As we are on a teaching series called “Feed
you hope” right now I decided to reread Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright. I
read it slowly, making notes. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who
wants to feed their hope. I found it inspiring, challenging in parts and very
interesting, written in Tom Wright’s usual clear style. It brought clarity
about what biblical hope is. Tom Wright exposes unbiblical ideas that have
seeped into the church through a Western worldview steeped in Plato’s teaching.
(Basically this is the idea that spirit is good and matter is bad. Death then becomes a release from the
limiting prison of the body.) Tom Wright here brings clarity on what happens
when a Christian dies, the “intermediate
state” and the ultimate destiny for Christians. He shows that our goal is
not just “going to heaven to be with the
Lord” when we die. Rather, that is a temporary position and where we are
heading is the resurrection of the body after the return of Jesus and the
coming together of heaven and earth is a glorious marriage. Key chapters that
Tom Wright looks at are I Corinthians 15, Romans 8 and Revelation 21 and 22.
Here are 4 key
components in Surprised by Hope. (There
are a lot more!)
Confusion. Tom Wright begins by looking at how we do funerals and the
popular content used widely today. There is a general belief in life after
death but it is very muddled – stuff like becoming a star in the sky and even
becoming an angel. There is the popular
“Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am
not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand
winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow (etc.)” While this
may be poetic and comforting to the grieving
it is more like pantheism or Buddhism than Christianity. Quote
p 38-39. “I suggest that a good deal of
our current view of death and the life beyond has come from – – -impulses in the culture which have created
at best semi-Christian informal traditions that now need proper re-examination
in the clear light of scripture. Scripture, in fact, teaches things about the
future life which most Christians and almost all non-Christians have never
of Jesus. Surprised by Hope places the resurrection of Jesus in the
central position. Jesus’ body was raised from
the dead and transformed. His body now has different properties. For the early
Christians Jesus’ resurrection was the
evidence that He is truly Messiah and Lord. See Acts 2:32-36. This is the climax of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. With Jesus’ resurrection the future has burst
into the present. He is the first-fruits. 1
Corinthians is the key chapter on this subject and Tom Wright gives a lot of
space to this chapter.
of the Body. Still on 1 Cor 15, Tom Wright investigates the future hope
of those who believe in Jesus sharing in his bodily resurrection in the future. Our hope is not just going to heaven when we
die. Our hope is receiving a glorious new body that is like Jesus’ glorious
body. This is clearly in the context of a cosmic renewal which Romans 8 points
us to. See Romans 8:19-24a. Tom Wright very helpfully gives us the big
picture, and it is very big!
What about here
and now? The final section of the book shows how such a hope for the
future inspires and empowers us to live in the present. First, our baptism proclaims
that new life has invaded us here and now. By putting our faith in Jesus as
Saviour and Lord we have been united to him in his death and his resurrection.
Something of the future has already invaded our lives so we can live a new life
right here. Secondly, we are called to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
As believers we are called to live in the intersection between heaven and
earth. One day this earth will be totally renewed. Right now we can live, work
and pray for that renewal. A robust Christian hope will cause us to look
outwards in mission. Personally,
as a musician I found the section on beauty and creativity as an expression of
God’s renewing purposes, drawn from Romans 8, really inspiring.
Another quote to finish: “Our task in the
present –of which this book, God willing, may form part – is to live as
resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian
life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the
first and a foretaste of the second.” P 41. This is a great book – buy it!
Surprised by Hope.
Tom Wright. SPCK ISBN
First published 2007.