N.T. Wright on the Resurrection vs. Heaven

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As you know by now, we are reading through N.T. Wright’s, Surprised by Hope, and as I do, I might share a few thoughts on the matter. In the section which this quote comes from, Wright is making the case that the Christian hope is not about ‘going’ to heaven’ but about the Resurrection. When we started to move from the notion that the Resurrection (you know, Easter) was the essential Christian hope to the idea that heaven is the be all end all.

Resurrection by contrast has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but a robust determination to oppose it.  (p27)

He makes the point that when Christian society entered the revivalist phase in the West, when ‘going to heaven’ become the goal and not merely the Resurrection, that we lost our drive to correct the ills around us. No more Wilberforce or Wesley. Now, it was about escapism. Getting out of dodge. Who cares about what is left here.

And we can see that today in our American political system, where individualism reigns supreme, where greed is the idol of many, where, it is about ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’ attitude or the ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus and get me out of here’ mentality. You know who you are.

The Resurrection is a corporate event, encompassing the Church, them, God, Christ, the New Earth and the New Heavens and the New Jerusalem.

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6 Replies to “N.T. Wright on the Resurrection vs. Heaven”

  1. Perhaps the problem is that hope in a Resurrection has been impossible to maintain for more than a few centuries. Resurrection is a very visual event. It maps naturally into the world we see every day. We can easily imagine it happening. This starts out as an advantage and ends up as a dilemma because at some point, when the believer does not SEE a resurrection in their lifetime then the reality of it becomes harder to hold on to.

    Heaven, on the other hand, is only visualized in one’s mind. It exists as an abstract and was able to survive more easily in the absence of a resurrection. Also, the ambiguity of the timing of going to heaven, it doesn’t have to wait for some future time, makes heaven an easy sell.

    1. Would it be fair to say that when we turned to naturalism to explain everything, we thus lost tradition teaching and a focus on the Resurrection because that needed substantial proof whereas heaven can remain a visualization, and thus more acceptable to post-Enlightenment societies?

  2. This isn’t exactly new. Jurgen Moltmann, to name just one theologian, has written extensively that the eschatological hope is not for the never-never-land of heaven, but the very real New Creation that, even as it is birthed here and now, is the promise to come. Wright wrote 800 pages defending the historicity, reality, naturalism, and centrality of the Resurrection for both personal and social hope. in my case, this was preaching to the choir.

    My own feeling is quite simple – God so loved the world that God sought to save the world, i.e., to make it what it was created to be by God in the first place. Whether or not you, Joel, or I, or anyone else ends up on the end of some demon’s pitchfork or floating on a cloud in a white toga hardly smacks of something worthy of God’s time. Getting all of us engaged in making the world and all that is in it God’s, well that’s something else again.

    Wright, however, lost me as a fan when he spent a whole lot of time preaching on the dangerous threat to all civilization posed by equal legal rights for sexual minorities. You can’t have it both ways, Bishop – either you understand God as a God of justice for all, or you discriminate in the name of a god of only some.

  3. BTW, there’s a footnote in Jesus and the Victory of God concerning the raising of the faithful at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. It concerns a medieval manuscript that claims they were still alive. Wright doesn’t name or cite the source I don’t have the text in front of me). Wouldn’t that be an awesome basis for a seriously cool novel?

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