Monday, November 29, 2010

N.T. Wright on Why Christian Character Matters: A Book Review

In his well-known study Mere Christianity (Book Two), C.S. Lewis describes our world as enemy-occupied territory. Although the rightful King has landed and the ultimate victory has been assured, Satan, the “Prince of this world,” retains much of his power. The situation wherein the King’s followers find themselves today can be compared, Lewis suggests, to that of the people living in Europe between D-Day and VE-Day. Facing the enemy’s ever-increasing hostility, a hostility inflamed by desperation, they are called openly to acknowledge the rightful King and join his cause.

Anglican bishop N.T. Wright issues a similar call in his recent book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (Harper Collins, 2010). But whereas Lewis spoke to unbelievers, calling them to repentance and faith, Wright addresses mature believers, people who want show their allegiance to Christ in their day-to-day life but are not always sure about the path to be followed. Wright seeks to answer their questions by pointing out that the Christian life does not consist in a legalistic rule-keeping but in a transformation of character, one that turns attention away from the self and focuses it on Christ and his cause and kingdom. That manner of living can be summarized in the word “discipleship” and is therefore cross-shaped. It is by these means that Christ’s rule will be extended and the realm of Satan curtailed. In Wright’s own words: “The message that Jesus – the crucified Jesus! – is the world’s true Lord is to be made precisely through the church’s following in his footsteps” (2 Pet. 2:21-23).

Such a life and such a character, as Christians well know, are the gift of the Holy Spirit. But as Wright suggests – and here he refreshingly departs from an influential Christian tradition – it is also a process requiring the believers’ active participation. The virtues that shape the character of Christ’s followers – the virtues of faith, hope, love, humility, chastity, patience, gentleness, and so on – must be constantly pursued and daily practiced, so that in the end they become almost second nature.

With this practical, accessible, and thoroughly biblical study Wright makes an important contribution to the growing literature on Christian lifestyle and discipleship in an increasingly secular society. Those struggling with the challenges of living the Christian life will find it both helpful and encouraging.* For a review see our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

*I realize that Wright’s views on justification (the “New Perspective on Paul” and so on) raise matters of concern among many of us, but these issues have no bearing on this book, or on many of Wright’s other studies. The message of the present work is unquestionably orthodox.

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