A little while ago I began reading N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. In it Wright critiques popular beliefs about heaven which are largely out of step with the Biblical witness and the early traditions of the Christian church. His critique is not only academic and Biblical, but also pastoral. He finds the popular belief about life after death – an eternal journey of the disembodied soul into heavenly paradise – to offer much less comfort, much less hope for humanity and the world than does the traditional Christian understanding of the resurrection and the Kingdom of God.
Wright articulates a Biblical understanding of life after death – a hoped-for resurrection of the dead at the dawning of a New Kingdom, a New Creation, when the world is "set to rights" as Wright likes to say. When we look at the future in terms of Jesus' promise to inaugurate a New Kingdom of Life (rather than seeing death and the afterlife in purely individualistic, "spiritual," and "heavenly" terms) it is a much more hopeful future for all.
I've gotten through more than half the book, but I haven't yet finished it, which is why I am planning this blog book study (a disciplined way for me to get through the book, and to generate some conversation around its themes). I've been very impressed with what I've read so far . . .
Also, I find these issues to be terribly important. How we understand death, resurrection, and the afterlife has huge consequences for our profession of faith and how we conduct our lives now. I've touched on these theme in two previous posts, National Day of Prayer, or Ascension Day? and All Saints, All Souls, and the Return of Christ.
Here's how the study will work: every Monday and Thursday, beginning Thursday, September 4, I will offer a brief synopsis of a single chapter of Surprised by Hope, and I'll share some of my own reflections, as well. If any of you are reading along, I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments. If you don't own the book, buy it online or go to your local bookstore and pick it up.
Here's the schedule:
- Thurs, Sept 4: Preface, Chapter 1 – All Dressed Up and No Place to Go?
- Mon, Sept 8: Chapter 2 – Puzzled About Paradise?
- Thursday, Sept 11: Chapter 3 – Early Christian Hope in Its Historical Setting
- Monday, Sept 15: Chapter 4 – The Strange Story of Easter
- Thursday, Sept 18: Chapter 5 – Cosmic Future: Progress or Despair?
- Monday, Sept 22: Chapter 6 – What the Whole World's Waiting For
- Thursday, Sept 25: Chapter 7 – Jesus, Heaven, and New Creation
- Monday, Sept 29: Chapter 8 – When He Appears
- Thursday, Oct 2: Chapter 9 – Jesus, the Coming Judge
- Monday, Oct 6: Chapter 10 – The Redemption of our Bodies
- Thursday, Oct 9: Chapter 11 – Purgatory, Paradise, Hell
- Monday, Oct 13: Chapter 12 – Rethinking Salvation: Heaven, Earth, and the Kingdom of God
- Thursday, Oct 16: Chapter 13 – Building for the Kingdom
- Monday, Oct 20: Chapter 14 – Reshaping the Church for Mission (1): Biblical Roots
- Thursday, Oct 23: Chapter 15 – Reshaping the Church for Mission (2): Living the Future