Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review of Surprised by Hope: 5th and Final Part

Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4:

This is the final part of my review of one of my favorite books. This book explains a comprehensive view of Christianity based on a proper eschatology (end-times) centered around resurrection. Highly recommend that you all buy this book! You can borrow mine, but I want it back because it is autographed... :)

Chapter 13
This chapter is titled “Building for the Kingdom.” Inherently in the title, Wright wants to make clear that we don’t build the Kingdom; we build for it. God is always the architect. He has a great analogy about stonemasons carving out different pieces for the construction of a cathedral. The mason probably hasn’t even seen the blueprints but his work will go towards the final project (p. 210). This analogy is couched in an admittedly mysterious truth that our work will not be in vain (1 Cor. 15), that our work will be apart of the new creation, that our labor and work for the Lord will be apart of the future.

For Wright, this all points to the idea that we must be at work at once. Resurrection means we live the future hope now. We work, we minister, we alleviate suffering, we are missional now. He finds three areas in which this needs to most prominent and expressed: (1) Justice, (2) Beauty and (3) Evangelism.

Justice is the work of making things right. It is what God is going to do at the end. It is the work of the church now. If resurrection means living now what God is going to do then, then justice must be apart of our daily lives. For Wright, this means the remission of third-world debt, but it can and should be a myriad of other things. Not only does it mean patching up the broken and hungry, but setting right the systems and institutions that made the injustice possible (p. 231).

Beauty is an interesting one here, and I originally thought it to be the odd man out, but Wright incorporates it... well... beautifully. His conjecture is that Beauty must be apart of building for the Kingdom. Beauty, to him, is defined as “highlighting the glory of creation and the glory yet to be revealed” (p. 232). He believes the beauty should be a huge part of the church, the music, the art, the passion, the living out of the end now. Wright draws an interesting analogy between Christianity and Marxism: Marxists see the end and fight for nothing less now and we should do the same through beauty. It is the expressions of beauty that will give people the hint to fuller life and question their own existence.

And finally, Evangelism comes to the forefront. Not the scary, embarrassing evangelism of generations past, but the declaration of the Gospel and invitation to live it together. Wright says it better than I could, “The power of the Gospel lies… in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun… Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present” (p. 227). I cannot articulate how much this chapter, and the last, impacted me. I have always chalked it up to generational differences in my disdain for the practices of the church a generation or two above me (which would fall into the conservative/rapture/disembodied heaven camp). It seems, if Wright is correct and I do think he is, that it has been a theological problem all along.

Chapter 15
This is chapter is surprisingly long for not a whole lot of new information given. The chapter is entitled, “Reshaping the Church for Mission (2): Living the Future.” Essentially, this chapter can be summarized as saying that everything we say and do should be understood and filtered through this Hope Wright has outlined.

Wright breaks it down a little further. First, Easter needs a makeover, especially coming off 40 days of Lent. He laments the practice of Easter as the one-day celebration after 40 days of sadness and thinks we should go all out. This is all apart of Wright’s idea for the church to reclaim Space, Matter and time.

Space has to do with the idea of having sanctuary and church, but this spilling out into the public life of school boards, soup kitchens, city councils, the factory and so on. The church, according to Wright, needs to bridge the gap between the future, past and present, which will bridge the gap between secular and sacred worlds.

Matter has to do with creation; the idea that we are not dualists. God deemed his creation good. We can get on board with that. Creation care and environmentalism can be apart of this, but also for Wright, the sacred elements have a lot to do with worship; especially the Eucharist.

Time has to do with celebrations, meetings and dates. Wright makes a big deal about the date tracing back to Jesus birth. But more than this, the Church gathering on the first day of the week speaks volumes about who are. Jesus is resurrected on this day, becoming the firstborn of creation and this allows us to hope and taste the future resurrection. The Time aspect embraces past, present and future.

Wright goes on to identify 6 sacraments that he believes the church would do well to filter afresh through the lens of new creation/ resurrection hope. He starts the discussion with Baptism. Baptism is a place where new creation and old creation meet for Wright. “Baptism is not magic, a conjuring trick with water. But neither is it simply a visual aid. It is one of those points, established by Jesus himself, where heaven and earth interlock, where new creation, resurrection life, appears within the midst of the old” (p. 272). His reframing of baptism has deeply changed the way I view this ceremony.

The Eucharist comes next. For Wright, Eucharist is relatable to the Jewish feasts. It is not simply a story retold, nor is it an overly spiritual ceremony done by priests, but more a way of becoming part of the story, both past and future while still being in the present. Just as the Jewish understanding of “remember” comes to play with Jesus’ death, so we must also imagine the future hope and dwell richly there.

Prayer, for Wright, needn’t be a way of appeasing God or even some kind of experiential/ nature mysticism, but a way partaking in the New Creation relationship Jesus offers us through his resurrection. More than this, it is a way to regain the Psalmist tradition of expressing frustration with the tension of how things are and how we know they should be.

Scripture is next up. Wright says that Scripture reading is not just a way of getting a list of rules for our lives but a way of reading ourselves into the story. He reminds us that we live after the Book of Acts and before Revelation. That all of scripture up to our point tells of Gods plan to bring about New Creation and Revelation is our hope for what the looks like.

Next after Scripture is Holiness. For Wright, holiness is the best characterized by the struggles of the Corinthian church as outlines in Paul’s letter to that church and also Wright’s understanding of Romans. He ultimately says that it is the transformation of the mind that needs to happen in the holiness process; moralism simply won’t do.

And finally Wright talks about Love. Wright spends a great deal of time talking about the Love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13. Wright links it to chapter 15, the resurrection chapter, with some less than solid transitions, but all in all the point is well made. Love is the language, food, dress, culture of the Hope that is to come. We are practicing now for it. We love now to practice and prepare for the future. Love is the way we live. Wright seemingly, to me, sidetracks into forgiveness as a very important expression of love and then ends the book.

My only problem with this chapter is that Wright talks about the emerging and upcoming generation of churches, church leaders, etc… as moving away form the sacraments and finding them too traditional and not helpful. If anything, I feel my generation is doing the opposite. We are asking questions like, “why do we only take communion once a month but offering every week?” etc… If anything my generation sees themselves as rescuing the sacraments from a dark period of low church that made everything a symbol. But, the point is well taken, the sacraments need to be encouraged in the church and are great expressions of new creations.

Essentially, for Wright, a proper eschatology will produce a proper mission and disciplines. The quote from Wright that most suggests this to me is found on page 264, “I remain convinced that the way forward is to rediscover a true eschatology, to rediscover a true mission rooted in anticipating that eschatology, and to rediscover forms of church that embody that anticipation.” For Wright, having a firm, correct understanding of our ultimate hope will guide and direct mission and church. It is the foundation that all others must follow. Interestingly he adds mission before church... a good thing to think about in our work as the keepers of a great Hope that does not disappoint.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review-ish of Surprised by Hope: Part 4 Chapters 11 & 12

 Here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3:

This is a small, reviewish type piece about a book I adore. I like to mostly summarize and quote, so not really a critical review, but whatever! Surprised by Hope is fantastic, hopefully you are inspired. Read it:

Chapter 11
The 11th Chapter is entitled “Purgatory, Paradise, Hell.” For such a huge undertaking, there are not a lot of surprises. In tackling purgatory, he tackles the medieval (and earlier) idea that there is a hierarchy of Christians. There is: the Church Triumphant or those saints who already made it to heaven, the church expectant are those who are in purgatory or are awaiting heaven and finally the church militant which are those still alive “fighting the good fight of the faith” (p. 165). Wright finds this hierarchy and also Purgatory to be a complete misunderstanding of Scripture. He is adamant and a little pointed about this (“I think with great respect that you ought to see not a theologian but a therapist” in regards to those who read Paul and come away with any purgatory notions (p. 170)). Another great reason for rejecting Purgatory is that he quotes two conservative Catholic thinkers, Rahner and Ratzinger (the current POPE), as moving away from a traditional purgatory or away from purgatory altogether.

Paradise is a short section for Wright. He sees no reason why paradise and heaven couldn’t be called the same thing (p. 172). This is the place, for him, where Christian dwell when they die and are waiting for the resurrection. I wish he would have gone more into this, but instead he chooses to talk about consciousness and work. He believes that the departed saints are fully conscious of heavenly and earthly things but they are not active in ministry or work in their state. He even says that they take communion with us. He believes that we shouldn’t ask them to do anything, namely intercede on our behalf, mostly because we have direct access to the father and nowhere in scripture or early Christianity do we see anyone asking saints to do this.

And finally we get to hell, which has been a hot-button issue as of late with Rob Bell and his debacle. I am mostly surprised at how uneasy Wright is about this subject, “’What about Hell?’ This question really demands a book in itself, and I am torn between my lack of desire to write such a book and my recognition that one must at least say something” (p. 175) and “I am well aware that I have now wandered into territory that no one can claim to have mapped… The last thing I want is for anyone to suppose that I (or anyone else) know very much about all this. Nor do I want anyone to suppose I enjoy speculation in the manner” (p. 183). Wright seems nervous and unsure, which is ok just surprising. As to his speculation, Wright commands a bit of annihilationalism and traditional eternal punishment. He speculates that when people worship something else beside God, the Imago Dei diminishes. They begin to have the image of the thing they worship. So, the thing that ends up in eternal punishment is not even human or recognizable and doesn’t elicit any sympathy (p. 182-183). He also mentions universalism, which he doesn’t even give the light of day. It seems that universalism is the bad word of our current evangelicalism.  Not that I am a universalist, but there are certainly some interesting verses for everyone to deal with no matter what side they take. Wright does touch on the mystery of it all in the final section. He chooses not to end with a discussion of hell because God doesn’t. And God’s version of the end is mysterious and beautiful and should keep us on our toes. “This is not to cast doubt on the final judgment… It is to say that God is always the God of surprises” (p. 184).

Final Thought: Wright blew me away with his final gem. That Israel was obsessed with being saved and being restored. We are like Israel, we are obsessed with who is going to be saved and go to heaven when the real question for Wright is: “Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven… but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as a part of the process…” (p. 185). Changes everything.

Chapter 12
Chapter 12 gets the party started and doesn’t let down for a moment. Entitled “Rethinking Salvation: Heaven, Earth, and the Kingdom of God” you know it is going to be good. Essentially Wright moves from theology lesson to application; from the 'here’s what' to the 'so what'? Future Resurrection is a nice concept for all of us. It is when God puts all things straight. It is when evil is judged, when all the wrongs are made right, when the redeemed shall be raised imperishable and rule with the Lord forever in a new heaven/ new earth hybrid lacking in decay, disease, and evil. The reason that this effects the now at all is one event: Jesus was resurrected in our time and space.

This is Wright’s assertion of what the Kingdom of God/ heaven is. Though Kingdom theology has been abused or rejected by a lot of people, it is the reclaiming of creation, all creation, by God for His rule and will. Jesus’ resurrection is the new creation, God’s will and rule (Kingdom) breaking in and starting the revolution.

This means that our hope isn’t a future one, distant and waiting. This means that we, the children of God, new creations, saved, are to acts as agents of reconciliation/new creation for the rest of creation. That when Jesus was healing/saving, it wasn’t isolated social work from a compassionate God, it was the work of new creation and the real meaning of Salvation (salvation, Wright reiterates, is not disembodiment destined for heaven, but new creation and resurrection). I am really surprised that Wright hasn’t used 2 Corinthians 5 yet, it seems like a clear choice for this book, maybe he is waiting.

Our mission, our goal, as individuals, as a church, as God’s new creation children is to usher in the future hope into the present. New creation must alleviate the suffering of present reality. We do this by actually getting our hands dirty and doing something and by seeing people become rescued and helping them become rescuers.

The best evidence and line for me was about 1 Corinthians 15: “Paul, we remind ourselves, has just written the longest and densest chapter in any of his letters, discussing the future resurrection of the body in great and complex detail. How might we expect him to finish such a chapter? By saying, ‘Therefore, since you have such a great hope, sit back and relax because you know God’s got a great future in store for you’? No. Instead, he says, ‘Therefore, my beloved ones, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’” (p. 192). How much more proof do we need?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Surprised by Hope" Review: Part 3

Here is Part 1 and Part 2:

This is a small, reviewish type piece about a book I adore. I like to mostly summarize and quote, so not really a critical review, but whatever! Surprised by Hope is fantastic, hopefully you are inspired. Read it:

Chapter 7
This Chapter entitled “Jesus, Heaven, and New Creation” seemed a bit disconnected. And though I am loving this book tremendously and think it should be required reading by all Christians, this chapter could use a rewrite.

Wright begins by talking about the importance of the Ascension. This is the event recorded mostly by Luke, where Jesus floats ‘up’ and disappears behind a cloud. There appears besides the Apostles two men dressed in white (angels?) and they ask why they are standing and staring into the sky and then reveal that Jesus will come back the same way.

The significance of the story that Wright is portraying to us is multi-fold: (1) That Jesus is in bodily form in Heaven and didn’t just assume back into the Father again after resurrection, (2) this body is a new creation body which allows him to enter heaven and earth, (3) that heaven is located in the same space-time location we are and heaven certainly isn’t up (and adversely hell isn’t below), (4) Heaven is the “control room” for earth where Christ is ruling the cosmos and will eventually bring that rule directly to earth in the finality of things.

It is Wrights belief that when we have orthodox Ascension views, that all other things fall into place like the Trinity, communion, mission, end-times (eschatology). He also believes and points out, in somewhat of tangent, that the Ascension will correct our perception of what the church is and is not. The church is not Jesus as Jesus is alive, in physical body, controlling the heavens and the earth. He believes that this means the church can be the servant instead of being God. He thinks that when the church goes about setting up a theocracy-system either politically or ecclesially, then we puff our selves up. The counter to not having Ascension in our belief is a form of purposelessness.  Wright asserts that after we believe in the literal Ascension and all the correlating truths, “…only then are we rescued from both the hollow triumphalism and shallow despair” (p. 113).

Wright moves from Ascension into Eschatology. He defines it for us as “…the entire sense of God’s future for the world and the belief that [the] future has already begun to come forward to meet us in the present” (p. 122). His views on the end times will become clearer in the next chapters, but first Wright sets firmly that he is in neither extreme that faces us today. He challenges both Liberalism in their assault on the Second coming/Resurrection/Ascension and the conservative contagion of  Dispensational/Rapture Theology. I sure hope he destroys these two. I personally find Rapture theology to be one of worst, if not the worst, unscriptural theologies damaging the church currently. I am glad to read from Wright that it is mostly a North American disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"... and I'm a Mormon"

Mormonism / The faith of Latter-Day Saints has been in the news recently and I have been thinking about all my mormon friends.

On top of the media excitement, for months I have been seeing these web commercials showing three scenes of a person, living life in a happy and exciting way concluding with "... and I'm a Mormon." A lot of times these ads feature people of color or people who seem to be near the extremes socially (i.e. hard-core motorcycle riders, hippie looking grandmothers). 

Now I am seeing commercials of the same brand, often back to back.
It even made the news:,0,2124694.story

To me, and I am being honest here, it seems like LDS faith leaders are trying paint their members as 'normal.' The "Hey! We're totally normal people..." seems very off-putting to me. Not that I don't think Mormons are awesome, fantastic people. I have close friends who are mormon. But by saying that someone is totally normal and by spending millions of dollars to get that message out to the whole world oddly seems to paint the opposite. When someone tries that hard, our society seems rather distrusting of overt expressions like this.

But more troubling to me, by far, is not the trying to cast a light of 'normal' around it as an institution and around its members but trying to convey a notion of being cool. Clearly these tactics go beyond socializing normalization and acceptance of the LDS faith, but seem to be selling it like a brand. Surfers, singers, artists, action seekers, mayors, etc... it all seems a bit forced. I am part of a faith tradition. My tradition has a lot of old white men making decisions and running things and I know this is true, even more so, for Mormons. And nothing destroys cool like old white dudes calling things cool. As a person who will be an old white male, old white dudes are the death of cool.

But thinking beyond how to achieve 'cool' I think another conversation should be had: should religion be cool? Or even less controversial, should it be normal? Again, as a evangelical who desperately wants to cast off negative stereotypes that society holds, I certainly don't think that my church will ever be normal or cool. Nor do I think it should be. My faith is radical declaration to the world that I no longer play by its rules. I no longer look to it for direction or validation. I know longer call Caesar Lord or am transformed by it. I realize that living in some commune out in the desert is not an option for faith. Neither is embracing the world full on. The tension between these two is a tight-rope. But where are the lines? Do these ads cross it?

So, in humility and with a posture of being willing to learn and listen I am asking you all, especially my Mormon friends, what do you think? Am I wrong? Is this embarrassing for any of you? Is it encouraging to you know that your church is evangelizing? Are you hoping that it removes the stigma that you feel surrounds you or your faith?

To those in other faiths, how would you feel if your particular faith tradition did this? If you are catholic, how did you feel when your tradition did the "Welcome Home" campaign?

Very curious.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Surprised by Hope Review Part 2

Here is PART 1 if you are so inclined...

Again, this book has been amazing! Loved it.

I am skipping chapters 3 and 4 and heading right to 5 and 6:

Chapter 5
Wright begins that chapter with a discussion on where we are to begin. He explains that in the medieval period a greater emphasis was placed on the individual. There is a reward for individuals, he says, but he suggests that we should, and are going to in this book, start with a much bigger question: “What is God’s purpose for the world as a whole?” (p. 80).

Wright then describes myths that we currently have in society and why they are ineffective. He titles the first one, “Evolutionary Optimism,” he subtitles this one with “the myth of progress.” The premise is that evolution is a much broader thing then biology and it has given us an idea that progress is good and will eventually lead to some sort of utopia. Marxism, Darwinism, technology, politics all play on this worldview. Wright then tells us that “the real problem with the myth of progress is… that it cannot deal with evil” (p.85). He suggests three reasons why this is true: (1) “It can’t stop evil” (p. 86), (2) Utopia doesn’t address all the past suffering and evil (ibid). (3) The third one is harder to find but I think it is, “because it underestimates the nature and power of evil itself…” (p. 87).

The second myth Wright believes is hindering our accepting of biblical resurrection eschatology is what he calls, “Souls in Transit.” This myth, in my opinion, is the one the church deals with the most, which is namely that the heavenly/spiritual realm is far superior to this physical one. We have become Platonist/ Gnostics and have made a hierarchy where God has not made one: namely that physical is somehow “worldly” and bad and spirit is good.

Chapter 6
This chapter begins with Wright summarizing some of his past thoughts about the direction of the future and recapping the evolutionary optimism and platonic soul escapism ideas. He then identifies and describes three elements that help us build a biblical view of hope. (1)”Goodness of Creation” (p. 94).  He works out some basic theology of creation for us: Creation is good, it is other than God therefore not divine, it reflects God especially in humans as image-bearers.

(2) “The nature of Evil” (p. 94). Here Wright gives a great understanding of evil: it is not created, it is not a matter of material and spirit, it is not even inherent in the idea of things being other than God, “Evil then consists… in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honor elements or the natural world rather than the God who made them” (p. 95). 

(3) “The plan of redemption” (p. 96). The bulk of the argument falls heavily on the term and meaning of redemption. Redemption, for Wright, can’t mean destruction for the thing to make a newer better thing, for that isn’t redeeming at all. And it can't mean escaping the old thing for something else, because that is abandonment. For Wright, redemption is “…the remaking of creation, having dealt with the evil that is defacing and distorting it” (p. 97).

With these three foundationally in place, Wright then explores 6 themes he finds in the New Testament that are vitally important in developing this Christian hope of ours: (A) “Seedtime and Harvest:” this is a discussion of 1 Corinthians 15 and its relation to Passover and Pentecost and their ideas of farming. That Jesus is the firstborn, the firstfruits, over the dead and creation, which implies many more will follow. The words of 'seed' and 'sown' are images to describe this resurrection and are to be understood as not two things or bodies that are completely other than each other, but transformed from old to new (p. 98).

(B) “The Victorious Battle:” Wright continues with 1 Corinthians but moves to a different metaphor; one of King and Kingdom. The idea that Jesus must reign until all evil, power, and eventually death comes under his will and rule is a sure sign that Paul is discussing new creation. This becomes Wright’s main thrust for arguing for a physical resurrection of Christ, that if it wasn’t a physical body, but something other and spiritual or metaphoric, than death could never actually be defeated, but re-assigned or re-named (pp. 99-100).

(C) “Citizens of Heaven, Colonizing the Earth:” Wright asserts that historically citizenship was a focal point of Roman life and Christians/people were very familiar with the terms.  Paul’s use of the term in Philippians 3 should be subsumed under these contexts. Roman cities and citizens were under or promised a Pax Romana which didn’t mean that all citizens would move to Rome someday, but that the current place would be changed. This is the interpretation we should read in Phil. 3 according to Wright, that we don’t go to heaven, but that our Lord, Savior, King would transform us and creation around us. This seems to be a weak or underdeveloped point, but the more I chew on it, the more cohesion the point has (pp. 100-101).

(D) “God will be all in all:” This is a weird point for me and hard to understand. That creation was an act of Love and God intends to fill the whole earth, literally, with his love. The most beautiful and descriptive quote for me was: “We might suggest, as part of a Christian aesthetic, that the world is beautiful not just because it hauntingly reminds us of it creator but also because it is pointing forward; it is designed to be filled, flooded, drenched in God, as a chalice is beautiful not least because of what we know it is designed to contain or as a violin is beautiful not least because we know the music of which is it capable” (pp. 101-102).

(E) “New Birth:” Here Wright focuses on Romans 8 and Paul’s use of the “birth pangs” metaphor. New Creation is no smooth evolutionary process nor complete disconnect/ abandonment of the old; it is “…traumatic, involving convulsions and contractions and the radical discontinuity in which mother and child are parted and become not one being but two. But neither is a dualistic rejection of physicality as though, because the present creation is transient and full of decay and death, God must throw it away and start over again” (pp. 103-104).

(F) “The Marriage of Heaven and Earth:” Taking his climatic point from the end of Scripture, Wright focuses in on Revelation 21-22. That just like women and men being joined together as one in marriage, so heaven comes down to earth at the finality of all things. That polar opposites were made for each other and material isn’t disregarded for spiritual but the two join in completeness and harmony (pp. 104-106).

Wright summarizes the chapter with what he thinks is his crowning scriptural proof. He discusses Colossians 1 and the poem found therein. The summarizing line, to me, for this chapter is, “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of the Jesus from the dead” (p. 107). 

Questions to consider: What is God's purpose of the whole? How have you/the church fallen for 'evolutionary optimism'? How do we resist the urge to value the spiritual realm over the physical world? 
If the Christian hope is literally a physical resurrected body in a redeemed creation, how should this shape our theology, church practices, and personal actions/beliefs?

Read Revelation 21-22 and pay attention to what Heaven and Earth does. 1 Corinthians 15 is the great resurrection chapter if you want more proof. There are many more... if you would like them, just ask!