Saturday, May 23, 2009

Surprised by Hope

My pastor recommended N.T. Wright to me as a theologian who might appeal to someone who loves CS Lewis, but doesn't think he has all the answers the way I did 20 or 25 years ago (have I really been reading Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters for that long? I'm getting old!), and who occasionally wants to slap Lewis silly for his sexism.

Surprised by Hope (2008) is my third Wright book, so I'm obviously getting enough out of his work to keep coming back for more, but it must be said upfront that he's no CS Lewis when it comes to turning a phrase. Then again, few of us are. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite prose stylists, right up there with Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian, and (really!) Judith Martin/Miss Manners. No matter what he's saying, how he says it is pure readerly joy. His sentences flow with all the beauty and freedom of a clear mountain stream tumbling over rocks. Wright's prose, by comparison, is more of a slog through molasses.

But I do like his approach to theology. He uses some of the same arguments for faith as Lewis, but presents them less as proofs than as matters for consideration, which I find comforting and refreshing as someone who just doesn't seem to be wired for certainty. In this book, he focuses on the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which many of us Christians recite in the Apostles' Creed but otherwise rarely think about. Wright contends that it's a crucial point, because it proves that God's purpose is to redeem creation, not to destroy it, so it cuts into the subtle heresy of dualism that's common in many parts of the church--a dualism which in its most extreme form leads to Christians who are anti-environmentalism because God's just going to destroy this world soon anyway, and to turning away from the fight for justice and meeting material needs because saving souls is what matters.

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