I will have to say up front that I am a huge NT Wright fan. His book The Challenge of Jesus was a life changing book for me. I try to read as much of Wright's stuff as I can. I can honestly say that Surprised by Hope did not disappoint. Ben Witherington noted that it was one of the most important books of our time and I cannot agree more. This was the best book I have read in the last two years for sure. Wright will definitely make you rethink your views about heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.
Wright's mail thesis is that our hope is for God to bring "new creation" a new heaven and earth and that he has begun this through Jesus of Nazareth. He sets this up by contrasting two other ideas that seem to be popular today. On the one hand, he suggests that some folks believe that the world continues to get better and better as if the human spirit can bring the good the world needs. On the flip side, he says there are those who believe the world is going to "hell in a hand basket" and that God is just waiting to take us out of here to heaven. Wright points out that this is not the Christian view as expressed in the New Testament. He argues that Scripture affirms that God's creation is good, but that sin and evil are realities because human beings worshiped creation rather than the creator. The Christian hope comes from the fact that God plans on redeeming creation. The book begins by looking at Jesus' own resurrection. Wright argues that Jesus was physically resurrected. Jesus' resurrection then changed the way resurrection was viewed by the disciples. They came to believe that Jesus' resurrection was an anticipation of the great day that God would resurrect all people and restore all of creation. Wright argues that this changes the way we view our future life and the present. Our future hope lies in the belief that God will restore all things and be "All in All" through Jesus. Our present life matters because this restoration began with Jesus' resurrection and "new creation." While the final restoration of all things will happen in the future, God's future continues to break into our present.
The greatest strength of the book for me was that Wright was able to move the conversation about eschatology away from things that we cannot know for sure to things that the Bible seems to be very clear. For example, Wright gives his opinion on things like the nature of heaven and hell and what happens right when we die, but spends most of his time on the picture of hope the Bible paints. He tells his readers that the Bible is clear in its insistence that Jesus was resurrected physically and that his resurrection points to something that will happen in the future, namely the resurrection of all people and the redemption of this world. He spends a great deal of time talking about what it means for Jesus to be alive and reigning in heaven. He concludes the book talking about how these beliefs impact us today. Don't misunderstand me, I love to read about the different theories on heaven and hell and who will be there, but it was refreshing to see Wright separate the things in the bible that seem clear from the things that require some guess work.
I highly recommend this book. It may be a tough read for some people who are not familiar with NT Wright or who are not use to reading a lot of books on theology, but it is worth the work.