Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: NT Wright's "Simply Christian"

NT Wright is a prolific writer. I remember going through his voluminous texts, "The New Testament and the People of God" and "The Resurrection of the Son of God" for my theology classes. These two books total more than 1250 pages. Even my Regent professors are amazed at how quickly Wright churns out books for the academic world. My feeling is that he reads and writes at 10x the speed of my reading.

This book is written not for academia but for popular reading. At 240 pages long, it seems awfully short compared to the huge academic volumes I used to read. Responding to the increasing anti-religious rhetoric from the atheist advocates, and lay Christians seeking a renewed faith, this book gently reaches out to the non-Christian seeker and the ordinary Christian reader with 4 broad themes; 1) longing for justice; 2) quest for spirituality; 3) hunger for relationships; 4) desire for beauty. His aim is to "describe what Christianity is all about" (ix) in a manner that is simple and straightforward.

In Part 1 (Echoes of a Voice), Wright cleverly describes 'Simply Christian' as ascending movements of faith. He starts with the basic human desire to put things right (Justice). Then he exposes the common desire for a deeper meaning in life through spirituality. Third, he makes a case that without relationships, human experience remains incomplete. Finally, he ties all of them together by stressing that the ultimate human experience lies in appreciating beauty.

In Part 2 (Staring at the Sun), Wright talks about God, the position of Israel, the kingdom of God, Jesus's life, death and resurrection; the Holy Spirit, and life in the Spirit and of course the Trinity. Theologically, this is the heaviest portion of the whole book. Yet, Wright masterfully processes the difficult doctrines and distills them clearly without overwhelming the reader. 'Staring at the Sun' is a brilliant way to describe how one ought to study theology. We can try our best to look at the sun, but we will instantly realize that there is only so much that our eyes can take, without being blinded by the scorching rays. I think Wright is creative in two ways. First, in calling his re-telling of the Christian doctrines being a 'glimpse'. Secondly, in showing us metaphorically that theology itself can only be 'glimpsed' at, by any one person. Reminds me again that understanding theology has to be done with a humble heart, and with an open mind to learn from others in the community of faith.

In Part 3 (Reflecting the Image), Wright deals with the response of the ordinary Christian in worship, prayer, the Word, Faith, Church and the New Creation. All of these aspects of the Christian life ought to reflect the original intent of why we are created: to glorify God through Jesus Christ.

His afterword drives home the point that being Christian is not simply in the knowing but also in the doing.
"It would be wrong, though, to give the impression that taking things further after reading this book would consist simply of reading more books. The church, for all its faults, is at its heart the community of those who are trying to follow Jesus, and in whose company those who are starting to explore these things for themselves may find help, encouragement, and wisdom. As we might say to someone starting to enjoy music: don't just listen to it, find an instrument and an orchestra and join in."  (240)
My Comments
This book is a lighter read that CS Lewis's Mere Christianity. This is probably because Lewis writes for the audience in the 1950s while Wright's audience is post-2000. While CS Lewis writes his book personally defending the Christian faith and giving reasons for belief, Wright's work looks more like an invitation to a person confused and disillusioned by the world, to actively consider the Christian worldview as a viable alternative. Wright is careful to recognize the negative climate surrounding 'church' and brilliantly ties the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church as one entity to be serving God in Christ. An important contribution is the way Wright captures the cultural need for order amid the chaos through the 4-movement framework. Beginning where most readers are living in, and charting out a melodious progression, Wright articulates the notes and chords of Christianity harmonically, concluding with an invitation to all to join the orchestra, conducted by the Triune God. This book is small in pages, but big in substance. Sounds beautiful.

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5.


No comments:

Latest Posts