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Wright’s Simply Christian reads easy and compels

N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. $22.95. 240 pages. By John Harrison The Christian Chronicle What C. S. Lewis did for the modernist in Mere Christianity, Wright hopes he has done for the post-modernist who genuinely wants to know “What is this Christianity thing really all about?” Wright is, like Lewis was, an Anglican and, unlike Lewis, a highly respected New Testament scholar. His Simply Christian is a creative, Christian apologetic that not only is easy to read and understand but fair to the biblical witness and intellectually compelling.
Wright argues that there are four “echoes” of God’s voice that reverberate within all human beings and point to the God who is witnessed in Scripture. The first echo is an innate hunger for justice. It is what Wright describes as the “dream of the world put to rights.” Some may choose to dismiss this echo as nothing more than a wish to escape reality or a projection of fantasy. But Wright contends that this irritation and aggravation with injustice is fueled by a God who has spoken to humans about his desire for justice.
Certainly the history of Christianity cannot escape its own association with acts of injustice (the Crusades, Inquisitions, slavery, the Holocaust, bombing abortion clinics, eco-terrorism), but neither has it always sat on the sidelines and remained mute. Movements of positive change toward a more just society have been instigated by people espousing and acting with biblical values (ending slavery in western cultures and apartheid in South Africa, repealing social institutions of racial discrimination, providing relief for the hungry and calling for fair treatment of workers and the poor). The march for justice is a response to the call of God’s voice that we value justice.
Spirituality is the second echo. Despite the promises and attacks of secularism and atheistic philosophies to stomp out any notion of a reality beyond the natural world, a thirst for some meaning of life that transcends biological observations remains strong in every culture.
Even people who reject the Bible’s witness about the source of our origin and our broken relationship with God turn to pseudo-forms of spirituality to explain this echo. Bookstores can make a great deal of profit selling New Age and self-help books. People know intuitively that there is something more to this life.
The message of Christianity is that these spiritual neddlings are justified. Our interests in things beyond come as no surprise. In the story about Jesus Christ, we see God loving every person and desiring every one to love him. This love cannot be dismissed by skepticism, secularism, materialism, relativism or any other kind of “ism” of our devising. His love is here to stay, and the echo of that love cannot be quieted.
The chapter on the third “echo” will probably have the most appeal to readers with a postmodern persuasion. Wright sees that the desire for relationships points us back to a God who created humans to be in relationships. Specifically, two elements associated with relationships highlight what is often overlooked in this dimension of life: sex and death.
Wright advocates that gender identity characterizes all human relationships. Western societies have tried to eliminate the idea that there is anything divine about our sexuality, but deep down we know better. Our “maleness” and “femaleness” say something about who we are. To deny this dehumanizes us.
The other element, death, reminds us not only of our impermanence but also of what it means to be truly human. Christianity (like Judaism and Islam) speaks about death as the result of our rebellion against our Creator. Relationships between one another and with creation itself have been placed into a tragic scenario because humans have violated their ultimate relationship with God. Both our hunger for relationships and the evidence of our failures with them are two sides of the same paradoxical coin that give witness to God’s voice.
The last voice Wright comments on (and he realizes he could have commented on a number of others) is the voice of beauty. Not only do we sense that the world is unjust, we also sense that it is out of order. True, there is much in creation that speaks about order and beauty, but, like the prophet Isaiah, we long to see the earth filled with the “glory of the Lord” and for pain, agony and despair to vanish. Instinctively, we know that the beauty we see is not complete. The Christian story is that the masterpiece will be restored and that the restorer is Jesus Christ.
After Wright has sketched in part one these four recognizable echoes, in part two he explains how Israel related to them through four themes (reiterated throughout the Old Testament): king, temple, law and new creation.
He then further demonstrates how Christianity understands these symbols of interaction between heaven and earth are realized in Jesus Christ. Wright puts it best by claiming “When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty rose with him.” (p. 116)
Readers will come to a general view of the central tenants of the Christian story about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They also will be guided into rich and clear insights into aspects of the Christian life such as submission through Scripture, worship and prayer.
While Simply Christian may never attain the status of a classic such as Mere Christianity, whether for evangelistic purposes or for Christians revisiting core beliefs, Simply Christian is a valuable resource.
JOHN HARRISON is a professor of New Testament and chair of Graduate Bible at Oklahoma Christian University. He may be contacted at [email protected].
Dec. 1, 2006

Filed under: Reviews

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