Monday, February 23, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Six

*Please plan to use your book for this discussion.

1.  The clearest statements of the large-scale Christian hope are found in Paul’s letters and in the book of Revelation.  Here, we find three emergent themes:

1.) The goodness of creation

2.) The nature of evil

3.) The plan of redemption

What does Wright tell us about each of these themes?

2.  Next, Wright sets out to explore the key New Testament texts that speak of the cosmic dimension of Christian hope.  These include:

- Seedtime and harvest (Jesus is the firstfruits)

- The victorious battle (Jesus as king)

- Citizens of heaven, colonizing the earth (bodily transformation)

- God will be all in all (with his own presence and love)

- New birth (from the womb of the old)

- The marriage of heaven and earth (both made new)

Again, what does Wright tell us about each of these dimensions?
How does each of these point us toward genuine hope?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Five

1.  Wright begins with the suggestion “that there are two quite different ways of looking at the future of the world.  The first option is the myth of progress.  Many people, particularly politicians and secular commentators in the press and elsewhere, still live by this myth, appeal to it,
and encourage us to believe it.”

According to Wright, why is progress a myth?  Give examples of his & yours.

2.  Charles Darwin and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin each contributed to this myth of progress in very unique ways.  (Please take a few minutes to review each.)  Wright then goes on to note, “the real problem with the myth of progress is, as I just hinted, that it cannot deal with evil. And when I say, “deal with,” I don’t just mean intellectually, though that is true as well; I mean in practice. It can’t develop a strategy that actually addresses the severe problems of evil in the world.”

Why is this so?
3.  “The myth, then, cannot deal with evil, for three reasons. First, it can’t stop it: if evolution gave us Hiroshima and the Gulag, it can’t be all good.  Second, even if ‘progress’ brought us to utopia after all, that wouldn’t address the moral problem of all the evil that’s happened to date in the world.  Finally, the myth of progress fails because it doesn’t in fact work; because it would never solve evil retrospectively; and because it underestimates the nature and power of evil itself and thus fails to see the vital importance of the cross, God’s no to evil, which then opens the door to his yes to creation.”

How do these three reasons re-route our understanding of progress?

4.  The second option for looking at the future of the world is “souls in transit.”  As Wright notes, “Here worldviews diverge radically. The optimist, the evolutionist, the myth-of-progress school all say that these are just the growing pains of something bigger and better. The Platonist, the Hindu, and, following Plato, the Gnostic, the Manichaean, and countless others within variants of the Christian and Jewish traditions all say that these are the signs that we are made for something quite different, a world not made of space, time, and matter, a world of pure spiritual existence where we shall happily have got rid of the shackles of mortality once and for all. And the way you get rid of mortality within this worldview is to get rid of the thing that can decay and die, namely our material selves.” 

What is the appeal and the danger with this myth?

5.  “Most Western Christians—and most Western non-Christians, for that matter—in fact suppose that Christianity was committed to at least a soft version of Plato’s position. A good many Christian hymns and poems wander off unthinkingly in the direction of Gnosticism.  A massive assumption has been made in Western Christianity that the purpose of being a Christian is simply, or at least mainly, to “go to heaven when you die,” and texts that don’t say that but that mention heaven are read as if they did say it, and texts that say the opposite, like Romans 8:18–25 and Revelation 21–22, are simply screened out as if they didn’t exist. 

Can you cite examples of this?

6.  “My point for now is to notice that in many parts of the world an appeal to a Christian view of the future is taken to mean an appeal to the eventual demise of the created order and to a destiny that is purely ‘spiritual’ in the sense of being completely nonmaterial. That remains the popular perception, both from inside and outside the church, of what we Christians are supposed to believe when we speak of heaven and when we talk of the hope that is ours in Christ. Over against both these popular and mistaken views, the central Christian affirmation is that what the creator God has done in Jesus Christ, and supremely in his resurrection, is what he intends to do for the whole world—meaning, by world, the entire cosmos with all its history.”

Why is this this clarification so crucial to the meaning of Easter and the future of the Church – the Body of Christ?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Four

1.  Wright begins with four observations concerning the Easter stories in the four gospels.  First, we note the strange silence of the Bible in the stories; second, the presence of the women as the principal witnesses; third, the portrait of Jesus himself; and fourth, the fact that they never mention the future Christian hope.  He proposes, “It is far, far easier to believe that the stories are essentially very early, pre-Pauline, and have not been substantially altered except for light personal polishing, in subsequent transmission or editing.” 

Why are these four observations and Wright’s conclusion critical to the credibility of the resurrection narratives?  What impact do they have upon the future of the Christian church as we know it in today’s culture?

2.  “The only way we can explain the phenomena we have been examining is by proposing a two-pronged hypothesis: first, Jesus’s tomb really was empty; second, the disciples really did encounter him in ways that convinced them that he was not simply a ghost or hallucination.  Both the meetings and the empty tomb are therefore necessary if we are to explain the rise of the belief and the writing of the stories as we have them. Neither by itself was sufficient; put them together, though, and they provide a complete and coherent explanation for the rise of the early Christian belief.” 

How do you interpret Wright’s explanation here?  Why is this two-prong hypothesis necessary to the validity of the resurrection accounts?
3.  “Far and away the best historical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth, having been thoroughly dead and buried, really was raised to life on the third day with a renewed body (not a mere “resuscitated corpse,” as people sometimes dismissively say), a new kind of physical body, which left an empty tomb behind it because it had used up the material of Jesus’s original body and which possessed new properties that nobody had expected or imagined but that generated significant mutations in the thinking of those who encountered it. If something like this happened, it would perfectly explain why Christianity began and why it took the shape it did.”

How does this statement/position align itself with both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds?  Why do the Creeds matter to us?

4.  Wright goes on to discuss the various implications of epistemology, “not only of what we know but also of how we know it.”  This discussion illustrates the difficult distinctions between scientific disciplines and those outside of science.  In other words, epistemologies vary.  “What I am suggesting is that faith in Jesus risen from the dead transcends but includes what we call history and what we call science. Faith of this sort is not blind belief, which rejects all history and science. Nor is it simply—which would be much safer!—a belief that inhabits a totally different sphere, discontinuous from either, in a separate watertight compartment. Rather, this kind of faith, which like all modes of knowledge is defined by the nature of its object, is faith in the creator God, the God who promised to put all things to rights at the last, the God who (as the sharp point where those two come together) raised Jesus from the dead within history, leaving evidence that demands an explanation from the scientist as well as anybody else. Insofar as I understand scientific method, when something turns up that doesn’t fit the paradigm you’re working with, one option at least, perhaps when all others have failed, is to change the paradigm—not to exclude everything you’ve known to that point but to include it within a larger whole. That is, if you like, the Thomas challenge.”

How do you experience and confront the Thomas challenge?

5.  “That is why, though the historical arguments for Jesus’s bodily resurrection are truly strong, we must never suppose that they will do more than bring people to the questions faced by Thomas, Paul, and Peter, the questions of faith, hope, and love. We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter. All knowing is a gift from God, historical and scientific knowing no less than that of faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

And this is the point where believing in the resurrection of Jesus suddenly ceases to be a matter of inquiring about an odd event in the first century and becomes a matter of rediscovering hope in the twenty-first century. Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world.”

How does this Easter worldview shift allow you to navigate life’s journey with hope?