Well, it’s been a while, we’ve missed you, but I’ve had to do some really reflection with N.T. Wright’s theology in the past few chapters in our Lenten readings through Surprised by Hope. Reading Wright’s theology is like looking through a kaleidoscope of multifaceted metaphors in an attempt to understand the Bibles metaphoric language regarding Christian hope. I’m going to do my best in this post to summarize roughly three chapters of his book so far in my Lenten reading.
In the past couple of chapters Wright has discussed the idea of the present moving forward into the future. According to Wright, God’s future for humanity is not the destruction of this experience nor is it the simply the renovation of this world, but something other. He suggests, to interpret the New Heaven and the New Earth as the destruction of the Old Heaven and Earth is to undermine the redemptive plan of God’s creation exchanging true redemptive transformation for the platonic view of creation. The problem with this view is that it allows Christians to view this life as a waiting room for heaven where the purpose of being a Christian is simply, “to go to heaven when you die” with no responsibility here, now. He writes, “redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved” (96). At the same time, he criticizes the idea that over time creation gets better or the ‘myth of progress’. He states, “this utopian dream is in fact a parody of the Christian vision” (Wright, 82). Time, education, economics built on flawed human models and theories is not enough. What Wright proposes is rooted in what God has done in Jesus, supremely exemplified by the Resurrection. When God resurrected Jesus, it wasn’t just his body, and it wasn’t just his spirit, it was both.
Wright argues adamantly against the dualistic nature of our theology and rather proposes that the tension is not so much between an “an evil ‘earth’ and a good ‘heaven’ (ontological dualism), but rather an eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come). It’s the paradox offered by Richard Hays that the Kingdom of God is both “here now” and at the same time “not yet”. God is doing something new, but that does not come at the cost of the ‘here and now’. He argues his point on the following Biblical principles:
- Seed time and harvest (1 Cor. 15). – An affirmation of the Passover, but in Christ adding another layer to the story.
- The Victorious Battle (1 Cor) – God’s establishes his kingdom by subduing all possible enemies in order to bring all of creation under His reign.
- Citizenship (Phil 3:20-21) – Realigning our loyalty, not necessarily our physical location in this present age. He writes, “So when Paul says, ‘we are citizens of heaven’ he doesn’t at all mean that when we’re done with this life we’ll be going off to live in heaven. What he means is that the savior, the Lord, Jesus the King… will come from heaven to earth, to change the present situation and state of his people… Jesus will not declare that present physicality is redundant and can be scrapped. Nor will he simply improve it… he will change the present body into one that corresponds in kind to his own as part of his work of bringing all things into subjection to himself.” (100-101). The Kingdom of God is invading this present age and is occupying this land to capture the “hearts and minds” of this world, to borrow from the American objective in the middle east. **please excuse the politically charged metaphor, but it’s how I best understand this.
- God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28) – After the final victory over evil and death, God will be all in all. What was done at the beginning will be brought to full realization. The earth as we know it, while beautiful, speaks of the creative loving God, but is still incomplete. He writes, “the world is created good but incomplete. One day, when all the forces of rebellion have been defeated and the creation responds freely and gladly to the love of its creator. (102)
- New Birth (Rom 8)- Paul uses the imagery of the Exodus from Egypt but this time it’s spoken of in relation to creation as a whole. Just as Israel was in slavery, all of creation is in slavery as well. This enslaved mindset has confused creations identity and purpose, but God’s himself through His son Jesus will lead humanity into their true identity and restore creation back and beyond it’s original design. This “new birth” has yet to happen. Conception has begun, and the Kingdom is growing, but it’s not here yet. So all of creation is awaiting eagerly (verse 19). This transition into new life however, “[involves] convulsions and contractions and the radical discontinuity in which mother and child are parted and become not one being but two…the very metaphore Paul chooses for this decisive moment in his argument shows that what he has in mind is not the unmaking of creation… but the drastic and dramatic birth of new creation from the womb of the old.”
- Marriage between Heaven and Earth (Rev 21-22) – In this view, it is the rejection of all types of Gnosticism, a worldview that sees the final goal is the separation of earth from heaven. A Biblical worldview is the when “God’s kingdom will come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Wright argues, that in Christ we have the perfect union of heaven and earth. In the beginning Adam and Eve were created together to reflect God’s image to the world. In actuality, heaven and earth are not opposite extremes but rather “made for each other in the same way (revelation is suggesting) as male and female” (105).
So what does this all mean? It means that maybe the metaphor and how we view everything from creation, to redemption, to souls and bodies is far too small. God’s redemption does not mean negating everything, nor is it simply pressing the “restart” button. Redemption is about restoring purpose and redefining the identity by inviting everybody see the world through Jesus’ eyes by which we are able to see creation through God’s eyes. Heaven is not simply a “place” it’s the lens through which God see’s Earth. The Kingdom of God has begun to brake through the power structures that have ruled this world for too long, and we await eagerly to see a new flag fly over creation at which God will begin rebuilding and moving all of creation toward a new future. Until then, we are invited to participate in God’s redeeming work in the world, one neighbor and one neighborhood at a time. The Christian life is intended to be lived with the Kingdom of God flowing through our veins and lived out in our lives.
Wright concludes his chapter and will also conclude this rather long blog post.
What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what the whole world’s waiting for (107).