Have I expounded on the greatness of N.T. Wright on this blog before? If not, let me say it. N.T. Wright is great. I loved chapter 12 of Surprised by Hope.
Part I of Surprised by Hope (chapters 1–4) addresses misconceptions about heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church. In Part II (chapters 4–11), Wright outlines his view of what is going on in history as it relates to the resurrection. In Part III (chapters 12–15), he is going to talk about how this affects the mission of the church. Chapter 12 is about salvation and the kingdom of God.
Wright introduces Part III of Surprised by Hope with a quote by John Dominic Crossan, which he calls the "moral objection" to the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Write paraphrases Crossan:
"Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, so what? Very nice for him, but what's that got to do with anything else? Why should he be so heavily favored? If God can pull off a stunt like that, why can't he intervene and do a lot more useful things like stopping genocide or earthquakes?" (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York: HarperOne, 2008], 189. http://www.amazon.com/Surprised-Hope-Rethinking-Resurrection-Mission/dp/0061551821/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211910062&sr=8-1. Wright cites Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006].)
Crossan's critique is legitimate and demands an answer. Fortunately, Wright has one, "Precisely because the resurrection has happened an an event within our own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and now." (191) Setting the world to right is not an extra thing to be tacked on to the end of the Gospel, it is integral to the Gospel itself.
Wright shows how a faulty view of resurrection contributes to a faulty mission of the church. He writes, "As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future." (197) Fleshing out the slogan of Christian Aid, Wright says, "Life before death is what is threatened, called into question, by the idea that salvation is merely life after death." (197)
In contrast to the Gospel being merely about life after death, Wright sees it as encompassing the redemption of all of creation. He writes:
"[The story of the gospels] isn't just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion. Nor is it just a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction. It is something much bigger than the sum of those two diminished perspectives. It is the story of God's kingdom being launched on earth as it is in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus' followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happen on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers. To put it another way, if you want to help inaugurate God's kingdom, you must follow the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus' saving death, you must become a part of his kingdom project." (204–205.)
I have been throwing this idea around in my head for the last couple of months, and it is refreshing to see N.T. Wright flesh it out in such an eloquent way. We typically think of the Gospel in terms of preaching the message of subsitutionary atonement so that people might make a confession and then be "saved." Should we rather think of the confession of Christ as the beginning of salvation? Salvation is about the "making right of the world," and the clean-up process begins in an individual with professing faith in Christ. Thoughts?