Surprised by Hope by NT Wright

I heartily endorse NT Wright's thesis: a robust doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Christ necessarily impacts our lives.  Wright spends much of his book firing shots across the bows of both the fundamentalists and the liberals.

Wright attacks the fundamentalists' belief in a non-corporeal resurrection, grounded in an implicit dualism.  It's an important attack.  This idea that the real part of us is our immortal souls which will, alone, live on in heaven, is not just non-scriptural, it's anti-scriptural.  Furthermore, as NT Wright points out, it has several deleterious effects: it undermines any urgency for the church to do her work here and now; it can create apathy to change unjust social institutions; and it can lead toward a truncated understanding of how we are to respect and appreciate the bodily existence God has granted us.

Wright also attacks the liberals' belief in a spiritual resurrection.  Ironically, liberals function in a similar fashion as fundamentalists.  Their belief in the metaphoric or symbolic or spiritual meaning of the resurrection of Christ for the individual is even more problematic.  Anyone who is familiar with Wright knows that he can muster a strong argument in support of the historic resurrection of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, and he levies such an argument here.  The lack of belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ is a tenuous historical position to take and one that leaves the church utterly devoid of meaning.

There’s much to appreciate in Surprised by Hope.  Wright's attack on the dualism that informs both conservatives and liberals is important.  Wright's insistence on the importance of the bodily resurrection of Christ is essential.  And, at times, Wright provides a powerfully lucid account of the meaning of the resurrection.  His terse word picture in Chapter 14, of heaven and earth as "twin interlocking spheres of God's single created reality," for example, is one that not only rings true, but helped provide a powerfully informative image for me. 

That said, the book, in my judgment, oftentimes comes across as too hastily written and too poorly edited.  At times Wright's bombastic claims (third world debt relief is the slavery/Holocaust of our age, to name one) ring a bit hollow and are not very carefully laid out.  Similarly, his attacks, while instructive, too often are aimed at straw-men or the margins of the church.  And finally, while his critique could have been edited to half to 2/3rds of its length, he leaves a good deal to be desired on the practical positive outworking of his call.

All in all, it's a book worth the read.


Photo Credit: Faith Gateway