Book Review: Upside, by Bradley R. E. Wright

  • Bethany House
  • July 1
  • 256 pp.

As a teacher in America, I’m intimately aware of today’s bad news about education. “We’re falling behind other nations! We’re teaching the wrong things and with the wrong methods! We are standards crazy! We don’t have enough standards!” Indeed, I need only join a conversation with colleagues in the hallway to hear some hint of negative landscape of education news today.

Because of this, I found Bradley Wright’s Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World refreshing. In this book, Wright illustrates the easily-forgotten difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be. On his chapter on education (titled “Are We Dumber than We Used to Be?”), Wright’s treatment of his topic is typical for what occurs throughout the book: despite common perception, things are getting better for more people. The chapter also includes several snapshots (“Christians Making a Difference”) of people and organization that have helped to bring these trends about.

Wright treats the following topics in Chapters 2 through 9:

  • Why we have such a negative view on the way things are (here he discusses the impact of advocates, anecdotes, short-term fluctuations, bad statistics, nostalgia, unrealistic expectations, the media, and Christians)
  • Are we worse off financially than we used to be?
  • Are we dumber than we used to be? (mentioned above)
  • Are we sicker than we used to be?
  • Are we stressed and unhappy?
  • Are crime and war on the rise while freedom and faith decline?
  • Are marriages and families declining?
  • Is the environment doomed?
I appreciate the overall message of this book: that we often confuse our idea of the way things ought to be with the way things actually are. Wright never makes the claim that things are perfect–even a lower starvation rate is still a starvation rate–but he does a great job at pointing at that, on the whole, things are improving. This book will encourage you to continue pursuing the way things ought to be while giving thanks for the work God is doing around the world.

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Series: How to Stay in our Job “with God” — Fellowship with Him

1. We can make much of God in our secular job through the fellowship we enjoy with him throughout the day in all our work.

The first way that Piper gives us for making much of Christ from 8 to 5 is through enjoying fellowship with God. Throughout our workday in secular workplaces, we can enjoy God’s being there for us by:

  • listening to his voice
  • talking to him
  • casting all our burdens on him
  • experiencing his guidance and care
  • being thankfully aware that we are able to do our work only because of God’s grace
  • taking his promises to work

As Christians, Piper explains, we don’t just go to work–we go to work with God. “In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” We don’t need to all quit our jobs or change our majors to something more Christian; instead, we can remain on the career paths we’re on, only now having the infinitely richer experience of doing so with God.

I’d like to elaborate on the final two bullet points from above:

First, we can immensely enjoy God’s presence in our jobs when we remember that God is the only reason we are able to do those jobs to begin with. We see and hear and touch because of him. We move and interact with our physical environments because of him. We are able to mentally observe and organize and assess because of him. I am able to plan lessons because of him, to pray for students because of him, to grade papers because of him. We have the skills that make us good at our jobs because of him. This can fill us with continual thankfulness, because every present act we are doing can be traced to his grace. “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:12).

This awareness can be further magnified when we depend on God for every future minute of our jobs and for all the help we need. Then, we are suddenly able to be free from anxiety about the upcoming ACT tests, the finals exams that will need to be quickly graded over a long weekend, the books that we need to read in order to grow in our craft. “This,” Piper explains, “is faith in future grace” (p. 137). We can express this faith through prayers like, “I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God'” (Psalm 31:14).

Second, we can support this thankfulness and faith but taking God’s promises to work every day–in our Bibles or memorized in our heads. This relates to another bullet point, because this is how we hear God throughout the day.

He encourages you, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). He reminds you that the challenges of the afternoon are not too hard for him to manage: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). He tells you not to be anxious, but to ask him for whatever you need (Philippians 4:6), and says, “Cast all your anxieties on me, for I care for you” (paraphrase of 1 Peter 5:7). And he promises to guide you through the day: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8). (p. 137-8)

Tim Keller Sermon Notes – Series: The Gospel, Hope, and the World – Sermon #1: Hope for the World

Sermon preached on September 27, 2009. (Notes taken at Ethical Culture Society, 9AM service, Manhattan.)

Teaching is based on Ephesians 1.

Please note that these sermon notes are provided only to encourage, and that any or all parts of the notes may contain errors or omissions, due entirely to the note-taker. Full audio of the sermon may be found at the Redeemer Sermon Store.

Hope for the World

Introductory Comments:

Every several years we do a covenant renewal–renewing our vision to renew the city with the  gospel. You can make too much or too little of anniversaries: in Joshua, God says when you cross the Jordan, pick up 12 stones and pile them in remembrance. Part of the problem with the human heart is it forgets God’s miracles. That’s why the Word shows disciplines of remembrance. Even if you weren’t here 20 years ago [when Redeemer started], you need to remember that you’re sitting in a miracle right now. This isn’t just about our past–it’s got everything to do with our future.

Some ways to participate in this covenant renewal:

  • Come: This series of sermons will focus on Redeemer’s calling
  • Discuss: Join a Beta group.
  • Daily prayers: Sign up at
  • Thank God: for any way that Redeemer has changed your life; this is His miracle.

Ephesians 1 is about hope. We will look at

  1. Why hope is so crucial
  2. What Christian hope is
  3. How Christian hope can shape your life

I. Why hope is so crucial

  • Hope in Christ is how you start. In v. 18, Paul prays that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you.
  • Essentially, Paul is saying, “I want you to have your inner being so smitten that it would be like you stared at the sun.” He is praying that the Holy Spirit will help them know their hope.

Problem: The English word “hope” is too weak for biblical hope.

  • We say, “I’m not sure, but I hope so.” Hope, in English, means uncertainty; it’s the opposite of the biblical word!
  • Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
  • Biblical hope is a life-changing certainty about what’s going to happen.
  • Take two people, Persons A and B. Put them both in a room creating widgets for 10 hours a day for a year. Tell Person A that he’ll receive $10,000 at the end of the year, and tell B that she’ll get $1 billion. Person A says, “This sucks!” Person B says, “No, this isn’t so bad!
    • We are irreducibly hope-based creatures.
  • Christian hope has to do with the ultimate future state, not the immediate. Many think living a good life now will give them peace and prosperity in this life. No! There’s only one person who lived a good life, and he was rejected! Oh, well, he’s different–why? He says He’s not different!
  • Jonathan Edwards: Your bad will turn out for good–look at Christ. Your good things won’t ever be taken from you. And your best is yet to come.
  • Christian hope is effective because it’s not about prosperity in this life.
  • People who don’t understand hope are always freaking out when things go wrong.
    • Sumerset Long (?) Of Human Bondage

II. What is Christian Hope?

1. Personal: “the riches of his glorious hope in the saints (those set apart for Christ)

  • You are God’s  rich and glorious inheritance
    • Imagine a couple who owns the most valuable piece of art in the world.. The Lord of the universe considers YOU His treasure; when He looks at YOU, He feels rich.
      • If God in the past went into infinite debt to purchase you, what is He going to do when you meet Him face to face?
      • “This is what we are in for! Nothing less.” C. S. Lewis, pulsating, writes, “Everything you’ve ever longed for will be present in your heart at the moment of the first embrace.”

2. Material (wait, there’s more!)

  • the Spirit is a down-payment of our future redemption
    • in Romans 8, Paul explains that the whole created world will be freed from the bondage of decay.
      • This glory will not only envelope our bodies, it will envelope the cosmos
      • Nature in its greatest glory right now–the Grand Canyon, the Isuzu Falls–is a shadow of its future self.
      • If trees will be able to sing (Keller rubs his hands together), what will you be able to do?

III. How does this hope affect you?

1. Personally: Centuries ago, anyone who ever heard about self-esteem mentioned this passage.

    • During my undergraduate work, I was depressed, and my counselor told me that, whenever I felt depressed, to imagine the crowd’s applause after my greatest trumpet solo.
      • But what is that to this!? That trumpet solo might happen. You might write a best-seller, you might get that promotion, but this will happen! This is certainty! That depends on fickle crowds! That is a dew-drop of affirmation, whereas this is a worldwide flood!
  • Unless how He regards you infuses you, you’ll go through life scraping for awards and credentials because you don’t know who you are.

2. Materially

  • Conservatives don’t mind this idea of personal worth, but they get squeamish with social justice.
  • Liberals don’t mind this idea of personal worth, but they get squeamish with the “Jesus-only”.
    • If we have this hope, we’re going to call liberals to believe (despite their squeamishness), but we’re going to make this a good place to live whether they believe or not (despite the squeamishness of conservatives).

So, How?

vs. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

You believe the gospel.

Eph 2:12 says, “Remember when you were without hope?”

  • John 1: When Jesus came into the world, He came to His own, but they excluded him
  • He turned to God in Gethsemane, opened the door of prayer, and no one was there.

Hughes: Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

  • Yes, it hurts when you don’t get into the school you want, or the job you yearned for, but imagine losing ultimate, complete, utter, final hope.

When you see Christ losing all hope so that you can have hope–that is when you begin to have this biblical hope shaping your life.