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?

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