I’ve come to the end of the middle section of Wright’s book, and while there are a couple of points he makes that may be fairly controversial to some (or many), I think he has largely brought me with him. The problem is that when he writes about what happens immediately after death (in a chapter simply titled “Purgatory, paradise, hell”) — as he really has to, however tempting it might be to skip on by — Wright is addressing questions where we really don’t have much in the way of Scriptural witness to go on, and where tradition is mind-bogglingly difficult to sort through. However, he plainly recognises this fact, offering attempts at understanding rather than suggesting prescriptions.
Following on from this, the final movement of the book is where the author begins to answer the simple question of, in his own words, “so what?”
Surprised By Hope (2007), SPCK, p204:
The point of this final section of the book is that a proper grasp of the (surprising) future hope which is held out to us in jesus Christ leads directly and, to many people, equally surprisingly, to a vision of the present hope which is the basis of all Christian mission. To hope for a better future in this world — for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful and wounded world — is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to 'the gospel' as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God's ultimate future into God's urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of 'mission' and 'evangelism' in the present. It is a central, essential, vital and life-giving part of it. Mostly, Jesus himself got a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing. They saw him 'saving' people from sickness and death, and they heard him talk about a 'salvation', the message for which they had longed, which would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future. But the two were not unrelated, the present one a mere 'visual aid' of the future one, or a trick to gain people's attention. The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future.
There are a number of phrases in that portion (and the chapter it’s taken from) that I was tempted to highlight, but then I realised that I’d end up emphasising all but a few words. In so many of the conversations I have, day by day and week by week, this is what I’m trying to say. I’m now keen to see where Wright ends up…