We continue our review of Tom Wright's, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church on this second Sunday of Eastertide.
Previous posts include:
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
Today we look at chapters 5 and 6:
Chapter 5: "Cosmic Future: Progress or Despair?"
This chapter begins the second section of the book, titled, "God's Future Plan." To balk against the tendency we have to go individualistic on the topic of resurrection, Wright chooses first to talk about what resurrection means for the entire creation.
He discusses two options both of which he sees as wrong. The first is an evolutionary optimism that underplays the need of the creation for redemption. The second is a Gnostic type dualism that so relegates the creation to the realm of evil that it must be dispensed with.
So first he addresses the "myth of progress" (81), which tends toward a pantheistic outlook. Without explicitly denying evolution as a theory of origins, he denies any philosophy such as that of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that sees history as an inevitable process of things getting better and better. "The real problem with the myth of progress is... that it cannot deal with evil" (85).
First, it cannot stop evil (86). Second, it does not address the evil that has already taken place in the world. Finally, it underestimates the nature and power of evil itself (87).
The second myth is that the world is so evil that we do best to escape it altogether. He considers Plato the most influential thinker in the history of the Western World (88) and this sense of the body as a prison for the soul our inheritance. Of Gnosticism, Wright says, "In this view creation itself is the fall, producing matter, which is the real evil" (89). He notes that there is a bit of truth in the claim that Christians have contributed to the current ecological situation. "I have heard it seriously argued in North America that since God intends to destroy the present space-time universe, and moreover since he intends to do so quite soon now, it really doesn't matter whether we destroy the rain forests and arctic tundra, whether we fill the skies with acid rain" (90).
Chapter 6: "What the Whole World's Waiting For"
First Wright presents three truths that form the backdrop or "fundamental structures" of hope:
1. The goodness of creation
God and the world are not the same thing, and God designed the world to reflect God's goodness (94).
2. The nature of evil
Evil does not consist in being transcient and subject to decay. The dualism that exists is not ontological--an evil earth and a good heaven. It is eschatological--the present age and the age to come.
"Mysteriously, this out-of-jointness seems to become entangled with the transience and decay necessary within the good-but-incomplete creation so that what we perhaps misleadingly call natural evil can be seen as, among other things, the advance signs of that final 'shaking' of heaven and earth that the prophets understood to be necessary if God's eventual new world was to be born" (95).
3. The plan of redemption
"Redemption doesn't mean scrapping what's there and starting again from a clean slate but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved" (96).
In the remainder of the chapter, Wright explores six New Testament themes relating to the cosmic dimension of Christian hope:
1. seedtime and harvest
(the image of firstfruits now, full harvest later)
2. the victorious battle
(against death as the last enemy)
3. citizens of earth colonizing the earth
(not waiting to get to heaven)
4. God will be all in all
"The world is created good but incomplete" (102). "This is part of an answer to Jürgen Moltmann's proposal... in which God as it were retreats, creates space within himself, so that there is ontological space for there to be something else other than him. If I am right, it works the other way around. God's creative love, precisely by being love, creates new space for there to be things that are genuinely other than God" (101-2).
5. new birth
(birth pains now for what is coming to birth)
6. marriage of heaven and earth
(heaven comes to earth, we don't go there)