Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Surprised by Hope

Last year I read Randy Alcorn's Heaven, which is similar to this book insofar it offers a Biblical corrective to the widespread misconceptions (even among Christians) about the Christian hope. However, Wright's volume does a lot more in less space, and I found it to be superior to Alcorn in almost every way. It's almost an unfair comparison.

The argument is that the Christian hope, everywhere in the New Testament, is not for a disembodied afterlife (mainly) but for physical resurrection on a renewed Earth. Where Alcorn merely makes the case and then indulges in a lot of speculations, Wright does a couple of other things. One thing he does, before even getting to the main argument of the book, is to rehearse the historical argument for Jesus' resurrection. I found this to be helpful both in establishing the theological and historical seriousness of the book (over against the potential for fantastical speculation that can ruin works of eschatology), and also to remind us that the doctrine of the resurrection is absolutely central to Christian belief.

The middle part of the book develops Wright's exegesis of hope in the New Testament. His emphasis on the Ascension was one of the highlights for me. Interestingly, he follows Lewis on the question of how the damned are beyond pity, rejecting the universalist and annihilationist options and suggesting that perhaps their humanity is diminished and they no longer bear the imago Dei.

In the last part of the book Wright argues that this theology of hope should reorient our mission in the world. Overall I liked this section quite a lot, although I suspect this will depend on how much readers agree with him. (I seem to share his political leanings, which helps.) I appreciated his emphasis on social justice and artistic contribution. The section on evangelism was intriguing, but I thought it was really too short and too vague considering amount of NT material he could work with. But, then, this isn't the main argument of the book.

A number of times Wright's historical-critical approach suckered me into thinking he was about to take a liberal, heterodox view on some issue. But he always landed on his feet. I think ultimately this kept me more engaged in the book, and also built confidence in Wright as an apologist. He's almost like the theological counterpart to Chesterton's Innocent Smith, circumscribing the globe to make his way home.

Overall, this book left me wanting to read more of Wright, and even to reread this book at some point in the future. Recommended.

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