A funeral is no time for discussions about whether or not our theology of death is scripturally sound. However, at almost every funeral I attend, I have these concepts bouncing around in my head. I respectfully listen while some try to sort through the pain of death by reciting some of the popular ideas in Christian culture. You’ve heard many of these kinds of comments, I’m sure.
“We know he’s with the Lord now.”
“He’s walking those streets of gold.”
“I know she’s in heaven right now looking down on us and smiling.”
“This world is not our home.”
While you may hear a lot about souls going to heaven, you may not hear much at a funeral about resurrection. This confuses me, since the Bible has much to say about it with regard to a Christian’s future hope. I agree with N.T. Wright’s observation on this: “Frankly, what we have at the moment isn’t, as the old liturgies used to say, ‘the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead’ but the vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end.”
Thanks to the recommendations of a couple of friends, I purchased N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, which outlines the Christian hope for future resurrection, while dismantling much of the present confusion on the subject. I can’t put it down. That’s part of the reason I’ve not stuck to my three-posts-a-week commitment; I am having trouble putting down the reading material!
I want to consider some of the important questions Wright is asking in hopes that this will pique your interest in the topic. As I continue reading, I’ll use this book as a launching point in a couple of posts.
Wright first asks us to consider how we know what we believe about death and the life beyond? Does it come from popular Christian folklore? Or are we “investigating the often forgotten riches of the Christian tradition itself, with scripture at its heart”? I appreciate the distinction he is making here. Pop theology “movements” can quietly supplant our examination of scripture, as we blindly swallow whatever is selling the most copies.
Next, he asks, “Do we have immortal souls, and if so, what are they?” Does everyone have an immortal soul or is that only possible through the gospel? Wright is skeptical of the idea that the soul is a disembodied entity that is simply waiting to escape this sack of bones we call a body. The word soul in the New Testament reflects the idea of the whole person, not a ghostly part of us that will float away when death comes.
Third, how should the resurrection of Jesus shape our view of resurrection as a future hope? In order to address that, he explores what the resurrection meant to the disciples and why they drew from it the conclusions they did.
The final two questions are tied closely together: What is the ultimate Christian hope? And how can we celebrate and live by this hope in our present culture? I’m looking forward to this portion of the book, where he will address the issues that surround the theology of death and afterlife in our present Christian culture.
What are your initial reactions to the questions Wright is asking? Drop a comment on this post and let me know your thoughts on one of them.