Review of Surprised by Hope
I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got around to reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. This book will, without a doubt, be on my “top 10 books read in 2012” list. This is a much needed and biblical paradigm-shifter for 21st century Christians.
Wright argues in this book for a resurgence in “Easter theology.” He proposes that the resurrection is a vital and central part of Christianity. Resurrection was the theme of early Christians and the writers of Scripture, but it has obviously been lost in the Church. The Church celebrates Easter for a day, while Christmas is celebrated for weeks and weeks. This emphasis isn’t found in the Bible. The Bible discusses the birth of Jesus far, far less than it does His resurrection and the implications of the resurrection.
In my opinion, the best part of this book is Wright’s application of this theology to the life of the local church. Understanding that this world is moving towards renewal rather than destruction changes the way we live in the now. Understanding that eternity means a renewed heaven on Earth changes the way we live presently on this Earth. A biblical understanding of our future demands rethinking our present.
In particular, Wright argues that a right understanding of the past resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection will produce three all-encompassing things in Christians:
- A fervent fight for justice: “People who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.” (214)
- A heightened appreciation for beauty: “I believe that taking creation and new creation seriously is the way to understand and revitalize aesthetic awareness and perhaps even creativity among Christians today.” (222)
- A drive for evangelism: “If we are engaging in the work of new creation, in seeking to bring advance signs of God’s eventual new world into being in the present… then at the center of the picture stands the personal call of the gospel of Jesus to every child, woman, and man.” (225)
WHAT I LIKED
I was familiar with Wright’s overarching premise prior to reading this book. Being immersed in the “missional” movement, I’ve been exposed to Wright’s very biblical ideas of the new creation and its implications for our personal and corporate lives. Because I work in the urban renewal world, I’m also very familiar and very fond of Wright’s (again, very biblical) “build the kingdom” mentality. I pray that there is a resurgence in this biblical understanding of the resurrection and our future hope as Christians. Reading this book led me to great joy at the wide scope of God’s redemption in Christ Jesus.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
I have to admit that I read this book with my historical Reformed theological lenses on. Therefore, my main problem with Wright’s Surprised by Hope is that his definition of the gospel is too narrow.
Wright defines the gospel as “the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord” (227). This is definitely true! But Wright makes no mention of substitutionary atonement or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. There cannot be restoration without substitution. Sinners cannot be reconciled to a holy God without the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Wright’s definition of the gospel in Surprised by Hope is definitely true, but too narrow.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I really look forward to reading more of N.T. Wright’s work.