Seldom does a scholar emerge whose cogitating and insightful research yields results on par with great thinkers such as C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. Yet in his thoughtful new book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, the Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, paints a picture stroked equally by the brushes of historical theology and dogmatic theology, framed within a lucid and logical method. While engaging and enlightening for those familiar with the information imparted, Wright’s book still is able to present the Christian faith in an introductory, yet, holistic manner, even for those with very little exposure to Orthodoxy. Wright notes that his “aim has been to describe what Christianity is all about, both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside” (p. ix).
The book itself is constructed of three different sections. Part One, Echoes of a Voice, deals with what Wright calls “the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty.” The idea developed here is that there exists what Wright refers to as “signposts”, which point to something. Being quite like a “dream” experienced but not remembered, they leave us in a hazy place, in a sense of perplexity. He exposes many of the common broken elements (the echoes) that humans uncover upon introspection. These broken elements, which are common to humanity, can only be “put to rights” when our sense of perplexity collides with the truth covered in the next section.
Part Two, Staring at the Sun, is an attempt to clear some of the perplexity by offering the Christian view of God as an answer. One idea introduced in this section is that of God as found in “Option Three.” This option avoids the pitfalls of the other two, Deism and Pantheism/Panentheism, by providing a balanced picture of how God is related to his creation. He states:
To speak of God’s action in the world, of heaven’s action (if you like) on earth—and Christians speak of this every time they say the Lord’s prayer—is to speak not of an awkward metaphysical blunder, nor of a “miracle” in the sense of a random invasion of earth by alien (‘supernatural’) forces, but to speak of the loving Creator acting within the creation which has never lacked the signs of his presence. It is to speak, in fact, of such actions as might be expected to leave echoes. Echoes of a voice (p. 65-66).
With this backdrop, the reader is then guided into an understanding of God through the framework of Israel as described through four themes: “king, temple, torah, and new creation.” Next Jesus is expounded upon in relation to the Kingdom of God and his “vocational” part in the “rescue and renewal” plan for humanity, which include the giving of and living in the Spirit.
Part Three, Reflecting the Image, is all about how to practically be the “new creation.” One of those ways is through worship, which when done through different means (song, Scripture, and the breaking of bread), demonstrates that “because you were made in God’s image, worship makes you more truly human” (p.148). Again with the backdrop of “Option Three” (that of a God intimately involved in Creation) in mind, Wright reflects upon prayer and the Bible, including a brief historical overview of Scripture and a treatment of inspiration and interpretation. Then, to cap off the discussion, he ends with an aptly named chapter, “New Creation, Starting Now”.
Simply Christian is a must read for any person already in the family of faith or seeking to make sense of the Christian message. It will, for good reason, go down as the classical Christian text for this generation.