Kingdom Living

After You Believe – N.T. Wright

March 29th, 2010 · No Comments · Books, Christianity, Discipleship, Religion

I am working my way through Wright’s newest book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters and I have to admit it is not quite what I thought it was going to be. Of the dozen+ books I have read by Wright I have always been pleased. By the end of this book I expect that to be the case but so far it hasn’t met my expectations. Expectations are powerful. Even if they are misguided or not based on anything they can still leave us wanting something other than what we find. I don’t know why I thought it, but I did…the first thought I had when I heard the title was that this book might be helpful for someone who has recently become a Christian or is seeking God and wants to know how to work through the process of becoming more Christ-like in a helpful and practical way.

So far I haven’t found that at all. The first clue that should have warned me was that this book was written under the name N.T. rather than Tom. I think I was hoping to read a book by Tom Wright, rather than his more scholarly counterpart – N.T. What we have instead is not knee deep in scholasticism but I would not say that it is all that accessible to someone just starting out. I can’t say it is a complaint because the book just wasn’t written to address what I thought it might.

Another thing that stands out about this book is that Wright has gotten wordier than ever. The first 25 pages can be summed up as follows – Most people either try to live by the rules or neglect the rules in order to find out what it takes to be true to themselves (their ambitions, dreams, etc). Neither of these things really get at what God is after – a transformed heart where the inside is transformed by someone from the outside. At times he tells three or more stories in a row to make one point. It just seems excessive and makes the book that much easier to put back on the shelf.

One thing he has alluded to is answering the question of why Christian character matters in a Christian culture that insists there is nothing we can do that has anything to do with our salvation. The whole saved by grace alone line is one that needs to be better informed because as Wright repeatedly points out, character really does matter as it points to the heart of one who is actually in process of being transformed by God.

But I am hanging in there. I am not done reading this book and I expect there are some very good things on the way. I will keep you posted along the way. Anyone else reading this book right now? How is it going?

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  • nick gill

    This title is in a sort of unnamed series of its own – which I’m sure you noticed by the cover style – following Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope.

    I think this book is caught in a position where it won’t really satisfy anyone:

    Too scholarly for the Tom Wright fans – not scholarly enough for the Big Book fans.

    Too revolutionary for the grace alone folk – not revolutionary enough for the Surprised by Hope fans who expect Tom to find paradigm-shifting solutions to every Christian challenge!

    Jay Guin reports the same dissatisfaction you’re experiencing, and it confirms my thesis that I think I shared on his blog as well. Our Christian tradition is much more comfortable with “working out our salvation” than his, or most of the evangelical world. What Jay mentioned that *we* need, and I fully agree, is guidance into getting our communities in step with the Spirit.

    Much of the spiritual discipline literature is deeply individualistic, which is fine as far as it goes, but not great for shaping community.

    Much of the “working out our salvation” teaching we have pretty much ignores the work of the Spirit altogether – Wright doesn’t *ignore* it in this book, but he certainly doesn’t bring it front and center – which I regard as a surprising weakness.

    Another situation he has to address is that this book is consciously participating in an ancient tradition, rather than subverting one in favor of an even older one, a la Surprised By Hope. Virtue ethics is indeed the way out of the problem he sees (goodness calculus vs. “to thine own self be true”) in the broader Christian world. I think our ears are already tuned for his solution, though, so we feel like he’s wasting a ton of words and pages building up to it.

    But for people in traditions where transformation of character is believed to have no relation to salvation, and where there are hundreds of years of arguments arrayed against such an idea, this kind of book IS necessary – and it is precisely the multiple stories that may help postmodern readers step into the stream of Christian growth that Tom’s advocating.

    PS – for ministers and teachers in traditions like ours, I’m recommending the Apprentice Series by James Bryan Smith. He’s accepted Dallas Willard’s direct challenge/encouragement to write a curriculum for communal Christlikeness.

    The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows

    The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting On the Character of Christ

    The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love

  • kevin walker

    I had this sort of reaction with “Simply Christian” at first. It took until the second section of chapters for me to really get into it.

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