From Publishers Weekly
Wright, one of the greatest, and certainly most prolific, Bible scholars in the world, will touch a nerve with this book. What happens when we die? How should we think about heaven, hell, purgatory and eternal life? Wright critiques the views of heaven that have become regnant in Western culture, especially the assumption of the continuance of the soul after death in a sort of blissful non-bodily existence. This is simply not Christian teaching, Wright insists. The New Testament's clear witness is to the resurrection of the body, not the migration of the soul. And not right away, but only when Jesus returns in judgment and glory. The "paradise," the experience of being "with Christ" spoken of occasionally in the scriptures, is a period of waiting for this return. But Christian teaching of life after death should really be an emphasis on "life after life after death"-the resurrection of the body, which is also the ground for all faithful political action, as the last part of this book argues. Wright's prose is as accessible as it is learned-an increasingly rare combination. No one can doubt his erudition or the greatness of the churchmanship of the Anglican Bishop of Durham. One wonders, however, at the regular citation of his own previous work. And no other scholar can get away so cleanly with continuing to propagate the "hellenization thesis," by which the early church is eventually polluted by contaminating Greek philosophical influence.
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*Starred Review* Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, shares the strong current interest in Christian beginnings evidenced by the historical Jesus quest but points to faith, more than practice, more than dogma, as what most differentiates early from later Christians. Early Christians had faith in the Resurrection, that is, not only that Jesus rose from the dead in a new body but that they (indeed, everyone) would also rise from death in new bodies and into a new creation, not different but fulfilled, in which all would live fully and never die. That is what Christian hope consists in, and not in an afterlife in a distant heaven or hell, both of which domains are largely medieval fabrications popularized by a Florentine satirist, Dante. After explaining why we ought to believe objectively in Jesus’ literal resurrection, Wright argues that in his ministry resurrection is called the first fruits of the new creation because it demonstrated that the conditions of the new creation could be realized, however imperfectly, in the old, and by human agency. In the long run, Christian hope empowers and enjoins Christians to heal humanity and nature now, not to participate in general degradation through war, greed, and pollution. --Ray Olson