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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