In the Reformed Conservative Evangelical wing of the Church that I grew up in, N.T.Wright is currently seemingly in exile over his views on justification and Paul. But he is also one of evangelicalism’s greatest scholars. His ‘magisterial’ books on Christian origins are brilliant, and equally useful in academia and in pastoral ministry. I remember seeing ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ on the shelf of my mentor, a few weeks before going to study a secular theology degree, where his books are respected and admired.
This book, then, ‘Surprised by Hope’, is of a rather different bent. It is primarily, both self-explanatorially (definitely not a real word) and by reading it, about the Christian Gospel of hope grounded in the key terms ‘salvation, resurrection and eternal life’. But it is also about the way in which hope can be discovered in the present world. Wright argues passionately that we need to put God back in his place, put hope back at the top, and be surprised by Hope. The first two phrases really sum up an attitude that demands a conversation!
‘What are we waiting for?’
‘And what are we going to do about it in the meantime?’
This post, arguably, is less a review, and more of an encouragement to read the book. After all, the measured, hopeful thoughts of a serious theologian are of rather more value than a backwater internet blogger! One thing that stuck with me was early on in the book. Bodily resurrection is key. (For a discussion of this, check out my previous series, and ideally read N. T. Wright on the subject!) As Wright puts it; ‘It was people who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and went in for a mere spiritualised survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era‘. Do we believe robustly enough in the resurrection, if we believe at all? This inflammatory statement is a call to action – are we of the same calibre of Christian who stood up against the Roman empire? If not, why not?
Wright goes on throughout the book in an orderly fashion, expounding what hope can mean. And at the end of what appears to be a call to radical action, the most radical challenge occurs. It echoes the great commission; ‘at the centre of the picture there stands the personal call of the Gospel of Jesus to every child, woman and man’. This is not an easily critiqued orthopraxy (right practice, similar to orthodoxy – right belief) that Wright is expressing, but a mighty reflection of what he believes to be most necessary. Wright then explores evangelism with an awareness of pitfalls and challenges – rare for someone with so much knowledge!
I end this review with what N.T.Wright ends the book with. It draws so much together, and is a powerful challenge:
‘Hands up those who have heard the message that every act of love, every deed done in Christ and done by the Spirit, every work of true creativity – every time justice is done, peace is made, families are healed, temptation is resisted, true freedom is sought and won – that this very earthly event takes its place within a long history of things which implement Jesus’ own resurrection, and anticipate the final new creation, and act as signposts of hope, pointing back to the first and on to the second…’
Thanks for reading. Now go and read the book!