Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Chapter 14)

In the last 2 chapters of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright is going to "reshape the church for mission," beginning in chapter 14 with the biblical roots of this mission.

Wright argues from the Gospels, Acts, and Paul that the message of the kingdom of God is "Jesus is Lord and Caesar [or, insert world ruler here] is not." Wright writes:

"The resurrection is not an isolated supernatural oddity proving how powerful, if apparently arbitrary, God can be when he wants to. Nor is it at all a way of showing that there is indeed a heaven waiting for us after death. It is the decisive event demonstrating that God's kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven." (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York: HarperOne, 2008], 234.)

The obvious objection to this is, "If Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, why does Caesar seem to have all of the power?" Wright answers:

"The difference between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God lies exactly in this, that the kingdom of God comes through the death and resurrection of his Son, not through naked displays of brute force or wealth." (245)

This leads one naturally to ask the question, what does Jesus's reign look like, if not brute force and wealth? Wright writes:

"The revolutionary new world, which began in the resurrection of Jesus--the world where Jesus reigns as Lord, having won the victory over sin and death--has its frontline outposts in those who in baptism have shared in his death and resurrection. The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings--you and me!--in our own lives of obedience here and now." (249)

Wright concludes:

"Heaven and earth, I repeat, are made for each other, and at certain points they intersect and interlock. Jesus is the ultimate such point. We as Christians are meant to be such points, derived from him. The Spirit, the sacraments, and the scriptures are given so that the double life of Jesus, both heavenly and earthly, can become ours as well, already in the present." (252)

I think Wright perfectly articulates what is going on in the church. God is renewing the world, and He is doing so by renewing individuals. I think Paul's language of the Holy Spirit being a "downpayment" of the world to come means that the Spirit's work in the community of faith is the world becoming "on earth as it is in heaven."

I started this blog to explore what effect "already/not yet" theology would have on Christian living and the mission of the church, and I think Wright has perfectly articulated a lot of this in Surprised by Hope.

What are some things that the church in America can do to make our communities "on earth as it is in heaven"?

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