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Wright's subtitle aptly describes his purpose with this work, which is to rethink what is essential to Christianity. His conclusions are both simple and world-shaking. The "good news of the Gospels" is not, as many Christians and non-Christians seem to believe, that if you behave well and believe in Jesus then you will go to heaven when you die. Wright doesn't deny the existence of some paradisical resting place, the "many rooms in my Father's mansion" of Scripture, but he offers that the real promise is of another life in God's new creation. Jesus's resurrection in this light is simply the first instance of this new life foretold for all. Wright believes this new creation will be a redeeming of God's first creation; for him, far from rushing to leave this world behind, a Christian's true calling is to work toward this new creation right now. Readers will need a Bible handy to appreciate this work fully, as Wright prefers to cite rather than print Scripture. His prose, deep but not murky, is lightened by glints of humor. For any library serving patrons who are willing to think a bit about religion.
Surprised by Hope
Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
All Dressed Up and No Place to Go?
Five snapshots set the scene for the two questions this book addresses.
In autumn 1997 much of the world was plunged into a week of national mourning for Princess Diana, reaching its climax in the extraordinary funeral service in Westminster Abbey. People brought flowers, teddy bears, and other objects to churches, cathedrals, and town halls and stood in line for hours to write touching if sometimes tacky messages in books of condolence. Similar if somewhat smaller occasions of public grief took place following such incidents as the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. They showed a rich confusion of belief, half belief, sentiment, and superstition about the fate of the dead. The reaction of the churches showed how far we had come from what might once have been traditional Christian teaching on the subject.
The second scene was farce, with a serious undertone. Early in 1999 I awoke one morning to hear on the radio that a public figure had been sacked for heretical statements about the afterlife. I listened eagerly. Was this perhaps a radical bishop or theologian, exposed at last? Back came the answer, incredible but true: no, it was a soccer coach. Glen Hoddle, the manager of the England team, declared his belief in a particular version of reincarnation, according to which sins committed in one life are punished by disabilities in the next. Groups representing disabled people objected strongly, and Hoddle was dismissed. It was commented at the time, however, that reincarnation had becomeremarkably popular in our society and that it would be very odd if Hindus (many of whom hold similar beliefs) were automatically banned from coaching a national sports team.
The third scene is not a single moment, but the snapshot will be familiar. Twenty or thirty people arrive in slow-moving cars at a shabby building on the edge of town. A tinny electronic organ plays supermarket music. A few words, the press of a button, a solemn look from the undertaker, and they file out again, go home for a cup of tea, and wonder what it was all about. Cremation, almost unknown in the Western world a hundred years ago, is now the preference, actual or assumed, of the great majority. It both reflects and causes subtle but far-reaching shifts in attitudes to death and to whatever hope lies beyond.
I initially wrote those opening descriptions in early 2001. By the end of that year, of course, we had witnessed a fourth moment, too well known but also too horrible to describe or discuss in much detail. The events of September 11 of that year are etched in global memory; the thousands who died and the tens of thousands who were bereaved evoke our love and prayers. I shall not say much more about that day, but for many people it raised once more, very sharply, the questions this book seeks to discuss-as did, in their different ways, the three massive so-called natural disasters of 2004 and 2005: the Asian tsunami of Boxing Day 2004; the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast of North America of August 2005, bringing long-lasting devastation to New Orleans in particular; and the horrifying earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir in October of that same year.
The fifth scene is a graveyard of a different sort. If you go to the historic village of Easington in County Durham, England, and walk down the hill toward the sea, you come to the town called Easington Colliery. The town still bears that name, but there is no colliery there anymore. Where the pit head once stood, with thousands of people working to produce more coal faster and more efficiently than at most other pits, there is smooth and level grass. Empty to the eye, but pregnant with bereavement. All around, despite the heroic efforts of local leaders, there are the signs of postindustrial blight, with all the human fallout of other people's power games. And that sight stands in my mind as a symbol, or rather a symbolic question, every bit as relevant to similar communities in America and elsewhere in the world as they are to my home territory. What hope is there for communities that have lost their way, their way of life, their coherence, their hope?1
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 as unrelated. Indeed, some insist angrily that to ask the second one at all is to ignore the first one, which is the really important one. This in turn makes some others get angry when people talk of resurrection, as if this might draw attention away from the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern. But if the Christian hope is for God's new creation, for "new heavens and new earth," and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth, then there is every reason to join the two questions together. And if that is so, we find that answering the one is also answering the other. I find that to many-not least, many Christians -all this comes as a surprise: both that the Christian hope is surprisingly different from what they had assumed and that this same hope offers a coherent and energizing basis for work in today's world.
In this first chapter I want to set the scene and open up the questions by looking at the contemporary confusion in our world-the wider world, beyond the churches-about life after death. Then, in the second chapter, I shall look at the churches themselves, where there seems to me a worryingly similar uncertainty. This will highlight the key questions that have to be asked and suggest a framework for how we go about answering them.Surprised by Hope
Part I Setting the Scene
1 All Dressed Up and No Place to Go?
Confusion about Hope: The Wider World 7
Varieties of Belief 9
2 Puzzled About Paradise?
Christian Confusion About Hope 13
Exploring the Options 16
The Effects of Confusion 20
Wider Implications of Confusion 25
The Key Questions 27
3 Early Christian Hope in Its Historical Setting
Resurrection and Life after Death in Ancient Paganism and Judaism 35
The Surprising Character of Early Christian Hope 40
4 The Strange Story of Easter
Stories Without Precedent 53
Easter and History 58
Part II God's Future Plan
5 Cosmic Future: Progress or Despair?
Option 1 Evolutionary Optimism 81
Option 2 Souls in Transit 88
6 What the Whole World's Waiting For
Fundamental Structures of Hope 93
Seedtime and Harvest 98
The Victorious Battle 99
Citizens of Heaven, Colonizing the Earth 100
God Will Be All in All 101
New Birth 103
The Marriage of Heaven and Earth 104
7 Jesus, Heaven, and New Creation
The Ascension 109
What About the Second Coming? 117
8 When He Appears
Coming, Appearing, Revealing, Royal Presence 124
9 Jesus, the Coming Judge
Second Coming and Judgment 142
10 The Redemption of Our Bodies
Resurrection: Life After Life After Death 148
Resurrection in Corinth 152
Resurrection: Later Debates 156
Rethinking Resurrection Today: Who, Where, What Why, When, and How 159
11 Purgatory, Paradise, Hell
Beyond Hope, Beyond Pity175
Conclusion: Human Goals and New Creation 183
Part III Hope in Practice: Resurrection and the Mission of the Church
12 Rethinking Salvation: Heaven, Earth, and the Kingdom of God
The Meaning of Salvation 194
The Kingdom of God 201
13 Building for the Kingdom
14 Reshaping the Church for Mission (1): Biblical Roots
The Gospels and Acts 234
15 Reshaping the Church for Mission (2): Living the Future
Introduction: Celebrating Easter 255
Space, Time, and Matter: Creation Redeemed 257
Resurrection and Mission 264
Resurrection and Spirituality 271
Appendix Two Easter Sermons 291
Biblical Passages 331