Book Review – Simply Christian, by N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright, considered one of the top theologians of our day, offers the book, Simply Christian, to help us all understand why Christianity makes sense today. As with many persuasive works, Wright sets forth in the first section of the book to illustrate the need – why humanity longs for what Christianity has to offer. He does this in a way that is less propositional and more observational – drawing the reader into the grand narrative as part of the story. When Wright says, “Our passion for justice,” “we yearn for spirituality,” “We are made for each other,” and “Our puzzlement about what beauty is,” he constructively includes the reader and sets the stage for the story of God to make sense of all these voices we hear echoing in the distance – a sort of groaning like in Romans 8 when Paul says the whole creation groans and we ourselves groan – in expectation, in hope of God’s glory revealed and redemption complete.
In the second section of Simply Christian, Wright exposes the readers to the prevailing philosophies of the day in regards to God’s realm and how the echoes we hear are the sounds of the intersections of God’s realm with the realm in which we have been born. He offers an excellent overview of a Christian or Biblical world view, and demonstrates the permanent nature of this intersection in Jesus Christ, saying, “in Jesus of Nazareth heaven and earth have come together once and for all.” Wright then leads the reader into the centrality of the kingdom of God – this intersection of heaven and earth – in Jesus public message. Wright calls this idea of heaven and earth overlapping and intersecting the philosophical Option Three.
I find chapter 9, God’s Breath of Life, an interesting chapter as Wright proposes “the point of the Spirit is to enable those who follow Jesus to take into all the world the news that he is Lord, that he has won the victory over the forces of evil, that a new world has opened up, and that we are to help make it happen.” I find this proposition confusing, as the “it” seems to be a little nebulous. Later Wright goes on to say “the Spirit is also the one who joins heaven and earth together.” Perhaps the “it” is the exposing of these intersections and living in the openings to this new world – God’s Kingdom here and now so we can experience the reality of God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Wright also emphasizes the conjoining of the Spirit and the Church, we cannot separate the two and the activity of the one is intimately and inseparably intertwined with the other.
Part Three of Simply Christian is where the rubber meets the road. Wright covers some of the practical aspects of the life of the church, illustrating how Option Three is the only explanation for Christianity and the activity of the church here and now. Wright explains that Jesus is “not offering a new way of getting into heaven hereafter, but announcing that the rule of heaven, the very life of heaven, is now overlapping with earth in a new way,… Heaven and earth have overlapped permanently where he (Jesus) stands, where he hung, where he rises, wherever the fresh wind of his Spirit now blows. Living as a Christian means living in the world as it’s been reshaped by and around Jesus and his Spirit.”
I love what Wright says about the new creation in Chapter 15 – Believing and Belonging. It’s not just about some future new creation, but new life now. “But the new creation has already begin with the resurrection of Jesus, and God wants us to wake up now, in the present time, to the new reality. We are to come through death and out the other side into a new sort of life; to become daylight people, even though the rest of the world isn’t awake. We are to live in the present darkness by the light of Christ, so that when the sun comes up at last we will be ready for it.” This imagery is beautiful and Biblical.
Wright concludes Simply Christian hearkening back to the echoes of voices in the early chapters, drawing us into the great truth that the echoes “have indeed turned into a voice. It is, of course, the voice of Jesus, calling us to follow him into God’ new world – the world in which the hints, signposts, and echoes of the present world turn into the reality of the next one.” Wright does not simply set this forth as a good idea, but rather as a voice calling and expecting a response and inviting dialogue for life. “We are called to be part of God’s new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now. We are called to model and display that new creation in symphonies and family life, in restorative justice and poetry, in holiness and service to the poor, in politics and in painting.”
After reading and reflecting on Simply Christian, I agree with Anne Rice who endorsed the book saying, “This will become a classic.” Wright puts into words many thoughts I have had after reading the whole of scripture, walking in intimacy with God and other Christ followers, and living in the world. I have experienced the overlap of heaven and earth and heralded in many intersections of God’s Kingdom with my everyday world. I long to live in the overlap, but unless I step into the present darkness at times I cannot expand this overlap bringing the light of Christ into the realm of the world. Simply Christian is not only inspirational, it is motivational calling us all “in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards… to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.”
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