Staff Picks: Surprised by Hope

January 26, 2017
Note: Throughout this series one of our staff members will be giving you a recommendation and/or a brief review from the world of music, movies, TV or literature. Hopefully this will serve as a way to see inside the head of our staff members and direct you towards some listening, viewing or reading material for your own personal growth and enjoyment. Today’s post is from our youth pastor, Dave Hallahan, on a book he read recently.

Book: Surprised by Hope
Author: N.T. Wright

This was another one that was on my “To Read” list for awhile. I had never read anything from N.T. Wright but had seen him referenced by many people I had come to respect. I bought the book on a whim, as I tend to do with quite a few books, and it sat on my bookcase for awhile. Then a pastor-friend posted on Facebook that it was $1.99 on Amazon Kindle and if you had never read it, you were now without excuse. Seeing as how I already purchased it, I figured I was especially without excuse. So I took it on, having no idea what it was about.

Thankfully, Wright didn’t make me wait too long to understand what I was about to read. The preface begins, “What are we waiting for? And what are we going to do about it in the meantime? These two questions shape this book.” So that’s what this book is about. It is about our ultimate hope as Christians and how that ultimate hope should be shaping our lives in this present world.

Wright spends much of the book deconstructing a popularly held belief. Namely, that Christianity is mainly waiting to die and go to heaven. Heading into the book, I would have told you that I was very aware that our main hope should not be found in simply dying and going to heaven, that there is much more to Christianity than escaping this present world. I knew those things. And many of you probably do too. But practically speaking, how are we living? Are we living like we are a part of bringing about a new creation? Or passively waiting for the old creation to be done away with? As Wright progressed, I realized how different my beliefs about both heaven and hell were from those of the early church and even the disciples themselves.

Either implicitly or explicitly, Christians can easily fall into the trap of hoping for God to do away with this world and all it contains, including our physical bodies. Instead, I believe, that God’s plan, ever since Genesis 3, has been to redeem that which was originally good. This includes the earth and our physical bodies. We will not spend eternity as disembodied spirits in some far off place, but instead our eternity will be spent in resurrection bodies in a New Jerusalem that is here on New Earth. That is heaven.

And this new creation is something that we are all to be a part of bringing about and in fact we can begin doing that even now. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” This is significant. Not just because of what it says, but because of where Paul says it. 1 Corinthians 15 is the most comprehensive writing on resurrection in all of scripture. While we may understand what Paul is saying, it is not, in practicality, what we would expect him to say or how we live in light of our future hope. As Wright points out, we may expect Paul to say something like, “Therefore, since you have such a great hope, sit back and relax because you know God’s got a great future in store for you.” But no. The encouragement is to keep on working, because God isn’t going to destroy and start over. Instead he’s going to redeem and indeed has already begun redeeming all that he once called good. Or to put it in Wright’s words, “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are – strange though as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.”

As my pastor-friend told me, I will tell you. It’s a note taking, highlighter using, affect the way you think and live sort of book! And a fair word of warning…it’s long. So plan to take it nice and easy. But with over 2.5 months until Easter this could be a good primer for celebrating the resurrection!