N.T. Wright, “Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense”

N.T. Wright is a generally a social liberal, but that’s not too intrusive in this book, and he’s no knee-jerk since he is great on monogamy, supporting chastity and opposing gay sex (230-34).  He quotes an old prayer (233), “Help us, Lord, to want what you want us to want.”  On the other hand, Joe Laconte really skews him in a Weekly Standard  piece for his “moral equivalence” and Islamoterrorism.

He ends the book by calling on Christians to start living now as God wants us to in the New Creation.

I made lots of notes — and it’s a positive indication when so much is noteworthy:

  • The chapter on Israel is excellent re how its history and the Old Testament generally set the stage for Jesus and the New Testament.  For example, four themes — “the king to come,” “the Temple,” “the Torch,” and the “new creation” — are identified that really do sum up the Old Testament and its relevance to us.  Later  (75) he notes also the Old Testament theme of God’s chosen people (to be used to rescue all mankind).
  • Re the afterlife, he says it’s simple (218-19):  Immediately upon death, your spirit goes to Heaven, but eventually your body will be resurrected, too, in God’s new world.
  • He likes the NRSV (and NASV) better than the NIV (especially re translation of Paul).
  • He asks (95-99), “Can We Trust the Gospels” — and answers yes, that is to their historicity.  More on the authority of the New Testament at pages 177-80.
  • Choosing to heal as a miracle says something, and choosing disciples itself says something as well (101).
  • Very good discussion of the Resurrection (112-14).
  • Very good discussion of worship (143-49), and reading the Bible as worship (149-43).
  • He emphasizes Romans 8.
  • He makes recurrent use of a model to explain different points, namely that there are different ways of how the human and the divine relate:  (a) pantheism, where the overlap is total [but God has no separate, distinct identity]; (b) something like Deism, where there is no overlap or only rare overlap; and (c) the Judeo-Christian view, where the two interlock.  Note that he says mankind generally is at the intersection of the natural and the supernatural (129).
  • He’s confusing on the meaning of “Lord” (though he says it’s very important!) (68-69).
  • There’s an interesting discussion (118-19) of the sense in which Jesus knew He was divine — not in the sense that we know we are hot or cold, but in the way we know our calling.  [But note that this would undercut the power of C.S. Lewis’s “trilemma” — that is, you can be mistaken about your calling without being a liar or a lunatic.]
  • Speaking of Lewis, there are both overt and implicit nods to him (e.g., “longingness” tied in with God).
  • And there’s an interesting discussion of what “inspired” means with regard to Scripture (180-84)

I also noted in the course of reading the book that tax collectors were unpopular but not poor (so Jesus hung around with both rich and poor sinners); I suspect that N.T. Wright didn’t make that point but just provoked it.

Finally, there were two quotes I copied.  First, re the reason for God’s rules (225):

The rules are to be understood, not as arbitrary laws thought up by a distant God to stop us from having fun (or to set us some ethical hoops to jump through as a kind of moral examination), but as the signposts to a way of life in which heaven and earth overlap, in which God’s future breaks into the present, in which we discover what genuine humanness looks and feels like in practice.

And, second, re Jesus’ humanity (11):

…. But all the same, the stories they told of him constantly hinted at laugher and tears in fair measure.

Jesus was always going to parties where people had plenty to eat and drink and there seemed to be a celebration going on.  He often grossly exaggerated to make his point:  here you are, he said, trying to take a speck out of your friend’s eye, when you’ve got a huge great plank in your own eye!  He gave his followers, especially the leading ones, funny nicknames (“Peter” means “Rocky”; James and John he called “Thunder-boys”).  Wherever he went, people were excited because they believed God was on the move, that a new rescue operation was in the air, that things were going to be put right.  People in that mood are like old friends meeting up at the start of a holiday.  They tend to laugh a lot.  There is a good time coming.  The celebration has begun.

Equally, wherever Jesus went he met an endless supply of people whose lives had gone badly wrong.  Sick people, sad people, people in doubt, people in despair, people covering up their uncertainties with arrogant bluster, people using religion as a screen against harsh reality.  And though Jesus healed many of them, it wasn’t like someone simply waving a magic wand.  He shared the pain.  He was deeply grieved at the sight of a leper and the thought of all that the man had gone through.  He wept at the tomb of a close friend.  Toward the end of the story, he himself was in agony, agony of soul before he faced the same agony in his body.

It isn’t so much that Jesus laughed at the world, or wept at the world.  He was celebrating with the new world that was beginning to be born, the world in which all that was good and lovely would triumph over evil and misery.  He was sorrowing with the world the way it was, the world of violence and injustice and tragedy which he and the people he met knew so well.