I went with some friends last night to hear N.T. Wright lecture on the message of his latest book, Surprised by Hope. Homeboy was amazing.
Last night’s message was proof you don’t have to be a rah-rah sis-boom-bah gesticulator with a bazillion illustrations to preach a compelling message. You just have to have something extraordinary to say and you just have to say it in a compelling way. Of course, a British accent doesn’t hurt.
The thrust of the book and of the lecture last night was a resurrection-shaped Christianity. On the theological side, Wright corrected the dearly held cultural Christian belief in the afterlife as “going to heaven when you die,” emphasizing that whatever the disembodied existence in paradise after death is, it is only a way station on the way to the real destination — glorified bodied existence in the new heavens and new earth. This is, as Wright called it last night and as he calls it in several books, life after life after death.
He also put another nail in the coffin of premillennialist rapturism.
He emphasized again that he does affirm the future second coming of Jesus.
He reiterated briefly the historic/logical reasons for belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
He was just all around awesome.
It was only near the end that he began to passionately expound on the “What now?” of the message. Wright mentioned that as he was finishing the first draft of Surprised by Hope, he realized he really wasn’t done, that he needed to go on to say what this recovery of biblical cosmology and eschatology meant for the mission of the Church, for evangelism.
If the resurrection is not merely about “going to heaven when you die,” but is actually about God’s new creation finally breaking into the world of space and matter, what are the implications for us now? We are clearly not “passing through.” It calls for a radical rethink of “this world is not my home” and being, as Paul says, “citizens of heaven.”
And this is where the bones get muscles. We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ Jesus, that God created for us beforehand, that we might walk in them. Wright casts that using the Greek behind it — we are his poema, his artwork, his “poem.”
And then of course this means what many of us have been saying for quite some time: the radical implications of the gospel are that we are set free to be the tangible presence of Christ in a world caught up in the brokenness of the fall. It is our duty and should be our delight, as ambassadors of heaven and agents of the new creation, to bring glory to the God who is setting the world to rights by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing freedom to the captives, comforting the distressed, forgiving debts, grieving with those who mourn, etc etc.
The motivation and power for this ecclesiological movement of new creationism is, of course, the amazing gospel of Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.
I got to meet one of my favorite bloggers last night. Trevin Wax and I have corresponded via email before, but we finally met face to face and got to chat a bit. Trevin (fresh off interviewing Bishop Wright yesterday afternoon) remarked on how many young people were in attendance, college students and young professionals, all gathering to hear a sixty-something bald-headed Anglican bishop in a clerical collar and a big golden cross dangling from around his neck.
This is why this message resonates:
The younger generation is sick of the show, tired of the self-oriented cultural Christianity of their parents and their parents’ churches, and eager for the gospel of the kingdom that makes the crooked ways of the world straight. N.T. Wright is one of the few guys competently and compellingly proclaiming such a gospel (and offering it as the ramifications of right doctrine, not optional to it or in place of it).
Others blogging on last night’s talk:
Gavin Richardson (who has audio of the talk available)
Cameron Conant (who highlights one of the best of Wright’s lines: “You are but a shadow of your future self.”)
If you were there and posted on the experience, let me know and I’ll give you a link.