No. 5: Simply Christian
A couple of years ago at Garnett Wade did a series about heaven, using N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. At the time Wright was getting blasted by my then favorite theologian, Mark Driscoll, for the New Perspective on Paul and his view of justification. As a result I was instantly hostile to the whole idea. I bought the book ready to read it, hate it, and set myself above the Bishop of Durham in theological faithfulness. Yes, I was (probably still am) an idiot.
I never finished it, but after reading Simply Christian I plan to.
The major idea that Wade expounded on was that heaven isn’t a distant land, but a dimension that exists right next to us, behind a veil. He described Jesus’ ascension as him stepping behind the veil, and Stephen’s vision as the veil being pulled back for him. That view of heaven is the major idea present in this work. This book isn’t about heaven, but about places where heaven and earth intersect.
He begins by describing four desires we each have which reveal “echoes of a voice”: justice, spirituality, relationships, and beauty. We all long for these things, but we can’t quite grasp them in their fullness, nor can we quite articulate them. Why do we long for them? Why do we all seem to desire these things that we can’t reach? And what should we say about them? In Wright’s estimation, we could attribute them to “childish fantasies”, something to be overcome so we can live in the world as it really is; we could say that it is a vision of a separate world, “a world where we really belong,” in which everything is as it should be;
Or we can say, if we like, that the reason we have these dreams, the reason we have a sense of a memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear — someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves… (9)
It is, of course, this third explanation that Wright endorses, one he describes in terms of points of contact between heaven and earth, places where the two intersect. He describes many places and ways that we see this happen: the burning bush, the tabernacle, the temple, the Incarnation, and the indwelling of the Spirit.
He describes the Trinity, Israel, the Church, and the Believer in terms of this intersection, all the while referring back to the four echoes. He does a wonderful way of painting a picture of the Christian life that relies on the Spirit, on that point of intersection, to guide and sustain it. This is one which, along with Knowing God, I’ll be reading again.
Surprisingly, the most valuable lesson I learned while reading this had nothing to do with the book itself. The first few books I read for this project were 3 or 4 day efforts. Except for the occasional news article I only read the selected book during that period, so I was able to keep the ideas in mind, and process it well. This book was interrupted a couple of times by reading and writing for class.
When I returned to it after two days doing other things, I found that I was severely disconnected from the content, even after recalling the previous arguments. I wasn’t immersed in the ideas and the thoughtworld (to use an E.D. Hirsch term) of the author. On top of that, it’s been about 10 days since I finished reading it, and I am even more separated from what I read.
I’ll definitely be taking these lessons into account as I continue my reading this year.