Sorry there was no blog last week, I was on holiday. For me that means no computers but I was not idle. I was reading Tom Wright’s challenging book, Surprised by Hope.
Wright is a New Testament scholar and a student of early Christian thought. One of his aims is to free Christians from the distorting influence of Platonic philosophy and Enlightenment rationalism, especially in relation to our understanding of life after death. ‘What has this to do with politics?’ you may be thinking. There is an exciting answer but first I want to rehearse the well-known reasons why politics is part of our Christian calling.
The creation story mandates God’s people to care for his creation, to subdue the earth and rule. Jesus, by whom all things were created (Col 1:16) taught his disciples to be salt and light (Mt: 13-16) and to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mt22:21). Paul echoed this with his call for Christians to be transformers, not conformers (Rom 12:2). He also urged us to pray for our rulers (1Tim 2:1-2). More radical than any of these injunctions was the earliest creedal statement that ‘Jesus is Lord’. This had huge political significance. The Roman Emperor also claimed to be Lord and Christians were saying that he was not; the risen Christ was the only true Lord of all the earth.
The implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us and his creation are the basis of Wright’s hope and a powerful additional reason for political involvement. Romans 6 sets out the implications for us of Jesus’ death and resurrection. All who are baptised into Christ Jesus are baptised into his death and will be united with him in his resurrection. “If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. (Romans 6:8) Thus, when Christ returns we” will also appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3), but for what end?
This is where Wright is so critical of the influence of Platonism and the Gnostic heresy it spawned. That thinking saw no value in the material world and expected eternity to be for disembodied spirits alone. Wright argues that this is not what the Bible teaches or the early Christians believed. Their understanding was that when we die we wait in an interim state, that might be called Paradise (Luke 23:43), for Christ’s Second Advent. Then we will be resurrected for eternal life described in 1Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21 to fulfil our original mandate to care for God’s creation in the new earth, free from the sinful natures that have messed up our conduct hitherto.
If that really is our eternal destiny, should we not be working hard now to influence public policy as well as our private lives to be ready for Christ’s return? The idea that we can do nothing until he comes surely flies in the face of all he said about loving our neighbours.