Friday, February 8, 2008

A Theologian Thinks About Heaven

N.T. "Tom" Wright is one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought. As Bishop of Durham, he is the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England and a major player in the strife-riven global Anglican Communion; as a much-read theologian and Biblical scholar he has taught at Cambridge and is a hero to conservative Christians worldwide for his 2003 book The Resurrection of the Son of God, which argued forcefully for a literal interpretation of that event.

In his new book, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne), Wright quotes a children's book by California first lady Maria Shriver called What's Heaven, which describes it as "a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk... If you're good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]... When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him." That, says Wright is a good example of "what not to say." The Biblical truth, he continues, "is very, very different."

Wright, 58, talked by phone with TIME's David Van Biema:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a "distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope."

Wright: It really is. I've often heard people say, "I'm going to heaven soon, and I won't need this stupid body there, thank goodness.' That's a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

Excellent stuff for Lent. Read it all here.



Tobias Haller said...

It never ceases to amaze me how very much the "popular" vision of the faith differs from what the church has actually taught down the years. Much of this seems to come from the Victorian era for some reason: with angels especially -- or how it is that people get changed into angels and such. (Much as I love Clarence in the profoundly meaningful It's a Wonderful Life, I really wish they'd let him be an angel and not a departed soul trying to "earn" something... but then, there I go.)

The other side of this, of course, is that as has been noted, it is this popular religion that folks like Dawkins lay into.

Troglodyteus said...

My theological rearing, and the guilt inherent thereof, precludes the possibility of reaching heaven, whatever it may be.