Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church I am reading and recommending N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. In the book he gets into a number of what one might think are side-issues, but he always relates them back to the belief in the resurrection. An excerpt from pages 216-220:

As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt. I have spoken about this many times over the last few years, and I have a sense that some of us, like old Wilberforce on the subject of slavery, are actually called to bore the pants off people by going on and on about it until eventually the point is taken and the world is changed. There are many good books on the subject from different points of view, and I don’t want to go into the arguments now. I simply want to record my conviction that this is the number one moral issue of our day. Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret–or rather the dirty enormous secret–of glitzy, glossy Western capitalism. Whatever it takes, we must change this situation or stand condemned by subsequent history alongside those who supported slavery two centuries ago and those who supported the Nazis seventy years ago. It is that serious. I can’t develop the arguments here; I just want to make [some] brief comments… about the nature of the debates that you run into when you raise the subject. …

[N]otice how the rhetoric regularly employed against the remission of global debts echoes the arguments used against the abolition of slavery. Read the writings of the eighteenth-century Quaker John Woolman (1720-1772). Read again teh story of Wilberforce (1759-1833). The patronizing, temporizing, and sometimes bullying they had to put up with; the tone of voice that says, “We know how the world works; don’t bother us with moral arguments”; the powerful interests that lobbied the great and the good against them: all this is routine today as the Western global empire fights back against the cry for justice. But every time we put it off one more day, several hundred children die. And that’s just the start.

We must learn, therefore, to recognize the complex arguments against debt remission as what they are. People tell you it’s a tricky and many-sided subject. Yes, it is; so was slavery. So are all major moral problems. The fact remains that what is now going on amounts to theft by the strong from the weak, by the rich from the poor. … In light of this, we should learn to recognize the complex stories told by those with vested interests as corresponding closely to the complex stories told by the Sadducees to show how impossible it was to believe in the resurrection. Jesus’s answer was blunt and to the point: you’re wrong because you don’t know the Bible and you don’t know God’s power (Mark 12:24). …

[L]ook at [another] point: that much conservative theology, not least in the United States, where it counts heavily at the moment, has also served to reinforce the dominance of the West. The Cold War years enabled the United States to build up its persona as God’s answer to communism. Many conservative churches there still live by the belief that what’s good for America is good for God–with the result, for instance, that if their country needs to produce more acid rain in order to keep up car production, then God must be happy with it and anyone who talks about pollution or is disappointed that the president didn’t sign the Kyoto protocol is somehow anti-Christian or is simply producing a “baptized neosocialism,” as one reviewer accused me of. Rampant belief in the rapture lends strong support to this… Armageddon is coming, so who cares what state the planet is in? The irony is that those American churches that protest most vocally against the teachings of Darwinism in their schools are often, in their public policies, supporting a kind of economic Darwinism, the survival of the fittest in world markets and military power.

In particular… the strong belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection among conservative Christians in many parts of the world, especially in the United States, has taken that belief out of its biblical context and put it instead in a different one, where it serves agendas diametrically opposed to the biblical ones. For many conservative Christians today, belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection is all about God’s supernatural action in the world, legitimating an upstairs-downstairs view of reality–a dualism, in other words–in which the supernatural is the real world and the natural, the this-worldly, is secondary and largely irrelevant. The resurrection is thus affirmed as the orthodox belief over against liberal modernism, but what you get instead is conservative modernism, which leaves intact the modernist split between heaven and earth and indeed reinforces it. From this viewpoint, of course, what matters is the supernatural world-denying salvation offered by the gospel. Any attempt to work for God’s justice on earth as in heaven is condemned as the sort of thing those wicked antisupernatural liberals try to do.

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