How do we combine the grace of God with the efforts of humans to grow in that grace? Are the “spiritual disciplines” efforts in grace-growing?
For readers of Dallas Willard’s book, one of the major ideas in Tom Wright’s newest book will be familiar: we get from where we are to transformed character through the steps that Aristotle outlined long ago:
Aristotle taught that character was formed when one had a goal, determined the steps to get to that goal, and third you learn to make those steps habits. The steps in the process were called “the virtues” (courage, justice, prudence, temperance).
Jesus and Paul were both within this set of categories and at the same quite different. That’s the aim of Wright’s new book.
So Wright: “I think if we’d asked St. Paul what he thought about Aristotle and his scheme of the virtues, he would have said about it roughly what he said about the Jewish law: it is fine up to a point and as far as it goes, but it can’t actually give what it promises. It’s like a signpost pointing in more or less the right direction (though it will need some adjustment), but without a road that actually goes there” (36).
So, for Wright, the transformation of character is about what he calls a “complex effort” (41).
Wright, and this must be emphasized, does not discount grace one bit. He has a good section emphasizing the need for grace and the swarming presence of grace and adds this: “it didn’t mean that they could shrug their shoulders and give up the moral struggle altogether” (61). So…
“grace, which meets us where we are but is not content to let us remain where we are, followed by direction and guidance to enable us to acquire the right habits to replace the wrong ones” (63).