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Surprised by Hope – X (Conclusion)

Throughout Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright’s purpose has been to heal a “long-term schizophrenia” in the church, and I suppose that one reason I find the book so appealing is that I struggle with a form of the disorder. The “schizophrenia” takes the form of a “split between saving souls and doing good in the world,” which, as Wright has demonstrated reapeatedly from varying angles, “is a product not of the Bible or the gospel but the cultural captivity of both within the Western world” (265).

It should not be a product of Adventism, either, but rather the reverse, given our “medical missionary” heritage. Yet because evangelism, as generally understood and practiced in

the church, has seemed problematic for reasons too complex to disentangle here, I have gravitated more toward social causes than working directly for individual conversions, while at the same time not questioning the assumption that the former is somehow other or less than the real mission of the Adventist church.

In this final chapter, Wright again brings that which has been wrongfully separated wonderfully together (and in a single sentence!):

When the church is seen to move straight from worship of the God we see in Jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’s table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them are the people who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised and shamed, then it is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and to find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also natural for people, however irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be part of (267).

Abundant fruit for discussion can be found in the Appendix containing two “Easter semons” by Pastor Frank Gospelman and the Rev. Jeremy Smoothtongue, and in the section of Chapter 15 on resurrection and six central aspects of Christian spirituality: new birth and baptism, eucharist, prayer, Scripture, holiness and love. I found Wright’s commentary on the last of these to be a deeply moving conclusion on how Christian hope for the future links with the present, thereby shaping the mission of the church, as well as orienting the lives of individual believers. He connects the conclusion of Paul’s greater chapter on love, 1 Cor. 13, with his great chapter on resurrection, 1 Cor. 15.


For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (1 Cor. 13: 12-13).


The last stanza of the poem, insisting on the incompleteness of our present experience, points on to the final great discussion of the letter, namely Chapter 15, in which Paul gives the fullest exposition in all early Christian writing of Jesus’s resurrection and what it means. It means that a new world order has opened up in the midst of the present one. God’s future has arrived in the person of the risen Jesus, summoning everybody to become people of the future. Our present experience, even our present Christian experience, is incomplete. But in Christ we have heard the complete tune; we know now what it sounds like and that we shall one day sing it in tune with him…(287).

1 Cor. 13, Wright continues, is far more than a moral exhortation for us to strive to love one another better.

The point of 1 Corinthians 13 is that love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way. Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to hope (288).

We have this hope!

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