Thursday, February 17, 2011

Surprised by Hope: N.T. Wright recalls the Kingdom

Tonight I turned the final pages of N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope, in which Wright examines the center of the Christian hope -- the resurrection.  The journey through the text was stimulating and perplexing, exhilarating and humbling. Wright's message was challenging at times, as was his strikingly British prose. His argument, though, was incredibly smooth.

What does it mean that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead? Where is Jesus now? What happens when Christians die? Wright answers these questions and many others, drawing from scripture, Jewish history and the first century context of the New Testament. To my mind, crowded as it has been with Medieval Dantean imagery, Enlightenment charged Platonic philosophy, and Romantic sentimentality, Wright's answers were indeed surprising. And yet, as passage after passage of seemingly ambiguous scripture suddenly made sense, I found myself wanting to dance with joy -- or was the feeling hope?

In Surprised by Hope, Wright reminds his readers that, as Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is at hand. In fact, it has come, inaugurated by the first-fruits of the resurrection -- Jesus Himself. As Christians, we are living in a new paradigm, a new reality where Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth. As Adam was created to image God in the old world, so those who are baptized into the new Kingdom are recreated to image God in the new world. We are carrying out the restorative Kingdom work Jesus began before His ascension to the Father. One day He will return and complete the restoration of the entire cosmos. The New Jerusalem will descend from Heaven, and the saints will dwell with God. Until then, we contend with sin and death -- but only as a defeated powers, resting in the assurance of the blessed, surprising hope we have in Christ.

And as Wright explains in the final chapter, the language of this Kingdom is love.

The point of 1 Corinthians 13 is that love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God's new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us the begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope.

You can preview Surprised by Hope here.

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