Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright

Chapter Nine

1.  “The picture of Jesus as the coming judge is the central feature of another absolutely vital and nonnegotiable Christian belief: that there will indeed be a judgment in which the creator God will set the world right once and for all. The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and post-liberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over.”

How have you typically perceived “judgment?”  How does Wright’s explanation of Jesus in the role of judge further shape your perception and expectations surrounding his return?

2.  “What happens when this is transposed to the New Testament? Answer: we find Jesus himself taking on the role of the son of man, suffering then vindicated. Then, as in Daniel, he receives from the Supreme Judge the task of bringing this judgment to bear on the world. This accords with many biblical and postbiblical passages in which Israel’s Messiah, the one who represents Israel in person, is given the task of judgment.”

What do you understand this “task of judgment” to be?
How does it affect you and me?

3.  “Justification by faith cannot be collapsed, as so many in the last two centuries tried to do, either into a generalized liberal view of a laissez-faire morality or into the romantic view that what we do outwardly doesn’t matter at all since the only thing that matters is what we’re like inwardly.”  “No: justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world. It is God’s advance declaration that when someone believes the gospel, that person is already a member of his family no matter who their parents were, that their sins are forgiven because of Jesus’s death, and that on the future day, as Paul says, “there is now no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1).”

Given this understanding, how does this affect the ways you think and act today?

4.  Review and discuss each of these three “points of relevance.”

First, the appearing or coming of Jesus offers the complete answer to both the literalist fundamentalists and to the proponents of that cosmic Christ idea I outlined in chapter 5. In his appearing we find neither a dualist rejection of the present world nor simply his arrival like a spaceman into the present world but rather the transformation of the present world, and ourselves within it, so that it will at last be put to rights and we with it. Death and decay will be overcome, and God will be all in all.”

“This means, second, that a proper shape and balance are given to the Christian worldview. Like the Jewish worldview, but radically opposed to the Stoic, the Platonic, the Hindu, and the Buddhist worldviews, the Christian worldview is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”  “Because we live between ascension and appearing, joined to Jesus Christ by the Spirit but still awaiting his final coming and presence, we can be both properly humble and properly confident.”

Third, following directly from this, the task of the church between ascension and parousia is therefore set free both from the self-driven energy that imagines it has to build God’s kingdom all by itself and from the despair that supposes it can’t do anything until Jesus comes again. We do not ‘build the kingdom’ all by ourselves, but
we do build for the kingdom. All that we do in faith, hope, and love in the present, in obedience to our ascended Lord and in the power of his Spirit, will be enhanced and transformed at his appearing.13 This too brings a note of judgment, of course, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 3:10–17. The ‘day’ will disclose what sort of work each builder has done.”

5.  Finally, Wright asks, “What would happen if we were to take seriously our stated belief that Jesus Christ is already the Lord of the world and that at his name, one day, every knee would bow?” 

Your response?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright

Chapter Eight

1.  Where does Jesus Christ meet us now?  “At the moment, by the Spirit, the word, the sacraments and prayer, and in those in need whom we are called to serve for his sake, the absent Jesus is present to us; but one day he will be there with us, face-to-face.” 

How does each of these encounters with Jesus “at the moment” strengthen our faith in the risen Lord?  What do you anticipate will change when we see him “fact-to-face?”

2.  “The first thing to get clear is that, despite widespread opinion to the contrary, during his earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about his return.”  The early church and the rest of the New Testament, he says, can take credit for that.

Did Wright’s statement here surprise you?  Why is this important?

3.  Wright goes to great lengths to expound on the meaning of the word, “parousia.” 

How does he define it and why is it important to this discussion?

4.  “So why does Paul speak in this peculiar way in 1 Thessalonians about the Lord descending and the living saints being snatched up in the air? I suggest that he is finding richly metaphorical ways of alluding to three other stories that he is deliberately bringing together.”  These include, “the story of Moses coming down the mountain; the story of Daniel 7, in which the persecuted people of God are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up on the clouds to sit with God in glory.”  “Putting these two stories together, in a typically outrageous mix of metaphors, enables Paul to bring in the third story, to which we have already alluded.” “The reality to which it refers is this: Jesus will be personally present, the dead will be raised, and the living Christians will be transformed.”

How does this shape your expectation of the parousia?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright

Chapter Seven

1.  Wright sets out to distinguish between two notable events: that Jesus was “resurrected from the dead,” and that some time later Jesus “ascended into heaven.”  He asks, “Why has the ascension been such a difficult and unpopular doctrine in the modern Western church?”  He answers, “It is that the ascension demands that we think differently about how the whole cosmos is, so to speak, put together and that we also think differently about the church and about salvation.  Basically, heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation.”

How do you understand this distinction?  How does Jesus operate freely from both dimensions?

2.  These issues matter because they are at the heart of our perception and understanding of Jesus’ involvement (ruling) in the world even now.  “You could sum all this up by saying that the doctrine of the Trinity, which is making quite a comeback in current theology, is essential if we are to tell the truth not only about God, and more particularly about Jesus, but also about ourselves. The Trinity is precisely a way of recognizing and celebrating the fact of the human being Jesus of Nazareth as distinct from while still identified with God the Father, on the one hand (he didn’t just “go back to being God again” after his earthly life), and the Spirit, on the other hand (the Jesus who is near us and with us by the Spirit remains the Jesus who is other than us).  To embrace the ascension is to heave a sigh of relief, to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures: image-bearing creatures, but creatures nonetheless.”

How does this explanation help us to understand Jesus’ role in the Trinity and his role in creation, both present and future?

3.  But the ascension is not the end of it.  “One day, in other words, the Jesus who is right now the central figure of God’s space—the human Jesus, still wearing (as Wesley put it) “those dear tokens of his passion” on his “dazzling body”—will be present to us, and we to him, in a radically different way than what we currently know. The other half of the truth of the ascension is that Jesus will return, as the angels said in Acts 1:11.”

Wright concludes, “But what is this second coming all about?  Isn’t that too a strange, outlandish idea that we should abandon in our own day?”

4.  “What then can we say about the second coming of Jesus?  When God renews the whole cosmos, the New Testament insists, Jesus himself will be personally present as the center and focus of the new world that will result. What does the Christian faith teach at this point? What is its sharp edge for us today? How can we make it our own?” 

“We are therefore faced, as we look at today’s large-scale picture, with two polar opposites. At one end, some have made the second coming so central that they can see little else. At the other, some have so marginalized or weakened it that it ceases to mean anything at all. Both positions need to be challenged.”

Where do you find yourself on this theological continuum?