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!



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