Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Three

1.  Wright begins with the famous encounter between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper.  Various accounts emerged describing the details of their encounter.  How does this event and the subsequent recollections of it allow us to better grasp the complexities of piecing together the actual events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection?

2.  As Wright puts it, “What should we believe about Jesus’s resurrection, and why?”  How do you respond?
3.  Next, Wright provides a masterful description of the historical context of Jewish theology as it pertains to their belief in resurrection.  What was unique about it at the time?  How did it differ from other comparative beliefs of that broader culture?

4.  “In terms of the discussion in the previous chapter, the early Christians hold firmly to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. There is nothing remotely like this in paganism. This belief is as Jewish as you can get. But within this Jewish belief, early Christians made seven modifications…” This is highly significant because what people believe about life beyond death tends to be very conservative. Faced with bereavement, people lurch back to the safety of what they heard or learned before. But the early Christians all articulate a belief that is in these seven ways quite new, and the historian has to ask, why?   Here’s a summary of each for review & discussion:

1. The first of these modifications is that within early Christianity there is virtually no spectrum of belief about life beyond death.

2. In second-Temple Judaism, resurrection is important but not that important. But in early Christianity resurrection moved from the circumference to the center. You can’t imagine Paul’s thought without it.
These first two mutations have to do with the new position that resurrection assumed within early Christianity, as opposed to the place it held within its native

3.In Judaism it is almost always left quite vague as to what sort of a body the resurrected will possess. But from the start within early Christianity it was built in as part of the belief in resurrection that the new body, though it will certainly be a body in the sense of a physical object occupying space and time, will be a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, will have new properties. There has been a dramatic sharpening up of what resurrection itself actually entailed.

4. The fourth surprising mutation evidenced by the early Christian resurrection belief is that the resurrection, as an event, has split into two. Resurrection, we must never cease to remind ourselves, did not mean going to heaven or escaping death or having a glorious and noble postmortem existence but rather coming to bodily life again after bodily death.

5. Because the early Christians believed that resurrection had begun with Jesus and would be
 completed in the great final resurrection on the last day, they believed that God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.

6. The sixth remarkable mutation within the Jewish belief is the quite different metaphorical use of resurrection. This, then, is the sixth modification of the Jewish belief: resurrection, while still being embraced as literal language about a future embodied existence, has shed its powerful earlier meaning as a metaphor for the renewal of ethnic Israel and has acquired a new one, about the renewal of human beings in general.

7. The seventh and last mutation of the Jewish resurrection belief was its association with messiahship. Nobody in Judaism had expected the Messiah to die, and therefore naturally nobody had imagined the Messiah rising from the dead. This leads to a remarkable modification not just of resurrection belief but of messianic belief itself.

“Why did the early Christians modify the Jewish resurrection language in these seven ways, and do it with such consistency?”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Two

1.  Wright begins with his assertion that Christians are confused about hope.  “The classic Christian position is stated in the early creeds, themselves dependent on the New Testament in ways we shall explore later in the book. In my church, we declare every day and every week that we believe in “the resurrection of the body.” But do we?”

How about us Lutherans?

2.  “‘God’s kingdom’ in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ The roots of the misunderstanding go very deep, not least into the residual Platonism that has infected whole swaths of Christian thinking and has misled people into supposing that Christians are meant to devalue this present world and our present bodies & regard them as shabby or shameful.”

Why is this wrong?
3.  “Likewise, the pictures of heaven in the book of Revelation have been much misunderstood. The wonderful description in Revelation 4 and 5 of the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and the lamb, beside the sea of glass, is not, despite one of Charles Wesley’s great hymns, a picture of the last day, with all the redeemed in heaven at last. It is a picture of present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present life. Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21–22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven, but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.”  

Why is this distinction so crucial to our faith?

4.  “Most Christians today, I fear, never think about this from one year to the next. They remain satisfied with what is at best a truncated and distorted version of the great biblical hope. Indeed, the popular picture is reinforced again and again in hymns, prayers, monuments, and even quite serious works of theology and history. It is simply assumed that the word heaven is the appropriate term for the ultimate destination, the final home, and that the language of resurrection, and of the new earth as well as the new heavens, must somehow be fitted into that.”  

Where do we still see this?

5.  “As the argument of this book develops, it will become clear that we cannot simply regard this as a problem at which we simply shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, there are different views on these topics.’ What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a ‘hope’ that is no longer a surprise, no longer able to transform lives and communities in the present, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth. Hymns, the Christian year, and ceremonies of death all tell a similar story. Perhaps equally important is the larger theology, and the wider worldview, accompanying the contemporary muddle.”

So how do we change? 

6. “Our task in the present—of which this book, God willing, may form part—is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”  

What does it mean to live as “Resurrection people?”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright

Chapter One

1.  “This book addresses two questions that have often been dealt with entirely separately but that, I passionately believe, belong tightly together. First, what is the ultimate Christian hope? Second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? And the main answer can be put like this. As long as we see Christian hope in terms of ‘going to heaven,’ of a salvation that is essentially away from this world, the two questions are bound to appear as unrelated.” 

- What does Wright mean by this?

2.  “I am convinced that most people, including most practicing Christians, are muddled and misguided on this topic and that this muddle produces quite serious mistakes in our thinking, our praying, our liturgies, our practice, and perhaps particularly our mission to the world. Often people assume that Christians are simply committed to a belief in ‘life after death’ in the most general terms and have no idea how the more specific notions of resurrection, judgment, the second coming of Jesus, and so on fit together and make any sense—let alone how they relate to the urgent concerns of today’s real world.” 

- Discuss examples of where you see these scenarios played out.
3.  “The main beliefs that emerge in the present climate seem to me of three types, none of which corresponds to Christian orthodoxy. First, some believe in complete annihilation; that is at least clean and tidy, however unsatisfying it may be as an account of human destiny. Also on the fringe of New Age ideas is a revival of the views we discovered in Shelley, a sort of low-grade, popular nature religion with elements of Buddhism. Finally, at the popular level, belief in ghosts and the possibility of spiritualistic contact with the dead has resisted all the inroads of a century of secularism. In particular, most people have little or no idea what the word resurrection actually means or why Christians say they believe it. What is more worrying, this multiple ignorance seems often to be true in the churches as well.

- Identify the factors that have contributed to this reality.