Friday, July 01, 2011

Surprised By Hope 6

Wright continues to lay out this New Testament hope for the future.  For some this may be elementary, for others boring.  I find it refreshing to affirm (and clarify) concepts that we hear in church circles but never seem to get around to discussing.  It helps me for when I get questions, as a pastor, from folks about such matters.

Here are a couple of key points from chapters 8-10:  (As with any of the points I have summarized in this post or others, I recommend reading the book for the full and best explication of Wright's argument.)

Chapter 8 deals with Jesus' return.  The chapter (and New Testament thought, Wright would argue) is summed up in the following:

"There will come a time, which might indeed come at any time, when, in the great renewal of the world that Easter itself foreshadowed, Jesus himself will be personally present and will be the agent and model of the transformation that will happen to the world and also to believers." p. 136

Chapter 9 deals with judgment.  Now in our culture this has become a taboo word.  We don't like the thought of being judged.  Yet, Wright reminds us that in the Bible, particularly the Psalms, God's judgment is a good thing -- something humanity and creation long for -- indeed a reason to celebrate BECAUSE God is the good and perfect judge, and that perfect judgment will put all things back to rights.

So, as Wright states:  "In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and the weak are given their due is the best news there can be." p.137

Chapter 10 begins dealing with the confusion of Christians and non-Christians alike about what Christians believe about the fate of the dead.    Essentially Wright says that resurrection is indeed bodily, and will take place on earth when Jesus is bodily present once again, and NOT immediately when we die.  Resurrection, he writes, is a way of talking about a new bodily life after whatever state of existence one might enter immediately upon death.  (Please note, Wright is not arguing for the existence of purgatory.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Surprised by Hope 5

Chapter 7 of NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope deals mostly with the idea of “the ascension”:  the event of Jesus going to heaven.  Wright argues if we misunderstand the ascension, then we get into some murky theology.

The part of this chapter that struck me the most are these two sentences:
“What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension?  The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum.  If Jesus is more or less identical with the church—if, that is talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst form of triumphalism.”  p. 112

I believe see the affects of ignoring or downplaying the ascension in North American Christianity’s decline, in the United Methodist Church in particular.  For too long, instead viewing the church as a means to God’s ends, we made the church the end in and of itself.  Instead of proclaiming a Risen Jesus, who transforms lives and the entire cosmos, who is Lord over heaven and earth, the church proclaimed an institutional message that forgot who was the Creator and who was the created.

Having a healthy view of the ascension allows us as Wright states, “to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures:  image-bearing creatures, but creatures nonetheless.” P. 114

In other words we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth…including the church…including our lives.  Then we seek to live out God’s agenda and not our own.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Surprised by Hope 4

I am thoroughly enjoying NT Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, where he is laying out what resurrection is and what it means for the world and the church.  In this section of the book Wright suggests three ways of seeing the future where  humans find hope:  Evolutionary Optimism, Souls in Transit, and What the World is Waiting For.  I briefly discussed the first two in yesterday’s post

Today I want to look at this third concept, what Wright would call a New Testament image of the future of hope (New Creation/Redemption).  To understand this third way, Wright suggests we need to understand three concepts:

The goodness of creation – “[Creation] is good as creation, not as an independent or self-sufficient ‘nature.’”  Creation is an act of love by the Creator that is designed “to reflect God back to God in worship and to reflect God back into the rest of creation in stewardship. “ (p. 94)  

The nature of evil – Wright denotes evil is rebellion by which we worship that which is created instead of the Creator.  He suggests we tend to lump transience, physical death, and decay into the category of evil.  These he suggests are natural processes that point to what God is doing with creation:  moving the world from its present existence to what it is mean to be.  

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.” (p. 96)  Because creation is God’s act of love, God has a plan to redeem creation, to put it to rights as Wright is fond of saying. This plan of redemption is not just spiritual, but physical in nature as well.

Wright then goes on to masterfully discuss six beautiful images the New Testament uses to point to this third way of seeing the future, a future that the whole world has been waiting for:  redemption.  They are:  Seedtime and Harvest (1 Corinthians 15); the Victorious Battle; Citizens of Heaven, Colonizing Earth (Philippians 3:20-21); God will be All in All (1 Corinthians 15:28); New Birth (Romans 8:18-25); Marriage of Heaven and Earth (Revelation 21-22).

To sum up this third way, New Creation/Redemption, in Wright’s own words:  “What I am proposing is that the New Testament image of the future hope of the whole cosmos, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus, gives as coherent a picture as we need or could have of the future that is promised to the whole world, a future in which, under the sovereign and wise rule of the creator God, decay and death will be done away with and a new creation born, to which the present one will stand as mother to child.” (p. 107)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surprised by Hope 3

In the second section of Wright's book on resurrection, he seeks to articulate a Biblical vision for the future.  To do this he describes three options for how people view the future: two I will very briefly sum up below. I will deal with in a separate post post.

Evolutionary Optimism:  this is the Myth of Progress (based on liberal modernism and Darwinian thought.) It believes that humanity is moving, progressing through education, technology, and science “up and to the right”.  This philosophy of thought believes that all the worlds ills can be fixed through progress and humanity will one day arrive at utopia.  Wright points out that this line of thought underestimates the nature and power of evil.  It fails to deal with how to understand or prevent evil, past and present.

Souls In Transit:  This line of thought relies heavily on Plato, that sees the material world as something to be transcended (evil and decay with it) for a more perfect eternal existence that has no material substance.  In other words humanity was created for a spiritual existence and must endure the physical world  to get to the spiritual world.  This line of thought informed the Gnostic sect in early Christianity (as well as certain elements of the Romantic movement in the late 18th & 19th centuries.)   Such a view devalues the material and any kind of physical creation.

As I read this chapter, I could see strains of each line of thought in the culture around me and in my very own thought process.  Think about political discussion (or the lack thereof).  Think about approaches to the environment (both good and bad).  I think about my own love of technology and my tendency to be an early adopter, do I see that as a means to fix the world’s problems?  I also see out culture and world’s difficulty in dealing with the problem of evil.  As a pastor, I get questions all the time about the existence of evil.

I am curious to get to the third option for viewing the future to see how it agrees and differs with the two options above.  Which of the above best describes how you see the future?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Surprised By Hope 2

Resurrection is the central event of the Christian faith.  NT Wright has written a masterful book that explores resurrection and what that means for followers of Jesus.  I have been reading through Wright's book to help bolster my understanding of resurrection.  Below are some "money" quotes from my reading today:

"Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation."  p. 67

"Hope, for the Christian, is not wishful thinking or mere blind optimism.  It is a mode of knowing, a mode within which new things are possible, options are not shut down, new creation can happen."  p.72

What strikes me about these quotes and about resurrection are:
1. God is not static, but dynamically working in creation to bring about restorative justice
2. The resurrection of Jesus is the event where we see God conquering the powers of sin and death to usher in the new creation (i.e. the Kingdom of the Heavens) as a reality
3. Hope is a way of living recognizing God's movement and the future possibilities that God has for the creation, including you and me.

Lastly, I believe a robust understanding of the resurrection helps move Christianity from a set of propositional ideas or "truths" to an embodied and incarnate faith that changes the world in participation with the movement of the God of Creation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What is Resurrection?

If someone asked you to define "resurrection" what would you say? Why is resurrection central to Christianity? I would submit that many would struggle with how to respond to such questions, particuarly in light of our modern beliefs. It seems many modern understandings of resurrection and after-life death sound more like they are from Plato than they are from the New Testament. (i.e. the body is bad and the soul is good, and at death the body and soul are separated forever, the soul going to heaven and the body decaying to nothing.)

A helpul resource I have found in better understanding resurrection is NT Wright's book, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

Wright walks the reader through 1st century Jewish and pagan understandings of resurrection to clarify an orthodox Christian perspective on what resurrection is. He then looks at the implications of such an understanding for the future, exploring what heaven is and how we are to understand it (i.e. not just life after death, but life after 'life after death'.) Then in the third part of the book, Wright spells out the implications of resurrection on the mission of the church.

I am only part way through this book, but I have found Wright's book very helpful in articlulating a core component of the Christian faith. I am so thankful for theologians/pastors like Wright and his ability to help clarify the Christian faith and how it is embodied in our everyday lives.

Friday, June 03, 2011

What are you doing with your cognitive surplus?

Author Clay Shirky in his book, Cognitive Surplus, asserts that because of a shift in media being something we merely consume (i.e. broadcast media,magazines, newspapers) to something in which we participate (i.e. Blogs, social media, sharing tools, etc.) we are now able to use our collective free time (as a society or a subgroup of society) to do some pretty cool things. For instance: Ushahidi.

Kind of humbling when I think about what I accomplish (or don't) with my free time. What is the most constructive thing you do with your free time?