NT Wright is one of my favorite authors. Every time I read one of his works it challenges me to think more deeply on matters of faith. In the book Surprised by Hope**, Wright brings into focus how the hopes of eternity found in Jesus intersect with how we live today.
Toward the end of the book, Wright suggests that “the church is called to a mission of implementing Jesus’s resurrection and thereby anticipating the final new creation” (pg. 212). In other words, though we ourselves cannot make the world perfect, as followers of Jesus we should seek to help the world look as much like Jesus’ eternal Kingdom (the new creation) as possible.
He summarizes this mission with three words that have stuck with me since reading his book: Justice, beauty, and evangelism.
Justice is the idea of setting “the whole world right” (pg. 213). Where we see people hurting, where we see oppression, and where we see a degrading of human dignity so that certain persons or groups/classes of people are treated as less than human, Christians should be on the forefront of bringing healing, comfort, peace, and a return to dignity. The Gospel is about God’s solution to sin in the world, presenting Jesus as the one and only Savior-King. Sin is the reason why there is hurt, oppression, and degradation. The Gospel has social implications.
This is why the One who one day will make all things new, wiping away every tear, ending death, and removing pain (Revelation 21:3-5) tells his people to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the strangers and the sick, and visit those imprisoned. Thus, we treat the “least of these” as we would Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35-40).
Not every individual and not every church will be able to address every social ill to the fullest, but we can find our niche and serve well there or support those who do. I am friends with those intimately involved in things like ending human trafficking and ministering to immigrants and refugees. My wife and I believe our main niche in this season of life is foster care. Opportunities abound to work for justice and seek to make the world a little better.
Beauty deals with creativity and the arts. Wright states, “Genuine art is thus itself a response to the beauty of creation, which itself is a pointer to the beauty of God” (pg. 223). He goes on to argue that understanding art in such a way is not to ignore or deny the reality of living in a broken and fallen world. But, he says, “We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as–by God’s grace alone!–one day it will be… When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of the resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission” (pg. 224).
In other words, Christians should seek to create good art (visual, audible, written) that leads people to see the grace and beauty of God through the present veil of darkness and pain. Christian art should rise above mere sentimentality and engage the world with how it presently stands, but it should also point to hope.
God, after all, gave us imaginations. He gave us the ability to tell stories through words, song, images, and paint (and a host of other mediums). Using our imaginations in contrast to pessimism, hopelessness, and darkness, we create beauty that reflects the creativity and re-creativity of God, and, hopefully, points people toward his glory.
Evangelism is “the personal call of the gospel of Jesus to every child, woman, and man” (pg. 225). It is the “announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun” (pg. 227). Evangelism is telling the ultimate story of hope, the very thing that the work of justice and beauty point to.
The world is broken. Sin, mankind’s rebellion against God, steals, kills, and destroys. No one is free from the effects of sin and no one can escape the bondage of personal sin, at least without a Savior to free us from its clutches.
Jesus making all things new in eternity begins today in the hearts of women and men, girls and boys. We’re new creations in Christ, the apostle Paul told the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:17). Acknowledging Jesus as Savior-King and becoming new creatures is to “experience genuine human life in the present [and] complete, glorious, resurrected human life int he future” (pg. 230). Evangelism, then, is telling a better story than the world offers by embracing the glorious wonders of everything the Creator offers.
Justice. Beauty. Evangelism. Wright’s book has helped me embrace these ideas in a deeper way in light of eternity. I pray this summary helps you do the same.
**NT Wright, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne, 2008)