Wright’s last three chapters were really very good. They were “How to Engage Tomorrow’s World,” “Apocalypse and the Beauty of God,” and “Becoming People of Hope.” What I want to do is make a few brief comments about each, and then make two observations about the book as a whole, and Wright’s influence generally.
In these chapters, Wright is doing what he does best, which is declare the biblical basis for the ultimate lordship of Jesus Christ over all things — the resurrection — and then to insist that this lordship is not an airy fairy spiritual abstraction, but rather that it has nuts and bolts applications in the here and now.
“Our confidence is in Jesus and him alone” (p. 185).
“Jesus is lord of the world, so all truth is his truth; let’s go and explore it with reverence and delight” (p. 185)
He cites C.S. Lewis insisting that there is absolutely no neutral ground anywhere in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.
“Lewis was echoing the view of many Christian thinkers, going back to Abraham Kuyper and ultimately to Paul himself; but in doing so, he, and they, stand firmly against the great division that is come upon us in the West” (p. 187).
That great division is the idea that there is somehow a disjunct between actual facts and religious truth, or that truth itself can be divveyed up and placed in separate compartments. No, Christ is Lord of Heaven and earth, and we call it a universe for a reason.
When the Church fails to take up her commission, and does not declare the gospel as she ought to do, the end result is that other entities try to fill in that space. But it doesn’t work.
“These two methods of speaking truth to power – official opposition parties and the media – regularly fail” (p. 191).
Only the Church can be the Church. It is quite true that the Church can do a poor job at this, and repentance is called for, but only the Church can fill that role appropriately.
“The world thinks it knows what justice is, but again and again the world gets it wrong, favoring the rich and powerful, turning a blind eye to wickedness in high places, forgetting the cry of the poor and needy the Bible insists are the special objects of God’s just and right care” (p. 193).
This statement is quite true on the face of it, but the devil is in the details. Wright consistently fails to see how the wickedness in high places plays the Judas game, and wants the ointment sold and the proceeds given to the poor — because they keep the money bag (John 12:5-6). But this does not change the truth of the statement. Wright has the innocent as doves part down. He needs to work on the wise as serpents part.
His next chapter, “Apocalypse and the Beauty of God,” was really good. In it, he suggests that Christian artists need to operate in the context of eschatology, and that it needs to be, like biblical eschatology, an already/not yet sort of thing.
“True art, I suggest, approximates more and more the vision of the way things are and the way things will be” (p. 200).
“When art tries to speak of the new world, the final world, in terms only of the present world, it collapses into sentimentality; when it speaks of the present world only in terms of its shame and horror, it collapses into brutalism” (p. 202).
“Here’s the challenge, I believe, for the Christian artist, and whatever sphere: to tell the story of the new world so that people can taste it and want it, even while acknowledging the reality of the desert in which we presently live” (p. 203).
This is a gem of an insight. This is what will head off schlock on the one hand and hipster posing on the other.
The last chapter is on keeping our hope foundational to everything else.
“The taxi driver, seeing from my clothes that I was a bishop, commented on what a difficult time we Anglicans were having over the issue of women bishops. I agreed. We were indeed having a difficult time. Then came a moment I will never forget. Turning around to face me – we were, as I say, stationary in traffic – he said, ‘what I always say is this: if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, everything else is basically rock ‘n roll, i’n’it?’ It was a great gospel moment I’ve dined out on it ever since” (p. 207).
The apostle John insists: “Easter is the beginning of God’s new creation, and we therefore have a job to do” (p. 209).
“The mission of the church is to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel – a mission that will send us back to the four Gospels again and again” (p. 211).
Because of the way Wright articulates certain biblical truths — truths that some of his conservative critics would much rather avoid — reading him can be valuable. I would recommend that any pastors who can read him discerningly do so. But I don’t think it is a good idea to promote his books in our congregations because the clean up costs just aren’t worth it.
There are two main problems that come up to the front of the stage in this book. The first is Wright’s tendency to state glorious theological truth, and then link it up to policy prescriptions that would delight ninety percent of the talking heads at MSNBC. I said earlier that the resurrection of Jesus means that we must deal with the nuts and bolts of life in the here and now. This remains very true, and most necessary, but Wright consistently turns instead to work with the nuts and blots.
“Those who take this view have no reason to worry about the condition of the present world or issues like global warming or acid rain” (p. 197).
When Wright speaks of “this view,” he is tagging the dispensationalists. And in some respects, that jab is a fair one. After all, it was J. Vernon McGee who tried to dissuade us from polishing the brass on a sinking ship. Wright is quite correct to reject this mindset. But my problem is not that Wright wants to polish the brass. My difficulty is that he has come to believe that his wife’s hand lotion is the brass polish. By all means, polish the brass. But not with that.
The resurrection of Jesus means that all truth is His truth, and this means in its turn that Christians should be extremely wary of claims from blind secularists that “the science is settled.” The resurrection of Jesus must mean more than that the secularists can count on a lot of unthinking volunteer labor from the churchy contingent. In thinking be men, Paul tells us. When it comes to pursuit of every kind of truth, we need to be doing the heavy lifting ourselves instead of reacting mindlessly to whatever this decade’s panic du jour might be.
We have much better things to do than link the resurrection of Jesus up with statist solutioneering. It misrepresents the Lord, and it will have the long term effect of discrediting the theology of resurrection when the leftist bromides crash and burn, as they always do. “Jesus has risen, and this is why the VA hospitals run so well.” Ah. Wright has some wonderful exegetical observations to make, but he needs to recognize the screaming danger of an unequal yoke here. It is one thing to raise up a cripple in the name of Jesus. It is quite another to recruit him for your partner in the three-legged race at the picnic.
The second macro problem that Wright has is that of a wildly skewed set of priorities. I already addressed the fact that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with young earth creationists (p. 31). According to him, it is not an allowable alternative, it is false teaching, the gospel itself is at stake, and it obscures a positive point that needs to be made.
This is a case of Wright straining out a microbe and swallowing a T-Rex. Think for a moment. He argues (rightly) that the resurrection is the key to everything else. “Once you get the resurrection straight, everything else eventually falls into place” (p. 207). Amen to that. Now young earth creationists, every man jack of them, all believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But that is not good enough for Wright. He still needs to put some significant daylight between himself and the hill apes of Tennessee.
Meantime, let us behold the Church of England, with which Wright remains in full communion. That place is a hotbed of unbelief, socialism, and sodomy, and nobody can tell me that one of its key characteristics is a robust affirmation of the bodily resurrection. “Say what you will about the bishops of the CoE, they are rock solid on the resurrection,” said no one ever. But putting daylight is not needed here. Here atheism might be “an allowable if regrettable alternative.”
So what would make Wright contemplate breaking with the CoE? Apparently an outbreak of young earth creationism, resulting in a dinosaur museum in Salisbury, blessed by the archbish. What would cause Wright more consternation? An appointment of Ken Ham to the bench of bishops, or Marcus Borg? However, to be perfectly frank, concerning that first prospect, no one appears very worried yet.
The difference between Wright and me on this point is that I really do believe the resurrection is the key to everything else. I am no dispensationalist, but those guys believe, together with me, that Jesus burst out of the tomb on Easter morning, and that had someone been there with a camera we could have gotten a snap of Him with Mary Magdalene. Because of that — because the resurrection really is the key to everything — I am going to stand shoulder to shoulder with my dispensationalist brothers, despite our differences over blood moons. I am no dispensationalist, and do not believe that the New Jerusalem will descend like a parachutist — another subject for another time. But I also believe that the things that are of first importance should be treated as being of first importance. Wright says the same thing, but his de facto alliances say another.