Recently I was asked where theology was headed. I assured my reader that I wasn't "in the know" but that I would hazard a guess or two. First I thought we were likely to see a more robust Trinitarian theology, one deeply anchored in the great Cappadocian theologians like Gregory of Nyssa. But in some ways all the main lines of Trinitarian thought have already been sketched by great theologians like Karl Barth, James B. Torrance and others. With this first idea now set aside, I had a second idea of where theology is going: "The Wright Brothers."
No, not those Wright Brothers, but another set of Wrights (who aren't even brothers, except in Christ): Tom and Chris. Even if they don't map where all of theology is headed, these two scholars and devoted churchmen, both Anglican, do set before us two words that have become increasingly fruitful and I think will be the subject of serious theological reflection in the future. The two words are "earth" and "mission." Each scholar discusses both, but I will focus in this post on Tom Wright's focus on "earth" and Chris Wright's focus on "mission."
Increasingly we are seeing more and more Christians own up to the earthly focus of biblical revelation - the claim God makes upon this earth through his Eikons (humans made in his image). We are seeing a deeper reflection on what it means to participate in the historical flow, in government and politics and society and culture, and we are seeing a renewed interest in vocation and work. One of the more striking elements of this new surge is that theologians who are deeply anchored in the Bible also see our eternal destiny having an earthly shape.
And not only are we seeing the increasing presence of "earthly," but we are seeing a reshaping of theology itself so that God's mission in this world becomes central. Everyone knows that the latest buzz word is missional but not enough are thinking carefully about what mission means in the Bible and what it means to speak about "God's mission" (missio Dei). But there is a surge of thinking now about this topic and it will continue to spark interest both for pastors and professional theologians.
Now to the Wright brothers.
Tom Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, relentlessly critiques the gnostic-like preoccupation so many have with heaven as a place for our spirits and souls - the place where we really belong, and the sooner we get there the better. It is not that Tom Wright denies heaven; no, he affirms it robustly but he argues that the eternal home for the Christian is not that old-fashioned view of heaven but the new heavens and the new earth. And he argues the new heavens and new earth are something brought down from heaven to earth. (Read Revelation 20 - 22.)
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