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In the series: Considering N.T. Wright
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As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, when N.T. Wright was at Laity Lodge, he based his teaching on his book Simply Christian, with connections made to several passages from Acts of the Apostles. Before I finish up this mini-series on N.T. Wright, I thought it would be helpful to put up a brief review of Simply Christian.
Following Lewis, Simply Christian is an attempt to describe Christianity for today’s reader, for today’s postmodern reader. thus it follows quite a different course than Lewis’s, though with several sensible overlaps because, after all, their basic subject matter is the same. Wright describes his purpose this way:
My aim has been to describe what Christianity is all about, both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside. This is a massive task, and I make no pretense of having covered everything, or even of having faced all the questions some might expect in a book of this sort. (p. ix)
If you’re not familiar with Simply Christian, and if you’ve done some reading in Christian apologetics (the genre in which Simply Christian most naturally fits), you may be surprised by Wright’s approach. He doesn’t start with proofs. In fact, he doesn’t even try to prove anything in Simply Christian: neither the existence of God, nor the deity of Christ, nor any of the things apologists often try to prove. The subtitle of Simply Christian is Why Christianity Makes Sense. Wright does not seek to prove that Christianity is true, only that it makes sense, especially to people in today’s world.
Wright begins with what he calls “the echoes of a voice.” These echoes are the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty. We hear these echoes in our hearts, Wright contends, and they suggest that something, or perhaps Someone, first spoke that of which we hear echoes. The fact that we long for justice, desire spirituality, and so forth doesn’t prove that there is a first speaker. But it does point us in the direction of God, indeed, the God of the Bible.
For example, Wright focuses first on our longing for justice. He wonders where this comes from:
How does it happen that, on the one hand, we all share not just a sense that there is such a thing as justice, but a passion for it, a deep longing that things should be put to rights, a sense of out-of-jointness that goes on nagging and gnawing and sometimes screaming at us – and yet, on the other hand, after millennia of human struggle and searching and love and longing and hatred and hope and fussing and philosophizing, we still can’t seem to get much closer to it than people did in the most ancient societies we can discover? (p. 6)
Among several possible answers to this question, Wright proposes:
Or we can say, if we like, that the reason we have these dreams [of justice], the reason we have a sense of memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear – someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves, and who has made us and the world for a purpose which will indeed involve justice, things being put to rights, ourselves being put to rights, the world being rescued at last. (p. 9)
When I first read Simply Christian a couple of years ago, my response to Wright’s first chapter on justice was: Brilliant! There is a longing for justice in people today, even if this longing takes different and sometimes contradictory forms. Some may long for laws that protect unborn children, while others long for guaranteed freedoms for women. Wright does not argue that the content of our longing for justice necessarily tells us what justice really is. Rather, his point is that the fact that we have such longing constitutes the echo of a voice, of God’s voice, in fact.
By beginning with justice, rather than with the existence of God or the evidence for the resurrection, Wright is connecting with people in today’s world. His is a powerful beginning, on that ultimately points to the God revealed in Scripture and the gospel of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.
I’ll have more to say about this in my next post.