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N.T. Wright (Photo courtesy of HGSCF)

True hope and change

Religion | After months of hearing political rhetoric, Harvard students learn how Christianity is the answer for those who want to change the world

The words "hope" and change" still echo in college students' ears across the country, but in Cambridge, Mass., last week an Anglican bishop, not a politician, uttered them.

Bishop and theologian N.T. Wright addressed about 1,100 Harvard University students on the origins of hope in a series of lectures sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, packing the on-campus Askwith Auditorium, November 18-20. Basing his lectures on his book Surprised by Hope, Wright said Christianity is the answer for those who want to change the world.

According to Paul Ray, a student at Harvard Law School who attended the lectures, Wright spoke of two dreams that won't die: "The dream of a beautiful, well-ordered world and a dream of finding ourselves through other people, through human relationships." Wright pointed out that because God created a good world and ordained men and women as its project managers, these dreams won't go away; but the fall prevents those dreams from being realized. Ray said, according to Wright, "The God who made the world will fix the world somehow."

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These are themes that have dominated public discourse lately, and themes that have resonated with Harvard students, Ray said. "He's right," Ray said of Wright's message. "Most people want to save the world here."

Many Harvard law students tend to want to practice public interest law-something the school encourages by funding the students' third year if they choose to enter that field. So when it comes to changing the world, Ray said, "I think most people, at least in the law school, are pretty sober about it. They realize the world is a hard place. And when I say they want to change the world, they don't expect to make it all go away tomorrow. But there does seem to be this real desire to do whatever they can toward that. I wouldn't call it utopian at all."

Students attending the lectures quickly made the connection between Wright and President-elect Barack Obama's themes. In the first question posed to Wright, one young man thanked him for speaking about hope, adding, "In this election, hope won." Ray said the connection seemed to surprise Wright: "He didn't draw that connection. Students did."

From the questions asked at the sessions, Ray and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff guessed that the audience was split roughly 50-50 between believers and non-believers. Ray pointed out that although it's difficult to start spiritual conversations at Harvard, Wright showed that Christianity was the culmination of everything these idealistic students sought: "It's the only way to actually recreate the world."

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