After starting several months ago, tonight I finished Surprised by Love by N. T. Wright. It’s a fantastic book and I highly recommend it. With that said, however, it’s not always an easy book to read. There’s at least two reasons for this:
- Wright’s writing style. Wright is smart. Very smart. And this comes out in his writing. His sentences are often long. He will often string together several clauses in order to clarify his point and build his argument. In most books, I’ll highlight a phrase here or there, or a few sentences at a time. But with this book, I found myself highlighting paragraphs (or at least good chunks of them) at a time, just to get the whole thought captured.
- Wright’s thoroughness. This book starts out slow and takes it’s time picking up speed. The author takes careful time to develop his argument and make sure it’s properly supported. By the time you reach the end, the pace has stepped up tremendously, but that’s because of the framework built up in the first half.
So what’s it about? In Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright seeks to correct many of the misconceptions that modern believers have about heaven and life after death. Many people view heaven as an escape hatch out of this evil, cruel world. We long for the day when we will be rid of this place and experience some ethereal existence in the clouds.
But, Wright argues, that’s not in line with the Biblical understanding of these things. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t teach us about life after death…but “life after life after death.” Jesus didn’t die and come back to life so that he could whisk us up to some other world. Instead, it was the beginning of the restoration of this world. In Wright’s words:
As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality—what I have called life after life after death—then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.
Later in the book, Wright comments on our focus on heaven. He says, we’re not considering the end of the book:
As we read Revelation, we must not allow the wonderful heavenly vision in chapters 4 and 5 to lull us into imagining that this is the final scene in the story, as though the narrative were simply to conclude (as in Charles Wesley’s hymn) with the redeemed casting their crowns before the throne. This is a vision of present reality, seen in its heavenly dimension. We must read on to the end, to the final vision of Revelation 21 and 22, the chapters that give final meaning to all that has gone before and indeed to the entire canon.
Our partnering with Jesus means that begin to experience and live out the future restored life now. We, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, do God’s will here on earth “as it is in heaven.” Our actions here matter, not simply because they will save others from hell (though they may encourage others to enter into new life with Jesus), but because “what is done in the present in the body, by the power of the Spirit, will be reaffirmed in the eventual future, in ways at which we can presently only guess.”
Instead of looking to escape or “earn” our way to heaven. We work diligently here and now because “our labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15). Our actions matter now.
What you do with your body in the present matters, he [Paul] insists, because God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Glorify God in your body because one day God will glorify the body itself. What is to be true in the future must begin to be true in the present, or it will be called into question whether you are really on track in the first place.
Near the end of the book, Wright moves onto a more practical discussion of how these truths influence Christian life and mission. With the theological and historical framework laid, he provides a wonderful view of the faith that is driven by the hope of Jesus resurrection.
Though I highly recommend this book, I do so realizing that it’s not for everyone. This is a heavy book, particularly in the first half. But I believe Wright accurately corrects and teaches a Biblically accurate view of our future hope. A view, that is too often distorted and watered down in modern Christianity.