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4.4 out of 5 stars
Surprised by Hope
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2014
I've read all of Tom Wright's "For Everyone" series and I enjoyed most of them , so I decided to buy this book in order to better understand Wright's theological worldview . Having read "Surprised by Hope" I now appreciate it better , but find myself at odds with the author in many important ways. Wright firmly puts the resurrection of dead Christians into new "glorified" bodies at the heart of his theology. He doesn't seem to think that "going to heaven when you die" and living an eternal ,disembodied existence is biblical or likely, but talks at length about God's "renewal" of creation and ,in fact , the entire cosmos, in which dead Christians are resurrected to live immortal lives in new, "superhuman" bodies. He thinks that the world is essentially good at present and that ,in some way, it is evolving towards this future utopia with Jesus at the helm. My world view is at odds with this. Wright would probably call me a Platonist and a dualist - a gnostic - and perhaps he is right. My view is that the world is utterly corrupt and evil and that the so called "great and the good" of human society ,like the author himself, are corrupt elitists aiming to bring about an authoritarian world government in which dissent isn't tolerated. I believe that the Devil in fact controls the world , not Jesus, and the New Testament backs me up on this. Christians are warned not to be friends with the world and that the whole world is under the control of the Evil One. I believe in an immaterial heaven to which Christian souls go when they die and a hell to which non believers are condemned. With regards to Wright's rather vague talk about a "new heavens and a new Earth" and God's "renewal" of creation, I believe that God will ultimately resurrect all of the dead Christians and put them on a new , Earth like planet , perhaps elsewhere in the galaxy , to start again, free of corruption,decay and evil. Wright's theology doesn't take adequate account of the thoroughly vile nature of much of humanity with their abortions, homosexuality, greed,violence , arrogance ,deception etc. and the fact that this type of behaviour is organised in the supernatural realm by the immaterial legions of Satan himself. The leadership of humanity is under the control of the Devil, not Jesus,as Wright naively appears to believe. I can just about accept the Biblical account of creation and intellectually fit it in with the fact that Earth was created by an accumulation of stardust from primeval supernova explosions and that life evolved up to a point where God decided to infuse cavemen and hunter gathers with immortal souls. But "renewing" the entire cosmos ? All those billions of stars and galaxies and probably myriad types of alien life ? No, God will let the Earth's Christian dead join him in paradise (like the penitent thief) until he resurrects them in new bodies on a new planet in a different solar system. Earth is to be written off as a bad job - perhaps when God finally and understandably abandons the planet , it could become Hell ? I doubt Wright will agree with me however.
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on 4 May 2009
Wright had written an excellent text to show the Christian hope is not heaven after death but resurrection. Salvation is for the body, not disembodied souls. We do not look to heaven but to a new creation at the return of Christ, a new heaves and earth. Wright works out the practical implications now. He certainly makes one look afresh at our hymnody where the focus is too often on heaven not resurrection.
However, at three points I would depart from Wright. First, he says that once you establish there is no purgatory there is nothing wrong in prayers for the dead. I do not see to one end one can in any way pray for any alteration in the state of the dead. Second, Wright has a less than biblical understanding of hell and eternal punishment. He sees the lost merely as in someway dehumanised by losing the divine image. I think this is mere non-biblical speculation . Finally I cannot for the life of me understand why he thinks that third world debt is as big a modern scandal as slavery was 200 years ago.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 25 July 2012
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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 9 February 2009
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.
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on 12 June 2016
I am full of praise for this book which, in a readable style, tells us what the Bible says about God's plan to rescue the whole Cosmos, and what part humans will play in the renewal of all creation.

When God made the universe he saw that it was good. Unfortunately, that 'good' did not last long. But God is into recycling & he will make all things new. This is an exciting prospect in itself, but also exciting is the thought that we ourselves can be involved, now, in helping to bring about God's kingdom on Earth. Jesus started the process and it is part of the mission of the church to continue Jesus's work.

I read this book in small episodes as there was so much to take in. But after each spell of reading I was so enthused that I just wanted to say 'Thank you, God for your wonderful love and plan for your whole creation'.
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on 18 April 2015
I had high hopes of this book as It was recommended at a Lent Breakfast. I did not live up to the enthusiastic recommendation. But this may be that it is not aimed at people like me. I found it difficult to follow and the arguments did not seem to me to be logical. There is NO independent evidence given for the belief in the after-life. It is assumed. People have to make up their own minds about this doctrine & it certainly did not convince me that such a belief was reasonable and provable. Also there were very many theological words used., and so many "an easy read"
Thus if you are a Christian who believes in the after-life and have an unquesti0ning faith, this is the book for you.
It is written by a former Anglican bishop and now a university professor, & so from that stand-point, it is explainable . Others may find it helpful & be "surprised by hope"
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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.
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on 17 June 2014
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