Brief Commentary: Simply Christian

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

Wright here gives us a challenging and edifying introduction to Christianity for those outside of the faith, and perhaps an even more challenging and edifying re-acquaintance with the faith for those who already believe, or have lapsed from the faith. Wright thus writes a volume equally geared towards the active believer, the lapsed believer, and the interested non-believer; even the strident atheist might find some pause in response to considering Wright’s lucid and moving presentation of the faith.

Some might think that this is a work of apologetics, a work that responds to criticisms of the faith and tries to defend it in the face of these; that is an incorrect assumption. Rather than start with challenges to Christianity, Bishop Wright begins by asserting that all human beings, no matter their background, seem to all feel in the deepest parts of them pulls towards beauty, towards love and relationships, towards seeking justice to be done in the world, and towards a sense that life must have some meaning outside of themselves. These are the “echoes” of a “voice” calling from somewhere; we all recognize this, we just often don’t know how to respond to this voice. Wright says little about atheist and materialist approaches to these “echoes,” but asserts that (at least quasi-)religious approaches to these have taken three forms: a pagan form that sees the Divine as a semi-conscious force that immanently exists in all things, a deist form that sees a transcendent Divine as removed from all human action, and a third form–represented by the Christian, but perhaps by some other religious traditions as well (Wright does not do a comparative religion study here)–that sees God as both transcendent and immanent, as enacting a constant coexistence and interaction of Heaven and Earth. Wright reads Christianity as embodying this “Option Three,” and he spends the latter 2/3 of the book largely explicating why the Christian embodiment of “Option Three” is a sound, sensible, and full response to the four “echoes” he unpacks in the first section of the book.

On the whole, Wright presents a complex and nuanced view of Christianity that is learned without being distractingly scholarly, and easily digestible by most anyone. There are especial strengths in his presentation of the unity of Scripture, and his emphasis on the centrality of the “exile-and-return” narrative that runs throughout the Bible to the Christian faith, something many believers often ignore. Wright’s readings of Scripture, and his path into exploring “why Christianity makes sense,” leads to his providing some significant challenges to believers about the purpose and ends of their faith (it’s about being a worker in God’s process of reconciliation between the Divine and his Creation, of bringing the Kingdom to bear, not merely of punching a ticket to Heaven–which, to be clear, Wright certainly believes in), about how to worship, the purposes of worship itself, and Christian ethics and life.

There’s plenty here to unsettle both the swaggering bluster of the Religious Right and the fast-and-loose-with-Scripture moves of the progressive Christian Left. Which is, if you read the Gospels, as it should be; Christianity is a faith that constantly challenges our complacencies. Wright’s dual insistence on the sensibility of Christianity, and how well it answers our deepest desires, as well as his insistence on bringing believers back to Scripture to shake up their arrogant complacencies, provides non-believers and lapsed believers with a possibly new sense of what Christianity is and what the Church should be and can be, making the work Bishop Wright does here a powerful and useful witness. Even those uninterested in Christianity–or any form of religious belief–would be well-served to hear Wright out here, as it would do much to explain the continuing interest in and vitality of Christianity in a world which ostensibly has little use for it any more.

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