on 26 March 2009
Great book - I love Tom Wright's academic writing style, historically and biblically accurate. Its a pleasure to read something that is so much more than the "fluff" that we are often dished up with regard to christian paperbacks. The topic is something that is dear to my heart in the present post modern culture and the book has given me a surprising amount of hope for the future.
on 6 January 2010
Tom Wright sets out to describe his whole world-view in this one book, and he does a good job. If one should sum up the book in one term, "new creation" would probably be very appropriate.
One of the book's weaknesses happens to be one of its strengths as well. You often get the impression that Wright could've written much more on a particular subject, but then he chooses to go on to something else. In this sense, the book deals with a lot of issues, but from a somewhat general perspective. Let it be said that Wright is a man of "the big picture".
I particularly like how he provides a balanced view on the old fight between "saving souls" and "making this world a better place". Wright recognizes that these two ideas are closely connected according to the New Testament. I was very intrigued by the idea that God actually sets out to save the world, not just the people in it. Yet, people are part of what's being saved, and they're part of his way of saving everything and everyone else.
I would encourage all ministers to familiarise themselves with Tom Wright (sometimes called N.T. Wright) and his theological approach to the New Testament. He really is one of the most knowledgable theologians of the 21st century.
Tom Wright has written a remarkable book which re-states the Christian message for the modern world. He has done this, not by deserting the main tenets of Christian belief, but by re-examination of the central principle of hope in Christian thought. His purpose is to bring the beliefs of the early Church to life again and show how those misrepresented beliefs can be applied to re-energise the surprise of the Christian hope, especially with the dying and the dispossessed. In sum his argument is that Christian hope is not a matter of going away from the world into heaven but of applying God's creation in today's world.
Wright argues that many Christians are confused about their own beliefs. He suggests that "a good deal of our current view of death and the life beyond has come from....impulses in the culture which have created at best semi-Christian informal traditions". These require "proper examination in the clear light of scripture". He points out that "the idea that every human possesses an immortal soul, which is the 'real' part of them, finds little support in the Bible." When used in the Bible the word 'soul' conveys the idea of the whole person, the personality, rather than "a disembodied entity hidden within the outer shell of the disposable body." In addition, Wright places the concept of life after death in the context of first century Judaism and beliefs existing in both Greece and Rome.
Anyone looking for the resurrection as myth will be disappointed. Wright has no doubt that the resurrection is historical fact which makes "the strange story of Easter" compelling. Referring to the different accounts of the resurrection Wright, citing the well known incident from 1946 involving Wittgenstein and Popper, writes, "surface discrepancies do not mean that nothing happened." He dismisses the claim that the gospels were written late in the first century and are derived from each other. He draws attention to the role of women, noting that in contemporary terms, they were regarded as unreliable witnesses unlikely to be cited on grounds of credibility. Similarly, the claim that Luke and John were written to combat docetism is undermined by the nature of the resurrection body. "Had the stories been invented towards the end of the first century, they would certainly have included a mention of the final resurrection of all God's people. They don't because they weren't"
Wright utilises a two pronged hypothesis against resurrection deniers. Firstly that Jesus' tomb was empty and secondly that his disciples did encounter him. He points out that Jesus was buried according to Jewish tradition which involved the later collection of the bones of the dead person which did not occur. In addition, the disciples were not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead. The tomb itself did not become a shrine and the disciples "were hardly likely to go out and suffer and die for a belief that wasn't firmly anchored in fact." He deals swiftly with those who deny the resurrection happened and gives short shrift to the idea of cognitive dissonance. In doing so he is offering "a historical challenge to other explanations and to the worldviews within which they gain their meaning." In particular, he challenges the claim that because the resurrection was not expected it did not occur. The alternative explanations for the empty tomb have failed and those which still circulate are based on the proposition that dead people don't rise. However, denial of the resurrection, which is based on the skepticism of the Enlightenment, is not a neutral thought, sociologically or politically. It is the expression of a worldview which deliberately excludes the possibility of the resurrection because it challenges the basis of that worldview. In the words of Polly Toynbee, "I don't believe. I don't want to believe."
Wright sets resurrection and life after death in the context of paganism and Judaism. Pagans denied the resurrection, some Jews affirmed it. The ancients were aware of what might loosely be called the spiritual world but that world did not incorporate resurrection which was "a virtual synonym for 'life after death'". Early Christians did not visualise Jesus has having gone to heaven and become divine but shared the Jewish belief that resurrection for all would occur at some future date. When Jesus was crucified the disciples thought their hope had been extinguished. The impact on their belief in resurrection mutated through a variety of forms before becoming associated with messiahship. Wright rejects revisionist claims that early Christians absorbed the idea of resurrection from their surrounding culture and used it to persuade themselves that Jesus had risen from the dead although they knew it wasn't true. Wright argues some Christians have departed from scriptural authority to convenient doctrines such as purgatory and universalism. He classifies these as forms of idolatry. He points out that those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (preferences, practice, histories) and treat others in the same way, while other objects of worship such as power and money show similar characteristics. The Christian purpose is the worship of God and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God.
Wright shows the idea of a non-material heaven and materialistic earth is a product of Greek philosophy. Since the Enlightenment materialism has been the dominant philosophy, sustained by the myth of progress. Its driving force came from the nineteenth century belief that scientific and economic advances, allied to democratic freedoms and wider education, would result in earthly perfection, as predicted by Owen, Marx and others convinced they could change human nature. Darwinism provided justification for empire. However, the myth of progress cannot explain the existence of evil. "If you move away from materialistic optimism ....without embracing Judaism or Christianity, you are quite likely to land up with some kind of gnosticism" and the conspiracy theories of The Da Vinci Code. There is much more in this splendid book which should be read by all Christians looking to renew their faith. Five stars.
on 17 June 2009
This book was bought for me by my spiritual director after the death of my mother. I thought it particularly well written, excellent in contenmt and in challenge. It has done me a great deal of good, and I'm grateful to the author for the strength it has put into me.
I've quoted (and credited) it often.
One particularly helpful insight was regarding the restoration of Peter after Christ's resurrection, and the depth of recognition revealed in the question 'do you love me'.
I'm sure if Tom had written as NT I wouldn't have grasped it properly and guess that in simplifying the material he's opened himself to some criticism from academics.
on 27 March 2013
Tom explains clearly and readably the so-called "New Perspective" on the Christian faith. He reminds readers that the core of the faith is not to be found in misleading hymns and liturgies but in the bible. Tom claims that over recent years Christians have retreated from the challenges of 'God's Kingdom on earth'. Instead they have increasingly concentrated on the comforting but unbiblical idea of 'going to Paradise in heaven when we die and living there forever'. In this challenging and ultimately inpiring book Tom explores in a knowledgeable way the Old Testament foundations of Christianity and the messiahship of Jesus, giving a continuity to the idea of covenant, especially the covenant given to Abraham of blessing the world through his offspring. The closing chapters are a huge and encouraging challenge to Christians to put the idea of 'Kingdom of God on earth' to the test and show this world the Lordship of Christ over the whole world.
Some may find parts of this book disturbing of long-held beliefs, but should not be put off reading to his conclusions.
on 18 October 2011
It would not be unfair to describe this as a `lite' version of the The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (RSG), which Wright published a few years earlier. There was also some additional material included, where he built upon the conclusions reached at the end of RSG. The book is certainly aimed at a wider audience than RSG as Wright tries as hard as possible to say away from technical terminology. As usual, though, his writing style is brilliant, clear and easy to follow. He picks his analogies carefully, and always maintains a pace to keep the reader interested.
His basic thesis is as follows: many christians have muddled beliefs about death, resurrection and the afterlife. This then leads on to a confused idea of how the ideas of life after death relate to ideas of life before death. The book outlines some of the current ideas about these topics and Wright contrasts these with the beliefs of the early church, or what we might consider to be "authentic" christian belief. He demonstrates how some ideas that are commonly assumed to be christian are in fact adopted or adapted from alternative sources.
Having set out his stall with the historic evidence for the resurrection, what the ascension meant and what the earliest christian hope was for "life after life after death" he then moves on to the idea of salvation. The two key questions posed, which I think we all ought to answer, are:
1) What are we saved from?
2) What are we saved for?
Wright's particular answer is framed in terms of creation and new creation. Many christians have been used to the idea that salvation is about the restoration of a broken relationship with God. Wright calls this into question and claims such a worldview has missed the point. Personal salvation is a secondary matter to the restoration of creation.
Following on from this, the final section of the book looks at how this all affects the look of the church. Here, Wright does not shy away from politics. He has criticisms of both the right and left wings of the political spectrum. Probably the most insightful area of this section is when he talks about the "massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt."
The conclusions of the last couple of chapters are not always that insightful or strong. Here, Wright does betray an Anglican bias, particularly with his advocacy of liturgy and other such religious rituals. Other than that, it is an insightful and thought-provoking read; well-written with a razor sharp wit and a well-researched basis.
on 21 June 2010
Bishop Tom Wright is the UK's leading New Testament scholar and much more. Bishop Tom writes in a very accessible way and is not afraid to explain the New Testament on its own terms. For me, the
most significant part of the book is contained in the words, 'Heaven is not the end of the world!'. His concern is to rediscover that 'Life after death' is not just about going to heaven when you die. The New Testament is primarily concerned with 'Life after 'life after death'). There are other important issues and if you're concerned with what the New Testament really has to say about 'life after death', the resurrection of Jesus, new creation - for starters,then it's worth much more than it costs to buy.
on 30 August 2008
In many ways this book acts as a popular level summary of Wright's recent thinking, and that is both its strength and ultimately also its weakness. The book's big idea is that Jesus' bodily resurrection is not a one off event but rather the forerunner of the general resurrection, and that this is the key which makes sense of a great deal of new testament thinking, in the gospels and the letters and in Revelation. He contends that the loss of belief in the bodily resurrection being replaced by an idea of a non-corporeal heaven has resulted not only in a loss of appropriate hope for christians but also has wider consequences for theology and for how christians live their lives. These are important ideas, clearly expressed and forcefully argued. The book's weaknesses stem from Wright's rather dismissive tone for anyone who does not agree, from their origin as lectures rather than being written as a book and from the constant refrain 'this is a topic that there is not space to explore here'. At 300 pages this is not a short book, but rather perhaps one that attempts to cover too much ground in the space available.
on 17 August 2011
This book examines Christian hope for the future. The former Bishop of Durham robustly defends the bodily resurrection and from it works out a useful and useable theology. He emphasizes 'life after life after death', a new heavens and earth to which Jesus returns, and helpfully criticizes the fuzzy and low-res views of heaven and hell that most of us Christians default to. A renewed Universe in actual bodies is our future, and there's continuity with the present earth as well discontinuity with it. This has consequences for how we live now: nothing we do here is wasted. In justice, in beauty, in evangelism, in everything, we can build for the coming Kingdom.
This is a remarkable, radical, and eye-opening restatement of Christian hope, post-modern in the sense of criticizing modernism, and it makes me go back to the Bible to find out if what he is saying is true. Mostly I found him persuasive, and his fresh statement has many consequences. A simple gospel is one: A new Lord, Christ, has been installed in the world. His new rule is already among us. You can join in or not. What are you going to do?
As well as inaugurating a new creation, Wright claims the resurrection inaugurates a new way of knowing. Thomas starts by asking 'show me the evidence' but after encountering the risen Christ says 'My lord and my God'. Wright calls this 'an epistomology of love': science and history can get us a long way, but the resurrection breaks out of these categories of knowing and demands a new one. It's heady stuff, to my mind building upon the work of Leslie Newbiggin. Taken to heart, I can see it revitalizing the Christian message.
The downsides of this book?
The editors at SPCK appear to have gone AWOL and could have usefully been employed crossing out unnecessary sub-clauses, querying the odd tone of intellectual arrogance, and delousing the MS of tics like 'This won't do' and 'No, it's not' which grate when repeated as often as they are. It's a shame: Wright is brilliant, original, relevant and groundbreaking; he has written 50 books; but no-one has the editorial cojones to tell him he could write a lot better than he does. The more excited he gets, the more he over-writes and the worse it is to read.
But it's still worth it.
A smaller niggle is, unusually for such a carefully researched book, Wright makes the unverifiable statement that half of the human race is alive today. There is a lively debate about how many people have ever lived, and the estimates I see guess around 100 billion; so only 7% of the total population are alive today. In any case the book would be better without unthought-out asides like this.
Still. This is a landmark book that I think will change the way I think and act. Praise God for it.
So you die and you go straight to heaven without passing Go or collecting £200. Or perhaps you're dead for a bit and then go to heaven; unless of course you're not dead at the time, in which case you go straight to heaven without ... Or you become part of some great ethereal cloud of ...
Well, actually, no, says Tom Wright. These kinds of ideas are widely held either by Christians or by the spiritual-but-not religious society in which Western Christians find themselves. And, he argues, it's not just a matter of unconsciously absorbing the life views (or, rather, the after-life views) of alternative spiritualities: similar ideas are reflected in many of our best known hymns, carols and even liturgy.
The best thing to do in these circumstances, as one of my teachers used to say, is to go back to first principles. In this case, not unreasonably, Dr Wright returns to the New Testament and what Jesus actually did and didn't say about heaven, earth, the resurrection of the dead etc. He then takes the evidence and invites the reader to think through what it meant at the time and what it means for us today.
The book takes a little while to get going: there were probably a few too many illustrations of his initial point about the variety of beliefs that people hold about the nature of life after death (or, as he prefers, life after life), but once it does, it's challenging and thought provoking.
Does it actually make any difference, though? At the end of the day (or the end of time), surely it's what happens that matters, rather than what we think happens? Well, yes: it probably does. Partly, of course, there is the fundamental desirability of searching for the truth. More tangibly, if you've abandoned the stewardship of creation in favour of trashing the planet because you're going to heaven pretty soon, you may be faced with some awkward questions.