N. T. Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope” is an incredibly well-written, emotive and layman-accessible work of theology in which the author examines the historical and traditional Christian views of resurrection and heaven, and brings fresh application of these doctrines to the practical work of the church. Wright, in his own introduction after briefly mentioning various world views of the afterlife, suggests that while most western Christians categorically believe in some form of “life after death,” very few really possess a Biblical understanding of the word resurrection, or the significance of how that resurrection should affect their daily Christian life. 
Wright continues by exposing the confusion and fallacy in the average westerner’s understanding of heaven and the after-life. He writes that the Biblical picture of heaven is not simply the final destination of the soul, but rather the heavenly dimension of our present life. Key to this discussion is a re-examination of what Jesus, and the authors of the gospels (in particular, Matthew), meant when they discussed the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. As Wright states, they were not speaking of “postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’”
Incumbent upon a discussion of Christian resurrection, of course, is a thorough examination of the resurrection of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Himself. Before delving into the story of the first Easter morning, though, Wright outlines the basic views of resurrection and life after death in both ancient paganism and Judaism. The author points out that most pagans and Jews alike believed that the term “resurrection” referred to actual, new, bodily life after a period of bodily death. In a phrase used frequently throughout the book, resurrection then becomes not “life after death,” but “life after life after death.” Though pagans often denied any form of resurrection, Jews strongly affirmed the idea, believing in a final resurrection of all believers at the end of time. This was the mental framework with which the disciples and the early church had to try to understand the first Easter. Wright concludes the first section of his book by providing evidence and proof for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, to which the empty tomb and the visual sightings are absolutely key.
Wright opens the second section of the book by presenting two faulty options for viewing the world: evolutionary optimism, the idea that things around us are gradually working toward a utopian state; and a Platonic “souls in tranist” viewpoint in which the physical world is de-emphasized and a non-physical, spiritual world is the ultimate goal. Both ideas, particularly the latter, have had some influence on Christian thinking. However, the central Christian and infinitely better worldview is the affirmation “that what the creator God has done in Jesus Christ, and supremely in his resurrection, is what he intends to do for the whole world – meaning, by world, the entire cosmos with all its history.” This third option is marked by three characteristic beliefs: the goodness of creation, not in a pantheistic way, but in the sense of a sacred world created by a sacred God; the nature of evil, as a real and powerful force that consists “not in being created but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honor elements of the natural world rather than God”; the plan of redemption, prompted by God’s love and consisting not of a scrapping of the world and starting over, but in a liberation of what has been enslaved.
Wright supports his third option with a number of Pauline references, one of which I found particularly interesting. Paul wrote that we as Christians are “citizens of heaven,” but he was not suggesting that when we die, we will simply go to live in heaven. Paul was drawing upon a real-life comparison to Roman citizenship with which his readers, the early church, would be very familiar. Roman citizenship extended not just to residents of Rome, but of residents of the entire Roman empire stretching to its most remote colonies. The point of Roman colonization and citizenship was to extend Roman influence around the known world. Thus, to be a citizen of heaven is to extend God’s influence, so to speak, in our world! Not to escape it all when we die!
The second coming of Christ is also discussed at length. Not surprisingly, Wright exposes the prevailing western idea of Jesus physically descending from the clouds to set up His rule on earth as being a misunderstanding of a few key texts. In a long discourse, Wright shows that the word “coming” in Paul’s writing actually means “appearing” so that “though in one sense it will seem to us that he is coming, he will in fact be appearing right where he presently is – not a long way away within our own space-time world but in his own world, God’s world, the world we call heaven.”
The final section of the book provides the Christian with a real-life, practical application. The real import of Jesus’ bodily resurrection for the early church was not that death is defeated and there is now life after death, as our Easter services seem to suggest; but rather that Jesus really is who He said He is, and what He said is happening is really happening – God’s kingdom is coming to earth, and we as His followers have a job to do to help bring that about! Wright encourages his readers to broaden their view of salvation from a purely personal experience (though it most definitely must be made personal) to a global view of new creation. God is seeking to restore the entire created order to perfect harmony with Himself. Wright is clear in the point that only God builds His kingdom, but that He has chosen to accomplish His work through one of His creations, human beings who bear His image. Afterall, “resurrection doesn’t mean escaping from the world; it means mission to the world based on Jesus’ lordship over the world.” 
 N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), 21.
 Ibid, 26.
 Ibid, 35.
 Ibid, 40.
 Ibid, 59.
 Ibid, 75.
 Ibid, 82-83.
 Ibid, 85.
 Ibid, 86-88.
 Ibid, 92.
 Ibid, 122.
 Ibid, 174.
 Ibid, 180.
 Ibid, 203.