Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Christian Hope: A Balanced Perspective

After posting earlier about N. T. Wright's interview with Time Magazine - in which he says that what most Christians think about heaven or life after death is wrong - I've finally acquired a copy of his latest book. It's called Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne, 2008). Besides going into greater detail with the thesis he lays out in the interview, I'm looking forward to seeing how Wright delivers on the following:

"This book addresses two questions that have often been dealt with entirely separately but that, I passionately believe, belong tightly together. First, what is the ultimate Christian hope? Second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? And the main answer can be put like this. As long as we see Christian hope in terms of 'going to heaven,' of a salvation that is essentially away from this world, the two questions are bound to appear unrelated. Indeed, some insist angrily that to ask the second one at all is to ignore the first one, which is the really important one. This in turn makes some others get angry when people talk of resurrection, as if this might draw attention away from the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern. But if the Christian hope is for God's new creation, for 'new heavens and new earth,' and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth, then there is every reason to join the two questions together. And if that is so, we find that answering the one is also answering the other" (p. 5; Wright's emphasis).

I've often thought it was a mistake to pit (for lack of better terms) other-worldly hope against this-worldly hope. But it's a mistake that many Christians do, in fact, make - as though getting to heaven is more important than what's going on in the world right here and now, or as though a passion for social justice justifies writing off all concerns about what happens after death as just so much "pie-in-the-sky" or "head-in-the-sand" escapism. I like Wright's balanced approach that holds up other-worldly and this-worldly hope as two dimensions of one hope. That strikes me as a good example of Anglican Centrism at work. We'll see how well Wright pulls it off.

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