Review: Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

by Jun 5, 2013Books, Theology

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes SenseSimply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The main value of this book for me was probably the arresting one- to five-liners. Like these:

It’s no part of Christian belief to say that the followers of Jesus have always got everything right. Jesus himself taught his followers a prayer which includes a clause asking God for forgiveness. He must have thought we would go on needing it.

human beings have been so seriously damaged by evil that what they need isn’t simply better self-knowledge, or better social conditions, but help, and indeed rescue, from outside themselves

One of the regular tactics the skeptic employs at this point is relativism. I vividly remember a school friend saying to me in exasperation, at the end of a conversation about Christian faith, “It’s obviously true for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s true for anybody else.” Many people today take exactly that line. Saying “It’s true for you” sounds fine and tolerant. But it only works because it’s twisting the word “true” to mean, not “a true revelation of the way things are in the real world,” but “something that is genuinely happening inside you.” In fact, saying “It’s true for you” in this sense is more or less equivalent to saying “It’s not true for you,” because the “it” in question—the spiritual sense or awareness or experience—is conveying, very powerfully, a message (that there is a loving God) which the challenger is reducing to something else (that you are having strong feelings which you misinterpret in that sense).

Beauty, like justice, slips through our fingers. We photograph the sunset, but all we get is the memory of the moment, not the moment itself. We buy the recording, but the symphony says something different when we listen to it at home. We climb the mountain, and though the view from the summit is indeed magnificent, it leaves us wanting more; even if we could build a house there and gaze all day at the scene, the itch wouldn’t go away. Indeed, the beauty sometimes seems to be in the itching itself, the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied.

The beauty of the natural world is, at best, the echo of a voice, not the voice itself. And if we try to pin it down—literally, in the case of a butterfly-collector with a specimen—we find that the key thing itself, the elusive beauty which keeps us always looking further, is precisely what you lose when the pin goes in.

A great many arguments about God—God’s existence, God’s nature, God’s actions in the world—run the risk of being like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining. It is all too easy to make the mistake of speaking and thinking as though God (if there is a God) might be a being, an entity, within our world, accessible to our interested study in the same sort of way we might study music or mathematics, open to our investigation by the same sort of techniques we use for objects and entities within our world.

I had a little trouble keeping the thread throughout the book, because I read it at widely disparate times. But the idea that “heaven and earth meet” or “interlock” or “overlap” in this current age was a recurring one, and a good one. This is the already/not-yet idea put in more lay-friendly language, I think. I think what Wright says is important and, more to the point, biblical:

God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was “very good.” Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does, he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.

I could not call this book Mere Christianity for today’s generation. It simply doesn’t rise to that level; it’s not handling objections to Christianity quite like Lewis does. (I think Keller’s Reason for God makes a much better bid as Mere Christianity‘s heir.) And I do get tired of his above-the-fray way of speaking, his claims that his approach is “fresh” (and the implication that others unnamed are not so fresh).

But Wright is a gifted writer who has facility with and knowledge of Scripture. When it comes to one issue where you might have expected a world-renowned Anglican to hedge—human sexuality—he is extremely forthright and directly quotes the Bible at length. He has caught hold of some truths neglected by evangelicalism (and a few falsehoods rejected by evangelicalism!). For these qualities and for many little insights in the book I am thankful.

I read the book on my Kindle and therefore have no page numbers for you.

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