I must preface this review with a confession. I am a huge N.T. Wright fan. As someone who was raised fairly fundamentalist, Wright’s books have propounded fresh, biblical and evangelical readings of Scripture and theology in ways my upbringing could never do. In short, Wright’s work is the first that has allowed me to see that my evangelical faith is intellectually defensible. For that, I will always be in his debt, and always read his books. So with that in mind let’s talk about this book.
N.T. Wright has done the church a tremendous service by this book. A renowned biblical scholar and pastor, he connects his biblical teaching to the work of the church in a way that is rare, not only in modern scholarship but in any Christian writing in general. Wright’s basic thesis for this book is that a biblically grounded view of the resurrection and our future hope will lead to a relevant, missional and world changing church. This message is well worth listening to.
Wright structures his book into 3 sections: 1) Setting the Scene, 2) God’s Future Plan, and 3) Hope in Practice: Resurrection and the Mission of the Church.
In ‘Setting the Scene’ Wright takes care to address the confused views of death and heaven. He surveys different views and then proposes what he calls the early Christian hope. The early Christians, when they did speak of heaven, spoke of it as “a temporary stage” (41) or as Wright has said elsewhere, ‘heaven is important but its not the end of the world.’ The true Christian hope is what Wright terms ‘life after life after death.’ This is the resurrection. “Death is the last weapon of the tyrant, and the point of the resurrection, despite much misunderstanding is that death has been defeated” (50). This is the true Christian hope. With this we understand the resurrection, not as proof that there is an afterlife and we get to go to it, but we understand it “principally, [as] the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus” (73, italics original). Thus, in a very real way, Easter is the inauguration of the new creation, the present reality of our future hope.
In Part 2 ‘God’s Future Plan,’ Wright surveys different ways that we view the eschatological history of the world. Where are we going? He notes that what “creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution [the typical conservative and liberal approaches] but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (107). We have the assurance that Jesus is presently ruling the whole world and one day he will return and “make that rule complete” (117). With this we understand Jesus’ second coming as his final renewal of all creation and his coming as Judge. But judgment, though we think of it as purely negative, is a good thing, it is something to be celebrated because, “faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.” Judgment is liberation for the oppressed!
Wright, successfully in my opinion, brings our focus back to earth and away from this spiritual heaven; “it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else” (176). We have fallen victim to the dualism of our day (sorry rapture theology). Jesus, after all, is “primarily concerned to announce that God’s kingdom was coming ‘on earth as in heaven'” (177).
In the final section ‘Hope in Practice: Resurrection and the Mission of the Church,’ Wright turns what is a really good book into a necessary and fantastic book. Wright argues how the church’s mission should be defined and shaped from the arguments that he has been proposing in the first two-thirds of the book. This is a step that too often, biblical theology books don’t make. The opposite is true, too often books for the church do not have the two-thirds groundwork of biblical theology to base their arguments on. This makes this book a rare treat.
His main thesis in this section is that “precisely because the resurrection has happened as an event within our own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and now” (191, italics original). Thus the resurrection, ascension and gift of the Spirit are designed “to make us agents of the transformation of this earth, anticipating the day when, as we are promised, ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea'” (201).
We are therefore to be build for the kingdom here and now, “doing justice in the world is part of the Christian task” (216). For Wright “resurrection doesn’t mean escaping from the world; it means mission to the world based on Jesus’s lordship over the world” (235, italics original). This is the key thesis throughout his book, and it is the theme that I hope and pray our churches, mine as much as anybody’s, pick up from this book.
Wright goes on to present how this type of thinking could and should shape our sacraments, prayer, view of Scripture, view of Holiness, and view of love. It ends in practical application of profound biblical truth. There is no way I can cover all of what Wright accomplished in this work. I can only recommend its reading to anyone who is interested in living a biblically founded, resurrection-centered, spiritually filled life.
There are things which many may disagree with in this book. I am not yet convinced of some of Wright’s views on justification. But there is no doubt in my mind that this book must be read by our churches. If we all lived our lives a little more intentionally based on the reality of the resurrection and the future hope we have in Christ, it would be a very different world indeed.