N. T. Wright, renowned New Testament scholar and Christian theologian,
is challenging Christians around the world to think deeply about the Bible. Wright is not your typical heavy dude locked away in some academic classroom, but is, in addition to his many duties as an Anglican pastor and church leader, constantly preaching and lecturing around the world. Very recently, he lectured before the national meeting of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Many of his lectures and sermons end up being published as best-selling books.
Rethinking our destiny.
One area where Wright has challenged conventional thinking is in the matter of what happens to humans after death. He would have us look more closely at the actual teaching of Scripture, and not simply rely upon traditional impressions we might have of heaven and hell.
Overcoming stale thinking.
For example, Wright explains that many of our images of hell are drawn from long-standing popular writings and paintings from the past or from overly literal interpretations of the biblical text. These impressions are deeply ingrained in the Christian imagination. The same is true of the subjects of heaven and purgatory. What Christians need is a fresh start with Scripture, one that takes the subjects seriously, but managed with carefully interpreted study. Many of us are convinced that Wright is an excellent guide through the Bible on such matters. His massive book (600+ pages) on the Resurrection of the Son of God is already a classic Christian text that is bound to be the standard for a long time.
Surprised by Hope.
However, one need not worry or feel guilty if such reading seems too time-consuming and difficult. Wright is an excellent communicator who can break things down so that almost anyone can understand. He has written small articles and manageable popular books that are widely appreciated. One book that has really made an impact is entitled Surpised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne, 2008). In this book, Wright is not only keen to explain the nature of our future in God's new world, but also to show how absolutely meaningful that is to our present mission and work as Christians. If God is going to redeem our world and make all things new, then we should be living, praying, witnessing, and laboring for a new world in the present. The present and the future are vitally joined together by the Spirit and the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Our works do matter and they matter in ways that are bound to surprise and excite us. Read this book and most likely you will never think the same about the future of our world and what you should be doing with your world.
Resurrected into God's new world.
Central to Wright's thinking is what is also central in the New Testament: the resurrection of Jesus physically from the dead. But Jesus is raised as the beginning of a new creation. His body is both the same and yet different. It is still physical as before, but with new resources and possibilities. It is the model and prototype of the same kind of resurrection in which we too shall participate. That body will be our new 'home' in the newly transformed world of the future. Floating around on clouds and singing choruses forever and ever doesn't quite cut it. That is an example of poorly reading symbolic texts and walking all over texts that are often crushed beneath our exegetical feet. Mankind was created to be stewards of the earth and in those great texts that speak to those issues, he/she will be fully restored to his rightful vocation.
And what about heaven and hell? What happened to those cherished ideas? Didn't Jesus speak over and over about hell? Didn't he issue stern warnings about what was going to happen to people who don't accept him as their personal Savior? Well those are important questions as well and Wright does a bang-up job of working through them one by one. And though, he is only scratching the surface, here are a series of video interviews that you can watch where he gives brief answers. Each video is only a minute to three minutes long.