At Easter each year, we celebrate Christus Victor, the victory of our Lord over sin, death, and the devil. It’s the perfect season to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection, and N.T. Wright’s lucid Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Harper, 2008) helps us to do just that.
Why does it matter to say as we do in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body”? N.T. Wright tackles the question with gusto, putting the resurrection back on center stage where it belongs. This begs the question: And exactly what has been front and center? Wright argues that a form of Platonic dualism (even Gnosticism) dominates, where “salvation” has been narrowed to whether we’re ready to go to heaven. Lurking behind such thinking is a downgrading of the importance of our bodies. In this mistaken view, what is important is an immortal soul and whether it’s fit for an eternal dwelling in heaven. Such a position narrows our focus to the next world, undercutting our engagement in this one — more on that in Part 2 of this review.
N.T. Wright maintains that the New Testament does not teach that every human being has an immortal soul. Rather, 1 Cor. 15:53 is clear that what is mortal (our present body) must put on what is “immortal” (our resurrection body). At the same time, Wright affirms that there is consciousness that continues after our death. In an illustration borrowed from John Polkinghorne, he writes (p. 163):
“God will download our software into his hardware until the time when he gives us new hardware to run the software again.”