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.

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