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Surprised by Hope: Original, provocative and…

Surprised by Hope: Original, provocative and practical (original 2007; edition 2012)

by Tom Wright

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2,566255,810 (4.33)14
Offers a reinterpretation of biblical teaching on what happens after death, arguing that literal bodily resurrection is at the heart of Christianity and exploring the implications of this for the church's work in the world.
Title:Surprised by Hope: Original, provocative and practical
Authors:Tom Wright
Info:SPCK (2012), Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright (2007)


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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This was my Lent 2023 reading assignment and it was a very good choice for Lent to get me excited for the arrival of Easter.

First the frustrating part of the book: this book is a compilation of information from sermons and lectures that he has given. I think that a better job could have been done to create more flow between chapters. It's quite repetitive and can be a bit of a slog to read because you end up mumbling to yourself, "but you already told me that!" A good editor could have really tightened things up, I think.

I really, really loved this book. Before reading this book, I had been pondering in my mind why the various bits and bobs of eschatology and the afterlife that I had been taught here and there in different streams of Christianity didn't really make sense when compared to what I actually read in the Bible about Heaven. Things weren't lining up in an orderly fashion and on top of that, Alex was saying that he didn't want to be floating on a cloud playing a harp for the rest of eternity and I KNOW for a fact that the Bible never mentions floating on a cloud or playing a harp in Heaven. This book has immensely helped me understand where things go in a very wrong direction with beliefs about Heaven for people in medieval to modern western culture. I have highlighted a LOT of paragraphs in this book because it's just so good!

Some very good quotes from the book:

"What's more, Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year -- a move that completely reverses the New Testament's emphasis. We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons, to build a whole theology on Christmas, but it can't in fact sustain such a thing. We then keep Lent, Holy Week, and Good Friday so thoroughly that we have hardly any energy left for Easter except for the first night and day. Easter, however, should be the center. Take that away and there is, almost literally, nothing left." (I would add that much of the Protestant church doesn't even observe Lent or Holy Week and yet Easter is underwhelming in the average Christian's mind. In my adulthood and raising children, I have tried to make Easter the biggest holiday with the most celebration, though that has been challenging in a culture that devalues Easter.)

"The whole book [that Wright has written] thus attempts to reflect the Lord's Prayer itself when it says, 'Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.' That remains one of the most powerful and revolutionary sentences we can ever say. As I see it, the prayer was powerfully answered at the first Easter and will finally be answered fully when heaven and earth are joined in the new Jerusalem."

"As in Philippians 3, it is not we who go to heaven, it is heaven that comes to earth; indeed, it is the church itself, the heavenly Jerusalem, that comes down to earth. This is the ultimate rejection of all types of Gnosticism, of every worldview that sees the final goal as the separation of the world from God, of the physical from the spiritual, of earth from heaven."

"When Paul speaks of 'meeting' the Lord 'in the air,' the point is precisely not -- as in the popular rapture theology -- that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. Even when we realize that this is a highly charged metaphor, not literal description, the meaning is the same as in the parallel in Philippians 3:20. Being citizens of heaven, as the Philippians would know, doesn't mean that one is expecting to go back to the mother city but rather means that one is expecting the emperor to come *from* the mother city to give the colony its full dignity, to rescue it if need be, to subdue local enemies and put everything to rights."

"When Jesus was warning his hearers about Gehenna, he was not, as a general rule, telling them that unless they repented in this life they would burn in the next one. As with God's kingdom, so with its opposite: it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else. His message to his contemporaries was stark and (as we would say today) political. Unless they turned back from their hopeless and rebellious dreams of establishing God's kingdom in their own terms, not least through armed revolt against Rome, then the Roman juggernaut would do what large, greedy, and ruthless empires have always done to smaller countries (not least in the Middle East) whose resources they covet or whose strategic location they are anxious to guard. Rome would turn Jerusalem into a hideous, stinking extension of its own smoldering rubbish heap. When Jesus said, 'Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,' that is the primary meaning he had in mind."

"The point of this final section of the book is that a proper grasp of the (surprising) future hope held out to us in Jesus Christ leads directly and, to many people, equally surprisingly, to a vision of the present hope that is the basis of all Christian mission. To hope for a better future in this world -- for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, for the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world -- is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God's ultimate future into God's urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, and life-giving part of it. Mostly, Jesus himself got a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing. They saw him saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation, the message for which they had longed, that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future. But the two were not unrelated, the present one a mere visual aid of the future one or a trick to gain people's attention. The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future. And what he was promising for that future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God's ultimate purpose -- and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger project."

"As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God's promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and glorious embodied reality -- what I have called life after life after death -- then the main work of the church her and now demands to be rethought in consequence. At this point the well-known slogan of Christian Aid, 'We Believe in Life Before Death,' comes into its own. Life before death is what is threatened, called into question, by the idea that salvation is merely life after death."

"The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us."

In chapter 13 near the end of the section titled Justice, Wright gives a well-needed critique of modern American evangelical beliefs about the earth and people. Modern American evangelicals have embraced dualism wholeheartedly. They view this earth and physical bodies as disposable and valueless and only souls and Heaven matter. They say that they are opposed to Darwinism and evolution, but they firmly choose to support economic and political Darwinism -- survival of the most financially and politically fit. Their real beliefs are that the earth can be completely trashed and people can be destroyed as long as their souls get to Heaven and the "Christian" can destroy as much of all that God has created in their attempts to gain power and money and influence since everything physical is all going to be destroyed in the end. They say that they believe that the whole of creation was pronounced good, but then they act like they believe that only the supernatural is really good. Now why you would try to accumulate the most money and material goods on this earth when you believe that it's all going to get destroyed and has no real value....I think that the crux of the issue is that when you in fact believe in a disembodied afterlife, the only physical pleasure that you can get is the physical pleasure in this life, so you better get it while the getting's good. But I know that we will have newly fixed and very physical bodies in the new heavens and new earth, and I am confident that we will have physical pleasure. Jesus had wounds or scars but was intact, and he ate food with his resurrected body. I believe that we will eat and drink and make merry in God's Kingdom on the renewed earth. And I believe that God does love and care for the sin-damaged earth and creation and God is deeply sorrowful that we don't care for what he created. I believe that this lack of care for God's creation is behind the White Christian nationalism that is so popular in the USA.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this book! It is a perfect reading choice for Lent! ( )
  ChristinasBookshelf | Mar 27, 2023 |
Challenging read as NT Wright is brilliant man, but not succinct. If you as the reader make it to the end chapter 15 ties it all together by focusing on the fact that Christ aligned heave with earth. This is a refreshing way to view Christianity. ( )
  MarkKonyndyk | Jan 1, 2022 |
Seldom have a read a Christian book on theology that has affected me like this one. So many questions I had were answered in ways that I could understand. It left me with many things to think about. i like that all Wright says is backed up with scripture. I look forward to learning more from this New Testament scholar and authority. ( )
  hobbitprincess | Oct 22, 2021 |
Readable and accessible entry point to Wright's theology, which is also his biblical scholarship. I can only imagine what it would be like to read this if you were fully committed to 'traditional' Christian doctrines about heaven and so on; probably a bit like it would have been like to read Melanchthon a few centuries ago (not Luther, because Wright is mild mannered; and not Calvin, because I quite like Wright). For someone who finds much of that tradition questionable (its individualism; its Platonism; its odd way of claiming to be biblical but ignoring most of the bible), reading Wright is enjoyable enough. As ever, he's far too long-winded here, and much of what he says probably makes more sense if you've read the larger, more scholarly works. But he tells a story about Christianity that is far more livable than many others. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Read this with my church reading group last spring. There are a few rough spots in this text where Wright doesn't connect the dots as thoroughly or clearly as he could have, but nevertheless he is still a brilliant scholar and communicator. ( )
  histprof | Oct 17, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Surprised by Hope will be one of Wright’s most widely-read books. Though readers should proceed with caution regarding some of Wright’s proposals, the wheat in this book far outweighs the chaff.
added by hf22 | editThe Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax (Apr 25, 2013)
N. T. Wright is one of the most talented writers among New Testament scholars today. In this book he presents his understanding of what the Scriptures teach about heaven, the resurrection, and the church's mission.
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Five snapshots set the scene for the two questions which this book addresses.
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Offers a reinterpretation of biblical teaching on what happens after death, arguing that literal bodily resurrection is at the heart of Christianity and exploring the implications of this for the church's work in the world.

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