Mark's Reviews > After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters

After You Believe by N.T. Wright
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Aug 26, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction, spirituality, theology
Read from July 11 to August 22, 2012


In English theologian N.T. Wright's view, most Christians approach the challenge of how to live a Christian life in two basic ways: the one group, more conservative, believes Christian living is about following the right set of rules. The other, more liberal, believes that the Christian life is a matter of following your heart, of being spontaneous and authentic. He agrees with neither, and tries to address the longstanding Protestant reliance on being saved through God's grace (and the concomitant idea among some that it is wrong to promote any program of moral effort because it amounts to "works salvation").

Wright believes that what the teachings of Jesus and the writings of Paul and the other epistles really call for is a persistent, committed effort to learn how to live lives filled with love, joy, peace, great-heartedness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the ninefold fruits of the spirit, as he paraphrases them from Paul).

And the key difference between the Christian path to virtue and the Aristotelian one, he says, is that Aristotle wanted the endpoint of virtue to be an ideal political leader -- a moral superstar -- while Paul and other early Christian leaders wanted people to become a "perfect" community -- one that lived as if God's kingdom were already here.

This ties in with another of Wright's big ideas, liberally quoted in a recent cover article on heaven in Time -- that heaven is not a distant diaphanous world in which souls will have nothing to do but bask in divine glory -- it will be the perfected kingdom of God on earth and the souls who live in it will have continuing work to do as the priestly rulers of God's realm.

I found this to be a provocative book, much of which I agreed with. While it is clear that Wright gives more of a break to the conservative rule-followers than the liberal do-what-feels-right Christians, I didn't mind that so much, because he did such a good job of marrying the idea of Christian living and the need for humans to work at forming good (Godly) habits, and his last chapter suggests very concrete, if somewhat traditional, approaches for how to get on that path.

I had two qualms, though, that downgraded the book for me. For one thing, Wright -- known not to support gay ordination -- threw in an ill-reasoned single paragraph asserting that because Jesus spoke of the value of heterosexual marriage in his condemnation of divorce, he necessarily was saying that marriage is meant to be only between a man and a woman, which I think the logicians would call the fallacy of overgeneralization. I thought it was unworthy of the noble themes he was sounding for him to use one throwaway graph to ride a controversial hobby horse.

And more broadly, I knocked a star off this because -- as with NEARLY EVERY RELIGION BOOK I READ -- this was a brilliant long essay that was padded to become a book. He made the same points over and over again, particularly in the middle portion of exegeting Paul's writings, and it was only when he reached the end and began describing how his approach to moral growth might work did the book begin to redeem itself.

I wish there were a high-class Cliff Notes version of this for everyone, but I still recommend it for its ideas.
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07/11/2012 page 26
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message 1: by peg (new)

peg I am looking forward to reading your take on this book,Mark. It just might be my next read. You bring so many interesting books to the table!


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