Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope 7...

We continue our review of Tom Wright's, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church on this third Sunday of Eastertide. Sorry for any who were looking for the next installment of Generous Orthodoxy last week. I've done the reading but have been so mentally tired I haven't managed to input it, which in many respects is much harder than reading it in the first place.

Previous posts on Wright's book include:

Part 1: Setting the Scene
1-2. Introduction, Confusion about the Afterlife in the World and Church
3. Early Christian Hope in Its Historical Setting
4. The Strange Story of Easter

Part 2: God's Future Plan
5-6. The Cosmic Future and The Nature of the World's Hope

Today my intent is to slip in reviews of chapters 7 and 8 in between finishing up grading for the semester, one at a time (to help me keep going...). So post #1 for today, chapter 7.

Chapter 7: Jesus, Heaven, and New Creation
The first part of the chapter is on the ascension and its importance. "It is impossible to collapse the ascension into the resurrection or vice versa" (109). The Spirit of Jesus may be here, but it is important to recognize at the same time that Jesus is not just here. His body is in heaven as we speak.

Here's an interesting claim: "heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are two different dimensions of God's good creation" (111). Heaven is tangential t earth so that "the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth." "Second, heaven is the control room for earth."

This is all very smart sounding, and I like it theologically. I doubt very seriously it is what the New Testament or Old Testament authors were thinking. Wright suggests, "The early Christians, and their fellow first-century Jews, were not, as many moderns suppose, locked into thinking of a three-decker universe with heaven up in the sky and hel down beneath their feet" (115). But I think Wright so wants the biblical worldview to speak directly on these matters to us today that he is doing something evangelicals are very good at--demythologizing the text via ingenious exegesis rather than recognizing that the Bible is truth incarnated for a different time and place.

Let's give Paul some papyrus and a stylus and ask him to draw the world. I bet it will have three stories, with heaven up and the realm of the dead "under the earth."

The ascension is important to Wright so that the church does not get equated with the kingdom but that we recognize that Jesus has not yet returned to us and thus that the most important part of the church is not fully present even if he is present (my paraphrase). "Jesus is not the church" (113). Understanding this fact rescues us both from "hollow triumphalism" and "shallow despair."

"At no point in the gospels or Acts does anyone say anything remotely like, 'Jesus has gone into heaven, so let's be sure we can follow him" (117).

The last part of the chapter is about the second coming, of which there will be more to come later. Wright wants as usual to avoid to extremes. The first is the end times mania that has typified the American scene off and on for these last 150 years or so. The second is the avoidance of the belief at all. If the earliest Christians thought Christ was coming again and he didn't, shouldn't we be reinterpreting this part of the equation?

He ends this chapter with the clarification that "eschatology" is not just about the second coming. He is after all a student of G. B. Caird and is surely far more correct than wrong. Jewish eschatology was not about the end of the world but about a radical turn in history for the better, God hitting the reset button on history. Eschatology is thus all the end times things but it is more. It is about God radically stepping into history to change its course (some of my paraphrase there I'm sure).

Part the second will hopefully appear before morning...

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