216. N. T. Wright\'s Surprised by Hope- Review | Heaven | Resurrection

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R'Ai ew SURPRISED

Heaven explained

BY

HOPE Rethinking Heaven the Resurrection andthe and the Mission of the Church

by William C. Plädier 

Η   Τ WRIGHT

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hristians don't go to heaven when we die—that's the dramatic way to summarize Ν. T. Wright's book. The Christian hope is that our bodies will be raised on a transformed Earth when Christ returns, will be freed of our bodnot that our souls will ies so that they can get to heaven. Ν. T. Wright is a distinguished New Testament scholar and (sometimes under  the more approachable name of "Tom  Wright") author  of short introductions to New Testament texts and widely read pop ular  defenses oí Christianity. A British evangelical and a gifted and prolific writer, he is probably the closest living equivalent equivalent to t o C. S. Lewis. Lewis. He also has a day  job as the Anglican bishop bishop of Durham. Dur ham. Luther would have agreed with Wright about resurrection hope, but for Luther our intervening state stat e is one of  sleep. After death, he said, his next experience would be at the second coming, when he would hear a voice saying, "Dr. Martin, wake up!" Wright concludes that a body of  scriptural evidence, beginning with Jesus' promise to one of the thieves crucified with him, demands something more:

When Jesus tells the brigand that he will join him in paradise that very day, paradise clearly cannot be their ulti mate destination Paradise is, rather, the blissful garden where God's people rest prior to the resurrection. . . . The early Christians held firmly to a twostep belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. Resurrection therefore means not life after death, but life after life after death. Using an analogy from technology, Wright explains that in this intervening Christian Century May 20, 2008

period, "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time when he gives us new hardware to run the soft ware again." That waiting area of paradise cannot be the end of the Christian story for at least two reasons. First, Jesus' bodily res urrection back in this world is the founda tion of Christian hope: "What God did for Jesus on the first Easter Day, he has promised to do for each one who is in Christ That is the biblical and historic Christian Christian expectation." Wright Wright thinks that t hat the empty tomb and Jesus' followers' experiences of meeting him are "as well established . . . as any any historical historical data could expect expect to b e . . . . They They are the only pos possi si ble explanation for the stories and beliefs that grew up so quickly among Jesus's fol lowers." True, they are not the sort of  experiences for which we can find analo gies in the rest of our experience; some facts about the world, like the evidence of  Jesus' resurrection, are of the sort that challenge us to remake our worldview in order to find new hope. We give up this grounding for our hope, however, if our hope is not in bodily resurrection. Second, Christians should not believe in the myth of progress—the world is not steadily getting better and will never approach perfection—nor is it true that only a few of us will be rescued from a world doomed to destruction, as many American fundamentalists believe. Rather, the world—the physical world— will be transformed and redeemed. What does that mean? The incomplete world we know will will be re-created re-c reated in differ differ ent space and matter, flooded with God's own life. Jesus will be present "as the cen ter and focus of the new world." And in that world our bodies will be resurrect ed—again in a transformed way, way, and not 36

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. By Ν. T. Wright. HarperOne, 352 352 pp., $24.95·

necessarily  including any of  the same mol ecules that now make up our bodies (after  all, we can preserve our identities even in this life through complete changes in the matter that we contain). These trans formed bodies will not be somehow ethe real but will be "more real, more solid" than the ones we have now.  Will  Will the world be too crowded to hold all the accumulated accumulated genera tions? Wright assures us that God can figure figure out a way  to solve such problems in any  event, but notes that half  the people who have ever  lived are now alive, as if to suggest that this future world might not need to be too different from the current one in order  to hold everybody. It will not be a  world in which we will will simply simply lounge around—"There will be work to do, and  we shall relish doing it." But first, when Christ returns, there will  be judgment. Wright sees no need for  for  pur gatory—death itself will free most of us from all that is sinful. He also does not expect eternal punishment of the most sinful, or their annihilation. annihilation. Rather, he thinks that some people so turn to evil that they  are "conniving at their own ultimate dehumanization." Some who were once human so destroy the image of  God within them that they cease to be human, and their  eternal fate will be to exist forever in the new creation in this less than human state. William C Flacker is professor  of  philosophy and 

religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana

Wright devotes the last third of his book  to arguing that his claims about the resurrection matter for the mission of the church today. If our hope rested in escap ing the material world, he explains, then there would be no ultimate value in trying to improve it. After all, it would all be des tined to destruction. But if we await a transformed world, then "every act of  love, gratitude, and kindness; every work  of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk... all of this will find its way, through the resur recting power of God, into the new cre ation that God will one day make." Wright therefore urges Christians who believe in the resurrection to work  for justice, beau ty and evangelism in the here and now. As to justice, interestingly enough, he identi fies Third World debt as the most impor tant moral issue of our time. As to beauty, perhaps the unexpected item on the list, he argues that "when people cease to be surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope," and he therefore insists that the aesthetic must be an important compo nent of the church's mission. I had great hopes for this book. We desperately need some reflection on what lies beyond death that falls some where between the Left Behind series and the often hopelessly vague thoughts of much theological liberalism, and Wright could have been the man to give it to us. Maybe I was hoping for too much, but I ended up disappointed. For one thing, Wright's work could have used more vigorous editing; the central points here could have been made in a book half  as long. Second, as with C. S. Lewis's apologetic works, I sometimes felt bullied. After an argu ment that seems a little fuzzy, Wright insists that it is "crystal clear" and that there is "no room for doubt" about the conclusion. Most of all, though, I was frustrated that Wright keeps wavering between the assertion of specific conclu sions and the acknowledgment that of  course everything about the future "is simply a set of  signposts pointing into a fog." The Puritans of  colonial New Haven were buried facing Jerusalem so they could see Jesus returning at the gen eral resurrection without having to turn

around. Sometimes Wright seems fairly close to them, sometimes far, far away. For example, sometimes Wright talks about the transformation of the whole cosmos into a different kind of space and matter. At other points he talks about the transformation of this world as a new home for our resurrected bodies, and he seems to mean that we will inhabit some thing like the terrestrial ball on which we now live. Which is it? Will Indiana still be Indiana, albeit (we may hope!) in a transformed condition? I do not know what Wright would say. Similarly, of  course, any description of the interim state in which we exist before the resur rection will be tentative, but Wright offers such radically different pictures of  that state—a garden where we rest up and our software existing on God's hard ware—that one wonders whether there would be a basis for rejecting any alter native. If  Wright says confidently that other people have the picture wrong, then he needs to give us a little more detail about the right picture.

Vi 

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Trinity Lutheran Seminary on th e Great Lakes 2008 A Jewish  - Christian  Dialogue:  Learning from  and  with Each Other  Great Lakes Theological Academy Traverse City, Michigan July 21 - 25, 2008 FACULTY PRESENTERS

Darrell Jodock, Drell and Adeline Bernhardson  Distinguished Professor of Religion, Gustavus  Adolphus College, St  Peter, MN  Rabbi Herbert N. Brockman, Senior  Rabbi, Congregation  Mishkan Israel, New  Haven, CT, and Lecturer, Yale  Divinity School 

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Furthermore, the main ethical con clusion that Wright draws strikes me as a non sequitur. The reality of history is that some good things do get lost. The severely handicapped child I teach to walk (to use Wright's example) may get run over by a truck, with my good deed forgotten. Why should I assume that my deed will find its way into God's new creation? The thought that all that we do is spiritually preserved in God's eternity seems at least as good a reason for hop ing that our good deeds will not go for naught. This book exhibits Wright's usual combination of great learning and friendly prose. Along the way he raises important questions and points in some interesting directions. I realize that any sensible account of what lies beyond this life can only offer, as Wright says, sign posts and not photographs. It is the wavering line between matters where Wright seems absolutely certain and matters where he lets everything remain unclear that leaves me frustrated.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist. By Mohsin Hamid. Harcourt, 192 pp., $22.00.

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n ambitious young man leaves the provinces, hoping to make his for tune in the city. He first is infatuated with the glittering world he finds there, then gradually becomes disillusioned by the anxiety and corruption beneath the bright surface. What moral choices will the young man make? What will he become if he remains in the city? This, one of the classic plots of 19th- and 20th-century European and American literature, becomes globalized in Mohsin Hamid's thriller. Changez, the reluctant fundamental ist of the title, is a Pakistani who comes to Princeton on a full scholarship and graduates summa cum laude. He lands a coveted job in New York, working for the prestigious valuation firm of  Underwood Samson. A natural at the  job, he seems destined to advance quick ly. His business card and his relationship with Erica, a wealthy and well-connected young woman, give him access to the highest levels of New York society, where he feels quite comfortable. After all, though his family is now poor, they were once rich, and they still retain a high social status in Lahore, the city of his birth. Economically and socially, Changez thinks, he's just regaining his rightful place. But his boss and mentor, Jim, has a habit of reminding him that he is an outsider. And he can't win Erica because she remains fixated on a boyfriend who has died. When he is on assignment in the Philippines, Changez turns on the TV and sees the 9/11 attacks. He is surprised by his reaction. "I stared as one—and then the other—of the twin towers of  New York's Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased," he recalls. This reaction, which he doesn't at first understand, is the turning point that gradually leads him to exchange one fun damentalism for another. He had been attending to the fundamentals of becom ing an upper-class American and ex

celling at a job that required subordinat ing all else to the fundamentals of  finance. Now he becomes a poorly paid professor in Pakistan, a man who claims to love America but leads student protests against American influence in the Middle East. In both roles he is a man on the margins, a man between two worlds—a reluctant fundamentalist. Changez is a Muslim, but religion plays no role in his change of allegiance. The America that welcomed him is devoted not to Christianity but to the secular religion of wealth and power. Though he grows the beard associated with Islamic fundamentalism, his con cerns remain secular. To Changez, America's great sin is hubris—a profound conviction of its superiority and of its right to control the rest of the world for its own advantage. But much of his own motivation comes from his pride in the past glory and power of Pakistani civilization. Changez comes to see that his acceptance into the world of high finance, the world of  global power, is a modern version of a ploy once practiced by the Ottoman Empire. He is like the janissaries, Christian boys captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in the Muslim army, who became complicit in the destruction of their own civi lizations. Hamid has attempted a difficult thing: to write a gripping thriller that is also a novel of ideas. To keep the tension high, he uses an unusual method of narration, the dramatic monologue. Changez tells his story to an unnamed American whom he has met in an old section of Lahore and invited to dinner. The American might be an assassin hired to kill him, or it may be that the American is the one being threatened. Hamid relies too much on heavyhanded symbolism as he packs his ideas into one evening's conversation. (The characters' names, for example, are charged with meaning: Erica, like post9/11 America, is lost in a dangerous nos talgia for a past with a man named Chris.) But the novel is a gripping read and a stimulus to thought.  Reviewed by Trudy Bush, a editor 

CENTURY 

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