In this groundbreaking book—available in paperback for the first time—renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright argues that Christians have not distorted the Bible’s message about heaven and what happens after we die.
For years, Christians have been asking, "If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?" It turns out that many believers have been giving the wrong answer. It is not heaven.
Wright outlines the present confusion about a Christian’s future hope and shows how it is deeply intertwined with how we live today. Wright asserts that Christianity’s most distinctive idea is bodily resurrection, and provides a magisterial defense for a literal resurrection of Jesus. Wright then explores our expectation of "new heavens and a new earth," revealing what happens to the dead until then and what will happen with the "second coming" of Jesus. For many, including many Christians, it will come as a great surprise to learn that heaven comes to earth instead of us going to heaven.
Wright convincingly argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death. For if God intends to renew the whole creation—and if this has already begun in Jesus’s resurrection—the church cannot stop at "saving souls" but must anticipate the eventual renewal by working for God’s kingdom in the wider world, bringing healing and hope in the present life.
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About the Author
N. T. Wright, one of the world’s leading Bible scholars, is the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews, an Anglican bishop, and bestselling author. Featured on ABC News, The Colbert Report, Dateline, and Fresh Air, Wright is the award-winning author of Simply Good News, Simply Jesus, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, How God Became King, Scripture and the Authority of God, Surprised by Scripture, and The Case for the Psalms, as well as the recent translation of the New Testament The Kingdom New Testament and the much heralded series Christian Origins and the Question of God.
Read an Excerpt
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
Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Copyright (c) by N.T. Wright . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
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 Pity 175
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
N.T Wright's Suprised by Hope is a book of solid academic scholarship and has that rare quality of being inspirational as well as informative! I am sure that I will not be the only reader who discovers that his or her traditional notions of the after-life have no actual basis in biblical teaching. Wright's methodical handling of the material provides a solid basis for his conclusions and demonstrates that even the most well intended church traditions can sometimes obscure the very truths they were meant to illuminate. For anyone within or without the established Christian tradition, this book will inform and inspire!
This book is phenomenal. If you're wondering what happens when you die, you need to read this book. If you want to know what purpose there is for you life, you need to read this book.
N. T. Wright is a brilliant scholar and theologian, and his series of books on early Christianity has become somewhat of a gold standard in terms of breath and scope of topics and themes that were explored. Those books use the most exhaustive critical methods and most up to date historical scholarship in order to establish the credibility and persuasiveness of the events that shaped the early Christianity, and especially to support the traditional view of those events. The most important of these events is certainly the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the book that exhaustively deals with is The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). The only "problem" with that book is that it is too long and scholarly for a general reader, and thus it may not reach as wide of an audience as would be desirable. This is partly the issue that "Surprised by Hope" tries to address. It reiterates some of the main points of "The Resurrection" and presents them in readable and accessible form. It makes the main arguments far more succinctly, but also more forcefully. The chief one of those, in my opinion, is that Christianity is not mainly or even primarily concerned with "life after death," but rather with "life after life after death." This is the point that most Christians and non-Christians routinely get wrong. What is at stake, according to Wright, is that by misunderstanding what resurrection and Christian hope are all about we are much less equipped to give a strong defense of that hope and make that hope relevant for our daily life. It prevents us from living the kind of life that would fully reflect our Christian vocation in the World. The second part of the book deals with the issues that Wright thinks would benefit from our deeper understanding of resurrection and Christian hope. He has some of his own pet issues that he believes should receive top priority in our concern for the World, like the alleviation of poverty in the global south. He tries to make the connection between our belief in the future resurrection and our action on these issues, but the connection is not always as clear as he might have hoped for. This is particularly the case with some issues of lesser importance, and towards the end of the book Wright employs more of rhetoric than strong concrete arguments. The book becomes a bit too preachy for my taste, but that shouldn't be too surprising: after all, it was written by a bishop. However, even with these shortcoming this is an extremely well written book that provokes Christians to seriously rethink their most fundamental assumptions and reappropriate the message of Christian hope for the 21st century.
This book provides a fresh perspective on the afterlife and the hope we have in waiting. The author's arguments are well supported and the resulting conclusions are encouraging and exciting. This is the best book I have read on heaven.
This is the best book on Christian Hope! No other book spells out so well a biblical view of our future hope while keeping us centered in the present, pointing us in the direction of how to live in the here and now--joining Jesus in bringing New Creation.
This is a great exploration of what happens after you die and what it means for you (and the church as a whole) right now. It's a dense read, but I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about life after life after death, Christ's resurrection, our future, and how this great hope should affect your every moment.
While this book started out fine it slowed to a crawl. Really wonder if the Author read it once he finished or was it driven by a deadline. While the Author makes a number of good points he gets dragged down into his "pet" causes which detracts from the initial momentum that the book begins with. What was extremely disconcerting were the long run on sentences that left me with the impression that the Author stopped editing his manuscript for readability and just climbed up on to a "soapbox" to expose some of his well meaning but quite half done ideas. Even though the Author admonishes the reader about those who "pick and choose" unfortunately this book was written with a distinct "pick and choose" perspective. While I do not pretend or profess to have either the titles or education I found this book like a shallow pond, it looks good, is "cool" and refreshing to wade into but it substitutes structure for substance and quickly "diminishes" as one looks for depth.
Started well but a yawner toward the end
No thanks, Harper Collins, for wasting my money on this half-formatted book. The footnotes (in an N T Wright book!) are not hyperlinks. Come on, folks.