As I revealed in a recent tweet, I believe I’m walking into a new obsession with the author/scholar/pastor N.T. Wright. Surprising to many, I’m sure, with me being a seminarian and all, is the fact that I had never read any Wright before this book. Sure, I’ve known of his existence for years, had seen a few of his YouTube clips, and skimmed a few of his articles, but I had never read his books. My housemate during the two months or so before seminary began reading through Wright’s entire Christian Origins and the Question of God series (books 1, 2, 3) constituting over 2,100 pages of reading. He couldn’t stop reading, nor stop telling me about how amazing this man was. I nodded and agreed, sure that I would read something at some point. I had no idea what I was missing.
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, therefore, is the first thing by Wright I’ve ever read. And it was probably a very good introduction. The book has been billed as a Mere Christianity for our generation, and I must say, it more than meets this expectation. The book is separated into three sections. The first, much like Lewis’ masterpiece, begins with our intuitional sense of justice and then expands to other areas of life like relationships and beauty. He uses these internal intuitions that we all “sense” and “know” to build a case that these are actually the “echoes of a voice” that exists outside of all of created reality. In the second section, he tells who this voice is: the Creator God YHWH, incarnated in Jesus Christ. The third part lays out how one should appropriately respond to this God.
That’s the basic structure, but that doesn’t do this book justice. From that description, it sounds like this is like a million other books written by fundamentalists around the world. But it’s not. Wright is a legitimate first century scholar, historian, and theologian. He doesn’t fall into the errors that come from an addiction and over-reliance on systematic theology. He is a Biblical Theologian that relies heavily on the story both past and future to root the content of this book. A constant theme that grounds the entire book is the presence of three main world views that impact the world: “Option One” which equates God and Creation, “Option Two” which says that there is a great chasm between God and Creation, and the “Christian Option” that says that Heaven and Creation overlap and one day they will be merged. The implicated ideas of Resurrection and New Creation root all that Wright writes and this book is no exception.
Wright also knows his audience well. He is writing for people curious about spirituality and Christianity and those who were raised in the fog of evangelicalism and don’t know where to stand firm; those who resonate with something spiritually, but see the dissonance between Christianity and how it has been lived in the past 100 years or so. He talks directly to those people with intelligence, grace, and understanding. He explains the purpose, nature, and function of nearly every aspect of historic Christianity that seems confusing to everyone else in the world: the nature of the Incarnation, Israel, the Holy Spirit, Sacraments (Baptism and Communion get very extensive helpful explanations), Justice, Church Tradition, Prayer, Liturgy, and Community. He is very clear and helpful in all of these things.
Wright is an absolutely brilliant scholar and theologian, but he’s able to write in such a way that may seem to undermine this at first. I began reading the book, and admittedly, the first couple of chapters seemed a bit simplistic and “too easy”. I was expecting a book that tried to prove that it was smart. But he is a competent and confident writer that need not resort to such tactics. Also, I had to realize that this book, unlike Lewis’ Mere Christianity was not meant to prove anything about Christianity, but rather to explain and give clarity about the faith and how it was meant to be lived. But, though this is the case, the internal cohesion of his worldview and its explanatory power to understand all of history, reality, and personhood is enough to sway many critics, I’m sure, so don’t hesitate to give this book to skeptics and atheists alike.
It is an easy and enjoyable read, as anyone that has heard Wright knows, because he is so very witty and casual even in talking about the most cerebral and abstract of concepts (which he does not avoid at all in this book). Once again, my only concern in suggesting this book is the first few chapters. They really do come across as overly-simplistic. Which is a concern for me, because many of the skeptics I would consider sending this book to might feel like putting the book down fairly early. I just want to give all of you this heads up in case you are considering reading it or suggesting it to someone else. Encourage those more “intellectually-minded” to push through the first few chapters. They pay-off is tremendous.
So, with that one reservation, I highly suggest this book for anyone. It will bring the theologians back to earth a bit and give them a new vocabulary to understand this beautiful story (and retool some of their theology, no doubt); it will comfort those doubters that have been subject to such narrow and legalistic presentations of this amazing faith; it will answer the questions of skeptics and give them a framework for further exploration; and it will no doubt question the cohesion of the basically atheistic worldview that much of the world has to offer today.
Has anyone else out there read this book? What were your thoughts?