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Book Review: Surprised by Hope

Surprised by Hope
by N.T. Wright
HarperCollins, 2008

N.T. Wright is Church of England Bishop of Durham, and as such he really ought to know better than to give his latest book a title which will invariably remind his readers of better books. Students of theology will see Surprised by Hope and immediately think of C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy – but they will not find such a graceful, knowing text herein. Students of literature may be reminded of the line from Milton that is the ultimate source of all such variations – but needless to say, Wright is no Milton.All this is a shame, since Bishop Wright has nevertheless written yet another densely-packed, deeply intelligent work of Christian exegesis and inquiry. Christianity, just like any other complex living organism, grows dottier and dottier as it enters senescence … it needs all the smart books it can get, and Wright is one of its best authors.

Surprised by Hope is, at its heart, a study of the heart of the Christian faith: the physical resurrection of the body through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Wright searches into the underpinnings of believing in life after death, but he’s a thrilling intellect and cannot resist juicy digressions along the way:

If God is indeed the creator of the world, it matters that creation is other than God. This is not a moral problem, as has sometimes been thought (if a good God makes something that is not himself, it must be less than good, and therefore he is not a good God for making it). Nor is it a logical one (if, in the beginning, God is all that there is, how can there be ontological room for anything or anyone else?). As we said earlier, if creation was a work of love, it must have involved the creation of something other than God.

When he hews to his main subject, Bishop Wright has many fascinating observations, all impeccably grounded in Scripture. Surprised by Hope is far more two-fisted and pragmatic than anything Lewis ever wrote, and it’s more appealingly humble than it ever occurred to Milton to be. And in its care and gentle zeal, it’s worth the attention of all the faithful. And maybe the good bishop will choose his next book’s title less cavalierly.