Surprised by Hope, written by the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, is a superb analysis of the New Testament doctrine of the Christian hope. Not only does Wright discuss the biblical analysis of the future hope but also discusses how this hope should shape Christian thinking and conduct in the here and now. Few analyses of the future are as fresh, invigorating, and stimulating as Wright's book.
Wright hammers again and again at the Gnostic tendency in modern Christendom which identifies heaven as our final dwelling. As a junior high school teacher, I often found it humorous and humbling while teaching early church history to query my students on various points of Christian doctrine. One of the issues most misunderstood was the resurrection of the body. Our churches simply are not teaching it! Whenever I would endeavor to convince the students that heaven is not our final destination, that in point of fact these bodies would be raised from the dead, one would think I was from the moon. Our children are simply not getting the message - and if our children are not getting the message it means that we are not teaching it.
As Wright argues so forcefully in this book, the New Testament has far less to say about life after death than about life after life after death. While acknowledging the blessedness of those who die in the Lord, the New Testament is much more concerned with the consummation of all things when our bodies shall be raised and we shall be transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - not only in terms of our character but also in our bodies. These bodies will be raised immortal.
Further, Wright does a phenomenal job discussing the new heavens and the new earth. He insists that in Christ the power of the age to come, the power of the renewed creation, is present in the here and now. Through the Spirit, the resurrection life of Christ is alive in the Church. And so we are called as the people of God to live in light of what God has promised ultimately to do. We are to live in light of the promises of God to renew all things.
This entails both moral reformation and societal transformation. While I have problems with some of Wright's analyses of how this societal transformation should flesh itself out, his insistence that the coming of the Kingdom of God produces a certain type of culture is a much needed corrective to the shallowness of Christian thinking on these matters. When Isaiah envisions the work of the Servant of God, he talks about the culture that the Kingdom of God creates (cf. Is 61). These are the types of things that Jesus is in the business of doing through His people.
While avoiding traditional millennial terminology, Wright's book is very earthy and postmillennial. It does a great job emphasizing the meaning and implication of the Lord's Prayer. If we really do pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", then we need to expect that God will answer! We are praying for the growth of the Kingdom of God and the expanding impact of the will of God on earth. And these are the things which we as the people of God are to exhibit and incarnate.
Read and enjoy!