Surprised by Hope

This is a book lots of my closest friends are reading (and loving). I’m a huge fan of NT Wright, and maybe some day I’ll have leisure reading time again and can get to this one. Fortunately, the conversation around me about this book is substantial enough that I have a pretty good idea of what the book is about, what I agree with and appreciate and what I disagree with and am leery about.

I stumbled upon this excellent review by Bruce Miller, head pastor at Christ Fellowship in McKinney; so I definitely wanted to pass it along (since I can’t do one myself). I’d love to hear your thoughts; especially (but not exclusively :)) from those who’ve read it.



N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 2008, HarperCollins

Wright’s book is not for everyone. This is a fairly heavy work of theology, but it is accessible to thoughtful readers. It does not require a seminary education or knowledge of Greek. Be prepared to be intellectually challenged. He argues that most Christians get life after death wrong that those errors show up in our musical lyrics and even liturgies. Common poems read at funerals are often in error.

Since I recently finished preaching through the book of Revelation, my mind was ready for Wright. I found him fascinating, at times disturbing, almost always fair. Wright challenges the basic idea that we are saved to go to heaven. Fundamentally, we are not waiting to go to heaven, but waiting for Jesus to return from heaven. Properly, Wright focuses our attention on resurrection, starting with Jesus. The center of our hope is resurrection of Jesus, of our bodies and of this world into a new creation over which Jesus will rule in his kingdom. Resurrection is not the same as going to heaven.

In a witty, clever, sometimes pungent but engaging style, Wright shares biblical truth and its implications for the Church’s mission and worship. Our salvation is not essentially away from this world but to this world transformed into the new heaven and earth. Wright deals with practical matters such as cremation and funerals as well as the interpretation of crucial biblical texts. Wright is well-versed in theology, philosophy and biblical studies so his work is erudite and substantial without being boring or flat.

Throughout the book he works out what Jesus means when he teaches us to pray: “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” He discusses what happens when we die. Why personal eschatology is not as crucial as the questions about what will happen to the whole world. He explores the meaning of paradise, heaven and hell. In the process Wright offer insightful commentary on the kingdom of God, what it means today and in the future and what difference that makes today.

Wright defends the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Then he shows how Christian hope exceeds both evolutionary optimism and souls in transit (Platonism). Wright turns to the New Testament and helps us see how the biblical images of the future work together to create a coherent picture. He shows how the return of Christ will bring both peace and judgment. Since after we die we wait for the resurrection of our bodies; Wright encourages us to see life after life after death. The future comes in two stages. We go to paradise temporarily but that is not the big finale. We are waiting for the real life that comes at the resurrection when we return with Jesus.

Continue reading here.

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5 Responses to Surprised by Hope

  1. Val says:


    One of the things I seemed to kind of disagree with B. Miller about (and admittedly, I scanned the review) was the idea that certain works of art/poetry/humanly-constructed items won’t be continued on in the new creation.

    It isn’t that wild of an idea for Wright to say this; theologians of other stripes posit basically the same thing (see “Plowing in Hope” by Bruce Hegeman… who is OPC). Some pastors talk about singing Handel’s Hallelujah chorus in Heaven. Why would music last into the next world and not others forms of art? Handel was just as fallen as anyone. I think Tim Keller might even wonder about it as well. I personally love the idea (and hope it’s true), and think it may be related to what Paul says when he says “Therefore, my brothers, our labor in the Lord is not in vain”.

    Let’s be cautious about taking “art” out of the category “good works”. Are good works only service-deeds done by the body to “help” others? Why isn’t art considered part of that?

    I think the Bible talks about a material world in the new creation. And when Wright talks about beautiful things created by people lasting into the renewal of all things, that makes my heart happy. I’d like to think that God likes it when we are creative, and doesn’t plan on burning our canvases and sheet music and poetry up just because these things were developed during our time.

    Anyway, my two cents, from a very amateur theologian.

    I did really enjoy this review though. Thanks for posting!


    • reneamac says:

      Good point, Val. On the other hand, just because our creative inventions, artistic or otherwise, might not last into the new creation, doesn’t mean there won’t be new creative works for us. And this is Bruce’s point more than it is to take art out of the category of good works. I think we all agree (you, Bruce, and I :)) that creativity will be a vital part of our new life, and that whether old earth works remain or new works await is less important.

      There are so many Christians who undervalue visual art and have such an immensely truncated view of worship, your point here is an invaluable and noteworthy one.

      Thanks, friend.

  2. I didn’t quite get this when I first read it. But when I went through it a second time, it all became clear. Thanks for the insight. Absolutely something to think about.

  3. Joshua says:

    A) It’s not a heavy theological work, and he doesn’t explore hell that I can remember (he rather avoids the topic).

    B) The book is about a little more than what Miller is making it out to be. If that were it, then one could merely read one of the many articles Wright has online on that specific topic, and skip the book altogether saving a lot of time. I’m not saying Wright doesn’t bring eschatology and the resurrection to the foreground, but the book is about more than correcting popular Protestant errors.

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