In what presents itself as a sequel to his previous HarperOne Publications (Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope), Tom Wright's newest release challenges theoretical Christianity with the ongoing work of the kingdom, most notably through the oft-debated areas of character and virtue. His own words work best to summarize the book: "Christian life in the present, with its responsibilities and particular callings, is to be understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed" (ix). That is to say, our lives must reflect the faith to which we cling.
But, of course, many Christians are able to live out the goal of their faith; it is a challenge to make certain that our faith is properly aligned and set to the right goal. And that is why this book makes an appropriate trilogy with the previous two, that understanding how Christian faith is about the restoration and rejoining of heaven and earth, and how our lives are meant to reflect that in this present inaugurated eschatology.
This book then is about the transformation and dedication of human character as the right response to resurrection. It is about the restored humanity which is now possible, though not without its stumbling and searching, as part of the dawning of God's new day. The opening chapter gives a few examples of admirable behavior, where those who were able to instinctively react heroically in certain situations did so because they had lived in certain ways for years before. In like manner, Wright asserts that Christian character is learned and built (and trained) on a daily basis. What am I here for? Transformation! Not just in our own lives, but as agents of God's Spirit to transform the world.
Throughout the book Wright continually points to various character traits which are often regarded as worthwhile and challenges the reader to think of them as transformative for the kingdom. "We've had enough of pragmatists and self-seeking risk-takers. We need people of character" (25). Thus, he believes that character is transformed by three things in particular: 1) aiming at the right goal; 2) figuring the steps to reach that goal; 3) allowing those steps to become habitual (29). He spends a good amount in the second chapter interacting with Aristotle, which may be lost on some people but helps establish his foundation nonetheless.
Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters in the book is the third, "Priests and Rulers." It is here that Wright asserts that transformation must include a return to the imago Dei which was set within humanity at Creation. Our proper role in the world is thus "worshipping and reigning" - we are priests and rulers(78-79). He builds this concept on solid biblical footing, and begins to build his perspective on character from here. If this is true, then it is the community of believers which is given over to the twin tasks of holiness and prayer (91).
From here, the book follows with the implications of being that sort of community. We are to be a people prepared and presently working for the kingdom (he brings in the beatitudes at this point). Wright also asserts that Christian character is not about rules. Rather, it is about freedom to become what we are intended to be, with the parameters of Scripture given as guides along the journey. We are to be transformed by priestly worship, living and working as people of the kingdom on a moment-by-moment basis (cf. 149). This transformation comes through the renewal of our minds, as our thoughts direct us to a new way of living.
The latter chapters acknowledge the difficulty of living in such a way, with Wright asserting that this Spirit-enabled life being possible for us to have in this life. ". . . 'Left to myself, doing what comes naturally, I would fail.' But the point of love is that it doesn't" (183). Love, which Paul repeatedly asserts is the greatest virtue, is the ultimate goal of the believer. Not for self, not even for others . . . but for God alone. If all of our character and virtue are directed to him, then true kingdom work and ministry will happen. Wright includes this as well, "Worship must lead to mission" (225).
One could reflect on so much Christian thought at this point. At times Wright's model for character sounds like Brother Lawrence, John Wesley, C. S. Lewis, and many Jesus-Creeders throughout the centuries, among others. It is clear that this is a book written from a lifelong reflection on Christian virtue. While there are a few areas of the book that I could present minor quibbles, I now decide not to do so because the present need for Christian character is so high in our culture that I do not want to give any discouragement for approaching this book - and they are quite minor quibbles indeed. My review and summary is brief and wholly inadequate in capturing the overall journey which is presented in this book. I greatly encourage all Christians to work through this trilogy of faith and action . . . worship and reign.
This is a deeply opaque book but with the spark of divine genius. Tom Wright begins his book with an account of what happened in New York on January 15th 2009. The pilot of a plane taking off from LaGuardia airport faced imminent disaster. The plane had hit a flock of geese and both engines failed. It was the series of decisions that the pilot made in the seconds that followed that turned a disaster into a miracle. The pilot and his copilot brought the plane down safely on the Hudson River. It is that sequence of events that stands in as an allegory for Tom Wright's argument. At moments of crisis you already have to know what to do so that you do it as a reflex instantly without the need for prolonged consideration. This reflex is virtue. It's what you know to do without having to think about it. But how do you get it? That's the question and that is what this book sets out to discover. In Tom Wright's company you trek though the undergrowth of philosophical and theological thought to arrive at the conclusion that the spirit filled life is the answer - easy to say, not so easy to explain. The book is never dull but it is sometimes a struggle. I found myself often going back to check what I had read on the previous page. It's not that it's difficult, it's complex, deep, opaque. But that is the nature of the human condition and not a criticism of this book. I thoroughly recommend it. You're going to have to work at it but that's what virtue is all about.
Tom Wright's book interrogates both the New Testament and the classical Greek understanding of virtue to come up with what he presents as the Christian vision of virtue. Roughly it's this (I think). Being good means 'developing character traits whose radical novelty is generated from within the life, vision, achievement, death, and resurrection of Jesus himself.' (p222) We develop these traits not by our own efforts only, but renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit as we freely choose to build new habits.
This gives us all this: - We become truly human and fruitful - The classical virtues are taken through a kind of death and resurrection, and reborn. So there's both a discontinuiy and a continuity with them. - Goodness is not attained through rule-keeping, or through just following your (new) instinct, but by repeated decisions to build new habits
Wright suggests that the way we nourish this practice of building good habits which slowly coalesce into virtue, into 'second nature', is through scripture, stories (which can teach us wisdom), examples, community, and action or practices. In other words, stuff we do corporately and individually as Christians.
This is a good book, the sort that stirs all kinds of prayerful and devotional impulses as you read it.
If you were being critical, you might say that, in his keenness to dialogue with the classical tradition, and with other ethicists, he makes his subject a little more complex than it actually is. And us ordinary joes who just want to be good, and, sad to say, have gone through life without being troubled what dead Greeks thought about the matter (just as Wright has gone through life unworried evidently about what dead Chinese like Confucius, say, thought about the matter) -- possibly find a bit more detail than we really need. Maybe. But Wright's thinking is stimulating throughout the book.
The book is better edited than some others of his, though he repeats the large error that he's also documented elsewhere, that there are more people alive than those who have already lived. It does't matter all that much, but look it up, Tom, you're wrong. The dead outnumber the living by by about 11 to 1, half of them were children, and I have yet to find a serious theologian who has thought about that. But I'm nitpicking.
I like having a thoughtful, stretching, devotional book on the go and this latest Tom Wright outing was excellent.
This interesting book basically brings up to date the old faith versus good works arguments and by re-focusing the ideas shows that the old arguments are obsolete. The topics range from the Greek philosophers' concept of virtue onwards, and the line of thought is often close-woven, with inevitable technicalities that all the same do not prevent the general reader from following the analyses. However I think it is fair to say that the general reader needs to ingest some intellectual Kendall mint cake before launching into it!
Excellent book on sanctification and the renewal of the mind. I highly benefited from it! Once I finished reading NT Wright's trilogy: Simply Christian, Suprised by Hope and Virtue Reborn, he became my favourite author. I love his style of writing, the clarity of the presentation of the gospel and crucial issues in the Christian life.