Book Review: Surprised by Hope (N. T. Wright)

By | September 15, 2015

I had heard good things about the book “Surprised by Hope” by N. T. Wright. I previously read his book “Simply Jesus” and thought it to be good. So I put “Surprised by Hope” on my reading list. It is a bit lengthier than the average book. However, it is the most important book I’ve read recently—I could hardly recommend “Surprised by Hope” highly enough.

Wright presents a paradigm of Christianity which, while biblical, has often been clouded or lost through centuries of western theology. Wright clears away the clutter and explains the central importance of Jesus’ resurrection as understood by the early church and the Bible, and why it’s important for both our present and future.

This review has been challenging to write. The ideas in the book are so good, yet I have really struggled to be able to summarize them concisely. I have decided that the best way to summarize the book will be to quote Wright himself.

“This book addresses two questions that have often been dealt with entirely separately but that, I passionately believe, belong tightly together. First, what is the ultimate Christian hope? Second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? And the main answer can be put like this. As long as we see Christian hope in terms of “going to heaven”, of a salvation that is essentially away from this world, the two questions are bound to appear unrelated.” (p. 5)

“In the last two hundred years Western thought has overemphasized the individual at the expense of the larger picture of God’s creation. What is more, in much Western piety, at least since the Middle Ages, the influence of Greek philosophy has been very marked, resulting in a future expectation that bears far more resemblance to Plato’s vision of souls entering into disembodied bliss that to the biblical picture of new heavens and new earth.” (p. 80)

“John has so ordered his gospel that the sequence of seven signs, climaxing in the cross of Jesus on the sixth day of the week and his resting in the tomb on the seventh, functions as the week of the old creation; and now Easter functions as the beginning of the new creation… Jesus’s resurrection is to be seen as the beginning of the new world, the first day of the new week, the unveiling of the prototype of what God is now going to accomplish in the rest of the world.” (p. 238)
“The resurrection [of Jesus] is not, as it were, a highly peculiar event within the present world (though it is that as well); it is, principally, the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus.” (p. 73)

“The gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord… As every Roman knew, the one who ascends into heaven is enthroned as the divine Emperor… It is the resurrection of Jesus that means he is now enthroned as Lord.” (pp. 227, 242, 243)

“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” (pp. 252-253)
“Redemption is not simply making creation a bit better, as the optimistic evolutionist would try to suggest. Nor is it rescuing spirits and souls from an evil material world, as the Gnostic would want to say. It is the remaking of creation, having dealt with the evil that is defacing and distorting it. And it is accomplished by the same God, now known in Jesus Christ, through whom it was made in the first place.” (p. 97)

“The word resurrection in its Greek, Latin, or other equivalents was never used to mean life after death. Resurrection was used to denote new bodily life after whatever sort of life after death there might be.” (p. 36)

“Resurrection doesn’t mean escaping from the world; it means mission to the world based on Jesus’s lordship over the world.” (p. 235)
“Jesus is risen, therefore his followers have a new job to do. And what is that new job? To bring the life of heaven to birth in actual, physical, earthly reality… Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.” (p. 293)
“The resurrection means that what you do in the present, in working hard for the gospel, is not wasted. It is not in vain. It will be completed, will have its fulfillment, in God’s future.” (p. 162)

“The task of the church between the ascension and [Jesus’ return] is therefore set free both from the self-driven energy that imagines it has to build God’s kingdom all by itself and from the despair that supposes it can’t do anything until Jesus comes again. We do not ‘build the kingdom’ all by ourselves, but we do build for the kingdom. All that we do in faith, hope, and love in the power of his Spirit, will be enhanced and transformed at his appearing. This too brings a note of judgement, of course, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17. The ‘day’ will disclose what sort of work each builder has done.” (p. 143)

“If a church is… actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addition, its own internal life gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community—then suddenly the announcement [that Jesus is lord and his new kingdom has begun] makes a lot of sense.” (pp. 227-228)

You would do well to read this book for yourself.

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