Monday, July 16, 2007

Simply Christian

I've just finished N. T. Wright's Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), and it is simply amazing.

Wright is the Anglican bishop of Durham, England. He's also one of the most respected biblical scholars in the world. Almost every paragraph of this book presupposes a lifetime of scholarship. And yet, like much of his work, it is written in a style that almost any educated person can easily understand. Simply Christian is an ideal introduction to the heart of the Christian faith for inquirers and skeptics alike. And it's a refreshing new look at well-worn truths for those of us who've been Christians for a long time.

Some are comparing Simply Christian to C. S. Lewis' work. But unlike Lewis, Wright is not pushy or given to caricaturing different positions or claiming too much by way of "proving" anything. In that regard, I think Wright's Simply Christian is better than Lewis' Mere Christianity.

I may write more about this book in future postings (my first reading may be just a preparation for future readings), but here's a brief excerpt in which Wright touches on the importance of "the ancient creeds":

To believe, to love, to obey (and to repent of our failure to do those things): faith of this kind is the mark of the Christian, the one and only badge we wear. That is why, in most traditional churches, the community declares its faith publicly in the words of one of the ancient creeds. This is the stamp of who we are. When we declare our faith, we are saying yes to this God, and to this project. That is the central mark of our identity, of who and what the church is (p. 209).

I agree with Wright that, as Christians, we are accountable to inherited beliefs, persons, and a 'Person' beyond ourselves, and that reminding us of this reality is one of the roles that reciting the Apostles' or Nicene Creed plays in worship. And yes, indeed, that is a "central mark of our identity" as baptized members of the Body of Christ.

My only beef with the way Wright says this is when he writes that we declare our faith "in the words of one of the ancient creeds." I know this may seem like hair-splitting semantics, but we Creedal Christians don't put our faith in the words of any creed - not even the Nicene Creed - but rather in the God to whom the creed points. This is why I always introduce the recitation of the Nicene Creed in the Eucharistic liturgy by saying, "Let us affirm the faith of the Church using the words of the Nicene Creed ..."

One more quote from Wright before closing:

Christian faith isn't a general religious awareness. Nor is it the ability to believe several unlikely propositions. It is certainly not a kind of gullibility which would put us out of touch with any genuine reality. It is the faith which hears the story of Jesus, including the announcement that he is the world's true Lord, and responds from the heart with a surge of grateful love that says: "Yes. Jesus is Lord. He died for my sins. God raised him from the dead. This is the center of everything" (p. 209).

And let all the people say, "Amen!"


Jeff said...

Great posting! I have been blessed by N.T. Wright's books and he has been a major influence on me theologically. I haven't read 'Simply Christian' yet but I probably will soon.

'The Challenge of Jesus' is an excellent book as well. If you want even more detail his 'Christian Origins and the Question of God' series is very interesting. The books are long and very detailed but are well worth the read.

Bryan+ said...

Thanks for your comments, Jeff.

Since you've read that much of Wright's work, I'd be interested to know if, after reading SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, you find it a worthy distillation of his more detailed writings.

I just may have to invest in the "Christian Origins and Question of God" series. I've heard several people say that it's really spectacular.

Maybe the place to start is, as you suggest (and as Wright recommends in the Afterword), THE CHALLENGE OF JESUS.