original, relevant and groundbreaking; he has written 50 books; but no-one has the editorial cojones to tell him he could write a lot better than he does. The more excited he gets, the more he over-writes and the worse it is to read.

But it's still worth it.

A smaller niggle is, unusually for such a carefully researched book, Wright makes the unverifiable statement that half of the human race is alive today. There is a lively debate about how many people have ever lived, and the estimates I see guess around 100 billion; so only 7% of the total population are alive today. In any case the book would be better without unthought-out asides like this.

Still. This is a landmark book that I think will change the way I think and act. Praise God for it.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Diarmaid MacCullogh: A history of Christianity

MacCullogh's 1000-page offering is a story of the essential humanity of the church. He traces three thousand years of growth -- uncovering both Hebrew and Greek roots -- and inspects every forking branch, almost every leaf, the sorry and the sublime. His company is clear-eyed, coherent, at times waspish, at times even reverend as he describes with humanity the human extremes of skulduggery and saintliness.

His preference for the moderate left wing of the critical spectrum may bug conservatives, but they should stick with this book. Unlike many scholars, he knows the limitations of his subject and is capable of being sceptical about even his own scepticism. He rightly recognises the Resurrection as a singularity at the heart of the Christian story. Like the black hole assumed to be at the centre of the Milky Way, the whole Christian galaxy rotates around this single point; yet he knows this mysterious place cannot be explored with any tool in his historian's box.

McCullogh is a professed unbeliever in the truth of the Christian account; yet he describes it with wit and warmth, as well as a watchmaker's love of detail. He claims not to believe in Christ, yet can't leave alone the story of his followers, which he recognises is a story not all explicable to human minds. The beguiling result is a chequered story viewed in dappled light. A humane sceptic who can appreciate farce and isn't fazed by mystery is good company. My favourite, and for me the definitive, story-so-far of the Christian movement.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Banksy: Wall and Piece

Changed my view of graffiti.