surprised by hope

Surprised by hopeYou really must read this book. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve read in a while. It’s the kind of book that you just want to tell people about, that you give away to your friends saying ‘keep it’, that you feel like reading aloud to random people on public transport; ‘did you know this?! you must know this!’

It’s so exciting, even non-christians are talking about it. It made the front page of Time Magazine. I can’t say I know of any other evangelical book which non-christians might get excited about.

Time Magazine - rethinking heavenAnd It’s about our hope!

Wright argues that what we believe about our future hope is directly relevant to how we act now. So I was saddened when I heard it dismissed as ‘mere social gospel’ at a women’s conference recently. It was quite the opposite – we work for justice and beauty and evangelise because our hope in Jesus is so real.

He starts by showing how we’ve sold ourselves short. Somehow resurrection and ‘the new heavens and the new earth’ has become a vague ‘going to heaven when we die.’ Muddled theology often comes in through songs, and he points out how, somewhere in the nineteenth century, we started singing about resting on clouds with angels and esca

ping creation, rather than resurrection.

and fit us for heaven to live with thee there

But when life’s day is over, shall death’s fair night discover, the fields of everlasting life.

When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.

No no no, dying is not our hope! Leaving the world is not what we’re waiting for. Although there is ‘life after death’ he says, we wait for ‘life after life after death’, that is RESURRECTION and GOD’S NEW CREATION: the coming together of heaven and earth.

Admittedly, he repeats himself and goes around in circles a fair bit in the earlier chapters. I readily forgave him. I got the sense that he was just so excited about our hope, and just so frustrated at our kind of gnostic ideas of a fluffy floaty heaven that he had no time for mundane things, like editing.

He then goes through and does the hard work, using the bible to talk about the resurrection, what it is to be a ‘citizen of heaven’ on earth, heaven, hell and purgatory. I wished he spent a bit more time explaining that trippy rapture-esque passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, but that was the only point at which he lost me.

Then it gets really interesting.

You see, he says, if you believe Christian hope is about ‘getting into heaven’, what we do now doesn’t really have much connection to what happens in eternity. What we do now isn’t particularly important. All that matters is getting other people’s souls through the gates. Everything is only relevant in terms of evangelistic output. That’s all that will last.

But if we believe that God is going to renew and restore the earth, then everything matters. God’s new creation has already begun through Jesus’ resurrection (if anyone is in Christ there is new creation!). Our good deeds now – works of beauty, justice, righteousness – are like the seeds which will grow into fruition in the new creation (just like our bodies are seeds which will be changed and flourish). Our labour in the Lord is not in vain because we are sure of new creation.

He does not at all diminish the importance of evangelism, but argues that if we think of new creation, rather than simply ‘getting into heaven’, evangelism will be more holistic and ultimately helpful for the new Christian.

There have been in the past some kinds of evangelism which have implied that the main thing is to sign on, to prayer a particular prayer which results in the assurance that one is safely on the way to heaven – and which have failed to mention, to the frustration of pastors and teachers of such ‘converts’, that the fact that following Jesus means just that, following Jesus, not ticking a box which says ‘Jesus’ and then just sitting back as though it’s all done. To speak, rather of Jesus’ lordship, and of the new creation which results from his victory on Calvary and at Easter, implies at once that to confess him as Lord and to believe that God raised him from the dead is to allow on’s entire life to be reshaped by him…knowing that it will be the way…to genuine human life in the present, and complete glorious resurrected human life in the future.

What more can I say? I could go on to talk about the implications he draws for social justice, for the environment, for the arts, for mission. God is doing good things.

But I’m beginning to ramble. Read the book. Get excited.

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