Saturday, July 07, 2007

NT Wright's The Resurrection 4/4

"Heaven is important but it is not the end of the world....!"

Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright

To summarise this book in four posts is tantamount to being sacrilegious , unless that in itself is sacrilegious ! This is one fat book and if I understood 10% of it (including the bibliography, even that was challenging!). However, following the general theme and working on it has been helpful.

Put crudely NT Wright looks at two major thoughts on eschatology.
  • "The creator will therefore make a new world, and new bodies, proper to the new age to the new age. From one point of view the new world, and the new bodies, are the redeemed, remade versions of the old ones;"
  • "From another point of view the new world, and the new bodies, are 'stored up in heaven'." (pp 373)
It would be easy to play these off against one another - but NT Wright warns against this. Instead he suggests that our sense of eschatology needs to be shaped by the narrative of New Creation which points to the fulfillment in which the 'creator finally brings at last the gift of life in all its fullness, a new bodily life in a new world where the rule of heaven is brought at last to earth. (pp. 373)

Wright suggests that:
"For many centuries it has been assumed in western Christendom that the ultimate point of being a Christian was to 'go to heaven when you die'..."
He suggests that not only has Plato and dualistic Gnosticism fed this false eschatology but this has been 'hugely reinforced in the medieval and renaissance periods by such masterpieces as the writings of Dante on the one hand and the paintings of Michelangelo on the other' (pp 417)

The book culminates by challenging any eschatology that suggests that salvation consists of 'simply of going off to the heavenly dimension and staying there while earth went on its way to destruction'. He argues that this makes no sense within the context of a creator God who saw His creation and saw that it was good. It is 'life after life after death' that is important in the final resurrection where our future hope is found in 'an integrated vision of new creation in which 'heaven' and 'earth', the twin halves of created reality are at last united'. (pp470)

Revelation 21 and 22 is where NT finishes up with the narrative of heaven coming down to earth and as he suggests 'the twin halves of created reality are at last united' (pp470).

In this case heaven is not a place where our souls are stored when we die, but it is God's dimension, God's sphere, God's reality. To accept a 'God's trophy cabinet of the righteous' is to accept a form of ancient Platoism and gnosticism. Our creation is incomplete, completed only when we become fully human at the final resurrection, in this sense, heaven is that dimension where the 'creator's future purposes are stored up, 'kept safe' until they can be unveiled in the promised new world' (pp465).

Does this help when processing anew New Testament lines of 'in my Fathers house there are many rooms; this day you will be with me in paradise; your salvation is in heaven?' To a certain extent it does if the phrase 'in heaven' communicates being 'safe in the mind, plan and intention of the creator God.'

The central argument of the book points to a future hope on resurrection where our bodies will be renewed and take their place in New Creation, the fulfillment of creation, 'the place where living God will dwell among his people for ever' (pp 470). That is what NT Wright argues is our eschatological hope, our inheritance.

This all started a year ago when I heard NT Wright lecturing and that he suggested that that we are missing the point when it comes to our theology of heaven - I'm still processing the implications of what he says, but find that whether you agree or disagree - what he says is significant.

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NT Wright's The Resurrection 1/4
NT Wright's The Resurrection 2/4
NT Wright's The Resurrection 3/4

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NT Wright speaks extensively on the concept of New Creation. A wide collection of MP3's are found here

1 comment:

Steven Carr said...

'"The creator will therefore make a new world, and new bodies, proper to the new age to the new age. From one point of view the new world, and the new bodies, are the redeemed, remade versions of the old ones;"

"From another point of view the new world, and the new bodies, are 'stored up in heaven'." (pp 373)

It would be easy to play these off against one another - but NT Wright warns against this.

CARR
Well, they are competely contradictory.

Paul is of the opinion that his present body will be destroyed, and asks in Romans 7:24 'Who will rescue me from this body of death?'

This is why he thought it foolish for the Corinthians even to discuss how a corpse can become a resurrected being.

The New Testament often uses clothing metaphors for what will happen.

See 2 Corinthians 5 for where Paul talks about how his present body will be destroyed (not saved), and how he will change clothes.

Hebrews 1 is another passage which uses a clothing metaphor

'They will perish but you remain.They will all wear out like clothing, like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed.'

From one point of view, when you change perished clothing, you put on different clothes.

From another, perhaps less accurate point of view, when you change perished clothing, the new clothes are transformed versions of the old clothes.

How does Wright get the idea that bodies will be transformed?

Easy. He takes verses of Paul that lack the word 'body' and adds the word 'body.'