So far I'm about half way into NT Wright's "Surprised by Hope".
On the one hand his account is a comfort. He is able explain how things hang together in a way that I find satisfying. I thought things were something like this, but I never found an explanation as clear as this.
For example in the relationships between the scientific world-view, the historical world-view and the Christian world-view.
On the other hand he raises a big challenge. He opens a vision of the magnitude of the paradigm shift brought about by the resurrection. The Kingdom of God has come and is coming. The consequences are not just life-changing but universe-changing.
So, how then should we live?
The resurrection led to fundamental changes in the lives of of Jesus' followers in the decades immediately following. Such fundamental change is not so apparent in the many parts of the church that I have passed through in my lifetime, nor is it in my own life.
Quotes, themes and thoughts so far:
Heaven is not the objective
This is a major element in NT Wright's teaching. And it turns a lot of current thinking in the church upside-down.
NOT "Jesus is raised, therefore we go to heaven"
BUT "Jesus is raised, therefore:
- new creation has begun
- we have a job of work to do contributing to the progress of new creation"
I find this one of the most clarifying points that NT Wright makes. The idea that the objective is "getting to heaven" and that all we have to do to get there is "believe", always seemed to me rather unsatisfactory. It devalued creation and our life here in it. Life becomes some kind of waiting game in which we are perhaps being conditioned for life in heaven.
Whereas, the explanation that it is the other way round, and earth and indeed the whole universe will be renewed (become heaven), is much more satisfactory. And, furthermore that the people of God are called to participate in the process of the now and coming Kingdom gives back meaning and significance to creation and life in it.
The metaphor of resurrection
"resurrection as referring metaphorically to baptism as a dying and rising with Christ, and resurrection as referring to the new life of strenuous ethical obedience, enabled by the Holy Spirit, to which the believer is committed." p. 58
just letting those words ring round in my head ...
"the new life of strenuous ethical obedience"
"strenuous" - putting effort into into it - ongoing, demanding, maybe exhausting, effort into being obedient
"ethical" - so this has to do with behaviour towards others, honesty, justice, honour, not just ritual systematic stuff
"obedience" - requires knowing what is required of us, not just in a general sense but very specifically, in the actual circumstances of my life today. That requires a knowledge of God, not just in a general sense, but a relationship in which I hear from Him in the context of my daily life.
The limitations of logic
In a discussion on various philosophical and theological approaches to explaining the relationship between God and creation:
"... if creation was a work of love, it must have involved the creation of something other than God. That same love the allows creation to be itself, sustaining it in providence and wisdom but not overpowering it. Logic cannot comprehend love; so much the worse for logic." p.113
I like that cut and dried conclusion: "Logic cannot comprehend love; so much the worse for logic."
Love, freedom, union
"... part of the paradox of love, in which love freely given creates a context for love to be freely returned, and so on in a cycle where complete freedom and complete union do not cancel each other out, but rather celebrate each other and make one another whole." p.114
Wow, what an amazing vision compacted into one sentence ...
I reminds me of a prophetic word by Stacey Cambell that I came across recently in which she brings a very moving vision of the love between the Bridegroom and the Bride as they prepare for one another.
Limitations of language
"It is of course only through imagery, through metaphor and symbol, that we can imagine the new world that God intends to make. That is right and proper. All our language about the future ... is like a set of signposts pointing into a bright mist. The signpost ... [provides] a true indication of the direction we should be travelling in." p.118
I think this is related to the point about the limitations of logic. We cannot fully grasp and describe God and His purposes. We are called to step out in faith, not fully knowing, not fully understanding, but trusting. Trusting our experience of God so far, so that we may experience Him more - living the adventure.
History and an epistemology of faith
And yet on the other hand NT Wright also takes us into the historian's approach to the account of the resurrection and the early church.
It all turns on the resurrection. Historical analysis supports the validity of the Gospel texts and their accounts of the resurrection.
Of course there are differences between the accounts, but that often happens with witnesses accounts of dramatic unexpected events. It does not deny that historically the resurrection happened and was part of the reason for the launch of the early church.
Different ways of developing and validating 'knowledge'
- the scientific world view and the scope of knowledge of repeatable measureable events that science deals with
- the historian's world view and the scope of knowledge of unrepeatable events that history deals with
- Christian world view of the new creation
- all turning on the resurrection
- the resurrection is the start of a new creation within the old creation
- a paradigm shift is needed to accommodate the reality of the resurrection within scientific and historical ways of knowing
"Plato remains the most influential thinker in the history of the west" p.101
A Platonic strain entered Christian thinking early on. Gnostics believed, like Plato, that the material world is inferior dark and evil. Certain people in this world are destined for something else.
"We are stardust, we are golden;
and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."
Creation itself was the 'fall' - producing the evil of matter. Most western Christians have assumed that Christianity was committed to some soft version of Plato's position.
"This world is not my home,
I'm just a passin' through"
BUT RATHER the Christian affirmation is that what creator God has done for Jesus at the resurrection he intends to do for the whole cosmos. We will be resurrected into bodies of a new and different type into a renewed cosmos.
The myth of progress
"Many people, particularly politicians and secular commentators ... , still live by this myth, ... and encourage us to believe in it." p.93
They don't realise that things are not getting better. Or maybe they don't dare to admit it. This is the reason for their appeal to personality and image rather than rational argument.
The myth of progress has deep roots in contemporary western culture. The big problem with the myth of progress is that it has no way of dealing with evil
- it can't stop evil
- it can't deal with the moral problem of the evil that has happened
- it has the hopeless mission of building Utopia on the bones of the tortured
Conclusions so far
I enjoy the style of NT Wright and the breadth and depth of his knowledge and the ingrated view he presents. So far this has been a history lesson, a philosophy lesson and a theology lesson rolled into one where the themes and ideas come tumbling out over one another. But above all it is a thoroughly underpinned exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ presented in a way I have not heard before. An exposition of the New Testament, especially of Paul, yet rooted in the Gospel of the announcement of the Kingdom of God. While it is a history lesson, showing the historical validity of the New Testament documents and the account they give, NT Wright is also rushing forward to meet the future when the New Jerusalem will descend and the authority of God in His restored Kingdom will be gloriously manifest. And he raises the exciting call for the believer to be responding to the commission to be part of this restoration. We cannot sit back in the comfort of our salvation. We are called to be part of the process of extending the Kingdom. The created are called to work with the Creator to restore the whole of creation to its intended perfection. Amazing!