on January 14, 2012
In Simply Christian, N. T. Wright explains Christianity. His goal is to recommend it to people who are not Christians, while also clarifying it to those who are. It is intentionally basic and seeks to give this explanation a "shape." This shape has three parts. Part one claims that some elements of life point to something greater. Part two describes what Christians believe and why Wright believes that the something greater is the Christian God. Part three describes what following God is like and what the church is for.
Wright begins with "Echoes of a Voice." These echoes - justice, spirituality, relationship, beauty - each receive their own chapter. Justice is a dilemma because everyone acts both justly and unjustly. We envision justice and recognize our need for it, but we cannot grasp it. Spirituality is currently popular. This is understandable within the Christian worldview, which teaches that God made us to be in union with Him, but we corrupted ourselves. God calls to us but also gives us the opportunity to ignore Him. Relationships suggest "something" beyond us because it is impossible to understand why we exist if we do not see ourselves as part of each other. People recognize and appreciate beauty. This recognition is expressed - both in awe and in cynicism - by stories, ritual, work, and belief. Without such expression, part of humanity is lost.
Part Two explains the basics of Christianity to demonstrate that Christianity reveals the source of the voice. The echoes of part one prepare people for faith, while God leads people to faith. We can take this next step because God entered our realm within the history of Israel, causing parts of Earth and Heaven to overlap. Without understanding the covenant God made with Abraham and Israel, you cannot understand Jesus. God redeems Israel and thereby redeems the world. This redemption leads to a new kingdom - characterized by love instead of by power - rather than a new morality. This kingdom is initiated by Jesus' death, which shows that even at its most powerful, evil is not ultimate. God responds to evil with resurrection. The Church demonstrates the power of resurrection through the Spirit, who lives within it. The Church is a place where Heaven and Earth co-exist.
By demonstrating that elements of life point to something greater and then that God is that something, Wright begs the question, "What now?" The next step is following God. Following God begins with worship, which acknowledges God as supreme and the maker of everything. Prayer then demonstrates that God's Kingdom is good and that we want to be part of it. The Bible, God's inspired word, exists with prayer and worship to form people to do His work by presenting a story and inviting us to participate in it. The Church is the group - the family promised to Abraham and formed by Jesus - that God invites to fulfill His mission, or purpose on Earth. To do this, the Church demonstrates that a "new Creation" where Heaven and Earth completely overlap is coming by living as if it is here now.
Simply Christian is an important book for social justice Christians. Wright provides both a description of our desire for justice - because it humanizes us - in part one and a reason why justice is important - because it is part of what demonstrates the new creation - in part three. What stands out most, however, is that Wright claims that justice is part of a bigger picture. Seeing justice simply as a concept concerns me, so I find it interesting that Wright does not present it as a good idea. Instead, he shows justice as one of many things that point toward God. He thereby avoids the danger that people will make justice the only function of the church at the expense of spirituality, relationships, and beauty. This inclusion, however, also demonstrates that justice is part of what makes us human. Placing it on par with spirituality, relationships, and beauty demonstrates that while justice is not ultimate, it is still crucial.
on May 2, 2008
I recently finished N.T. Wright's book Simply Christian and found it a very good read. With this book Wright manages to update on two previous books: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Basic Christianity by John Stott (both classics). Together with those two Wright's book rounds out a sort of literary trinity on what it means to be a Christian.
I should say that unlike the fiirst two books Wright's book, while still accessible to the outsider, is aimed staunchly at the church (not unlike a letter of Paul). Like much of his writing Wright offers a great deal of course correction in his content. In one way or another he touches on many topics including salvation, atonement, anger, small group ministry, interpretation, creation, inspiration, worship and easily a dozen others. All of these themes revolve around the thematic fulcrum of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty. These are good lenses to look at Christianity through and are useful to Wright in highlighting points of relevance and value like our common understanding of Heaven and life after death for instance (an area where he offers "course correction").
Wright is a rare individual who combines the talents of an artist, pastor, leader and scholar. With this in mind you should know that although the book is well written and reasonably short (240 pages) it assumes one of two things: a thorough vocabulary or a willingness to broaden it through extra reading alongside this book.
One area people may be concerned about (although I am not as yet) is Wright's perspective on the doctrine of justification a.k.a. "the divine act whereby God makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and rightous." (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms). Specifically within the doctrine pastor and author John Piper takes issue with how he sees Wright deal with the concept of God's imputed righteousness. In fact Piper has taken so great an issue with Wright's perspective he has written an entire book entitled The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright.
Anyhow, all that to say Wright is a great writer who puts a thorough and thoughtful heart into everything he does. I have appreciated his perspective thus far and look forward to further reading. I would recommend this book to you.