Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Surprised by Hope [Book by N.T. Wright]

I recently finished reading Surprised by Hope, written by a CoE Bishop, N.T. Wright, which happens to be a charactonym because he writes about the NT.



I would first like to say that I highly recommend this book to every Christian, for the importance of the message found in the first 75 pages is absolutely critical and under-appreciated. Wright is willing to take on the traditional [and quite non-Biblical] bromides Christians tend to throw about regarding life after death, and in doing so he shows emphatically how and why the resurrection of Christ was so important to the Christian church.

I've written before that the apostles were clearly far more focused on the resurrection than they were on certain other teachings that dominate today's church. Wright explains clearly why this is, and in doing so explains what "Christian Hope" and, by my reading,"Christ Crucified" really mean.

For those points, as well as the general temerity to say things at odds (just a smidge) with Orthodoxy, NT Wright is to be praised, and this book recommended.

I do have some particular nitpicks and less positive comments that I hope are taken in the spirit of the above.

Bishop Wright suggests that when Jesus referred in parables to a master returning to see how his goods were used, He was referring to Christ's own 1st Century coming. While this may be true, it's hard to see Jesus' thief-in-the-night or vestal virgins parables in this light (especially given how late in His ministry they were given). It is also hard to see the parables of the Minas/Talents in this way (which are the parables Wright specifically references) unless they were meant as a type of post mortem "here were the possible ways you could have responded, and we know which one you picked, and now it should not surprise you that your grace will be removed" decree. Furtherore, it is hard to see what the "middle" level person (the one who earned 5 talents, etc.) represents in that case.

Bishop Wrght also gives the impression that Paul might not have held very firmly to a resurrection of both the just and unjust, saying that he only indicates that view one time [in 1st Corinthians]. That is an odd statement to make since Paul most definitely indicates a resurrection of both the righteous and unrighteous in his testimony in Acts.

Bishop Wright casts Jesus language regarding Hell in a present-day, political sense. He claims that Jesus was warning the Jews that if they continued acting in the way they were acting, it would lead to Roman invasion and destruction. This is a remarkable statement given that Jesus says things like Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Wright suggests an odd version of eternal "punishment" whereby those who do not "make it" simply devolve into non-human creatures who no longer bear the likeness of God. These creatures [given the deformed nature of their spirit] would no longer even be interested or desirous of God's presence, which does not mesh very well with the frustration and gnashing of teeth we see described by Jesus. Wright openly admits that this novel belief comes from his own repulsion at the idea of eternal torture, rather than in any particular Biblical evidence.

4 comments:

Extrovert said...

God's nature is to love.
We now have the choice to love that which God loves.
There will be a time when we will no longer be able to choose (end of life/end of the age.
For those that love what God loves eternity will be paradise. For those who do not love what God loves: I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend eternity with someone that you cannot stand or are at odds with.
God's love is a blessing for the saint or a scourge for those against God. But for eternity the love is the same. God does not send people away somewhere to be tortured, God simply reveals himself in a way that we cannot escape: paradise or hell depends on our response to God this side of eternity.

Anonymous said...

Wright suggests an odd version of eternal "punishment" whereby those who do not "make it" simply devolve into non-human creatures who no longer bear the likeness of God. These creatures [given the deformed nature of their spirit] would no longer even be interested or desirous of God's presence, which does not mesh very well with the frustration and gnashing of teeth we see described by Jesus.

Annihilationism is clearly superior to that fiction of his.

qraal said...

If Heaven is where the Law of Love is followed perfectly, and Hell is where it isn't, wouldn't an eternity without love be torment enough?

A mental picture of Heaven and Hell a Pastor once told me was of a great feast, but everyone was constrained to use long spoons that couldn't be used to feed one's self. In Hell no one ate because they were too busy struggling and wrestling trying to get the spoon into their own mouths. In Heaven everyone was satisfied because the person next to them could feed them and did so.

Eternal life or eternal death is experienced in the here-and-now whenever we love others or we hate them, and act accordingly. But this world is mixed and confused - we know both good and evil. What a predicament!

qraal said...

Interesting version of Matthew 24:41 from the Shem Tov Hebrew version...

Two women will be grinding at a mill; one will be taken and the other left. This is because the angels at the end of the world will remove the stumbling blocks from the world and will separate the good from the evil.

...a different take on "the Rapture".