In the series: Considering N.T. Wright
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In Part One of Simply Christian, N.T. Wright discusses four “echoes of a voice” that incline our hearts in God’s direction. These echoes are: the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty.
In Part Two of Simply Christian, Wright shows how these echoes are sounded in the true Christian story of God’s work in the world, a story that begins in Genesis with the first creation and concludes with the new creation of Revelation. Wright wraps up Part Two by speaking of Jesus and the Trinity:
Â Â Â Â Â And it’s all because of Jesus. Once we glimpse the doctrine â?? or the fact! â?? of the Trinity, we dare not slide back into a generalized sense of a religion paying distant homage to a god who (though somewhat more complicated than we had previously realized) is merely a quasi-personal source of general benevolence. Christian faith is much more hard-edged, more craggy, than that. Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel â?? the life of the whole world, in fact â?? not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one through whose life, death, and resurrection God’s rescue operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its great corner at last. . . . It’s all because of Jesus that we speak of God the way we do.
And it is all because of Jesus that we find ourselves called to live the way we do. More particularly, it is through Jesus that we are summoned to become more truly human, to reflect the image of God into the world. (p. 140)
Whew! When N.T. Wright gets on a rhetorical roll, he really preaches!
Part Three of Simply Christian picks up the idea of “reflecting the image of God into the world.” This reflection leads into a discussion of worship (ch. 11), prayer (ch. 12), the Bible (chs. 13 & 14), and Christian community/mission (chs. 15 & 16). I’m not going to try to summarize all that Wright says in these chapters. They are filled with biblically-inspired wisdom that reflects the life experience of a faithful Christian who is also a caring pastor.
Let me include a couple of excerpts from Wright’s discussion of the Bible so you can get a flavor of his writing in Part Three:
Â Â Â Â Â It’s a big book, full of big stories with big characters. They have big ideas (not least about themselves) and make big mistakes. It’s about God and greed and grace; about life, lust, laughter, and loneliness. It’s about birth, beginnings, and betrayal; about siblings, squabbles, and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion.
And that’s only Genesis. (p. 173)
But the main things to recognize are that God intends that we should have this book and should read and study it, individually and corporately; and that this book, by the power of the Spirit, bears witness in a thousand ways to Jesus himself, and to what God has accomplished through him. To repeat a point I made earlier, but a vital one: the Bible isn’t simply a repository of true information about God, Jesus, and the hope of the world. It is, rather, part of the means by which, in the power of the Spirit, the living God rescues his people and his world, and takes them forward on the journey toward his new creation, and makes us agents of that new creation even as we travel. (p. 191)
What I so appreciate about these passages is, on the one hand, their rhetorical power (especially the first one). On the other hand, Wright is able to talk about what really matters in a way that is clear and compelling.
So it is with the last paragraph of Simply Christian, which circles back to the themes of Part One, picking up themes from Parts Two and Three:
Â Â Â Â Â Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us. (p. 237)
When I come to the end of Simply Christian, I find myself extraordinarily grateful for N.T. Wright and his effort to communicate with non-Christian people in today’s world. Bookstores are flooded these days with sundry versions the atheistic “gospel,” which is hardly good news, after all. Christian responses to Hitchens, Dawkins, and the like are often logically coherent, but many times fail to move the hearts of unbelievers. We win the argument but lose the battle for people’s souls. N.T. Wright has attempted to do in our generation what C.S. Lewis attempted to do in his: to speak of Christianity in a simple and truthful way that touches the minds and hearst of contemporary people. In my view, the attempt itself deserves our thanks. Moreover, I think Wright’s attempt works, at least to a significant degree.
No doubt Wright’s critics will find problems with Simply Christian. And, no doubt, some problems exist. But as they try to tear apart what Wright has joined together, I hope they’ll try to do better in the positive task of communicating with secular people in today’s world. It’s one thing to win intramural Christian arguments, and quite another to hold up Christianity in a postmodern, multicultural, relativistic world. Wright has attempted what few Christians dare today, and I, for one, am both impressed and grateful.