After You Believe – N.T. Wright

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?

N.T. Wright and Bart Ehrman Discuss “Is Our Pain God’s Problem”

Have a look at the very interesting dicussion over at beliefnet – here is the link.

Studying Romans – 1:18-32

In the last post we finished by talking about how the righteous will live by faith and how we are made righteous not by our own power and ability but by God (Rom 1:17-18). That is a very humbling verse because it takes the control out of our hands and places them in God’s. Paul spends the next several verses talking about people who have done the opposite – tried to take control from God and the need for faith and changed it into living for what man desires rather than by faith. In doing so, something else is revealed – the wrath of God. Paul writes about a revealing from God and how a rebellious mankind has rejected what God has revealed and has in its place accepted darkness and foolishness.

We all know that it is wise to be guided by light. To walk in the darkness is to subject our health to some serious health risking missteps that might even result in death in certain situations. The grave reality of what Paul is writing about here is that God has done a lot of revealing and mankind has rejected it.

God reveals:
Romans 1:20 – In the beginning or since the beginning God has made himself known through the creation.
Man rejects:
Romans 1:25 – Mankind exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped created things (idolatry) rather than the Creator.
God reveals:
Romans 1:19 – The things of God have been made plain to mankind.
Man rejects:
Romans 1:18 – Mankind suppresses the truth about God and as a result God reveals something else – His wrath (1:18).
God reveals:
Romans 1:17 – In the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed.
The question for us and for these Christians in Rome is how then are we to live in light of the truth revealed by God through the Gospel (D,B,R of Jesus Christ and God’s intention to renew and restore us back into proper relationship with himself)? The answer is that the Righteous will live by faith (Rom 1:17 & Hab 2:4).

Things in this world are not as they are designed to be:
The rest of Romans 1 is basically saying mankind has messed things up. They have changed things and perverted things. Mankind has distorted things and not just those nameless and faceless pagans over there somewhere but we have been guilty as well.

They changed the intention of what God’s revealing of the truth was supposed to do – It was supposed to expose in their lives their need for God, the reality of sin, and an acceptance of the truth. Instead Paul writes, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, (the response through faith that is designed to happen when we are exposed to the truth of the Gospel) but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” God intended to reveal (the word reveal comes from the same word as the word “light” = illuminate/shine light on) himself so that mankind would believe but instead they became fools with darkened hearts. That is not how things were intended to be!

Paul continues in verse 23 “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Where else in scripture do we read about the word “image”? Gen 1:26 tells us we are made in God’s image. That is the original intention for mankind – to resemble God. But when mankind rejects God, things are no longer how they were designed to be and an exchange takes place. When we worship another (idolatry but not necessarily of objects of wood or stone but also materialism, sex, pride, arrogance, or any of a number of still relevant “gods”) we exchange the way things were designed to be, the way God wants them for the way we want things to be. Paul says that is foolish and dark and ignorant and in the end it leads to death (1:32). The sad thing is, Paul continues in 1:32 to write that they “know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.” That has to be one of the saddest verses in all of scripture. Those who knew better didn’t care. They even knew the result would be death and they didn’t care. They would rather have their way for a time and pay the piper another day.

This change/exchange language is at the heart and soul of why Paul decided to use homosexuality as an example of how mankind has rejected the way God designed things to be. I cannot say it any better than N.T. Wright so I will quote him on this one,

His point is, ‘this is not what males and females were made for’…His point is not ‘there are some exceptionally wicked people out there who do these revolting things’ but ‘the fact that such clear distortions of the creator’s male-plus-female intention occur in the world indicates that the human race as a whole is guilty of a character-twisting idolatry’. He sees the practice of same-sex relations as a sign that the human world in general is out of joint.” (Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, 22-23)

It is important that we don’t gloss over this passage without taking a serious inventory of our lives. The very fact that sin can lead God to give people over to their own lusts and desires (1:24) should be alarming to us and open our eyes to the consequences of the habits, behaviors, and attitudes we have adopted. It is easy to point the finger at the world and say, “You bash those pagans Paul!” without taking a good look in the mirror only to see that we are guilty as well. How much worse is it to know better and to know the consequences and to go ahead and do it anyway (1:32)? God’s people should be the first to take sin seriously and to recognize just how ugly it is because, “The righteous will live by faith.”

Women’s Roles in the Church – Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball & N.T. Wright Weigh In

Looks like Scot McKnight is weighing in on this subject. I intend to talk about it more here in the coming week after we have our second discussion this Sunday in our 20s & 30s class. Here is the link to Jesus Creed. Here is also a link mentioned in the discussion there to something N.T. Wright wrote on the matter from the NT Wright Page.

Dan Kimball posted something today about Sarah Palin and a complementarian view. He is the one who initially sparked the discussion in our 20s and 30s group and the posts here on the blog over the last week or so. I am going to do at least two more posts here on this issue. You can read more of Scot’s views in the comments of Dan Kimball’s post. Enough explaining. Following the links and see what you think.

N.T. Wright on Attempting to Restore New Testament Christianity

“Many writers…have seen the religious experience of the early Christians…as the normative element within Christianity. This has the apparent advantage that it enables one to conduct the ‘scientific’, supposedly ‘objective’ study of early Christian religion and theology, with the knowledge that when one has found them one is in touch with the real model of what Christianity is supposed to be like. On might then, it would be hoped, reactivate this model by preaching and prayer.”

– N.T. Wright. The New Testament and the People of God, 16

He goes on to talk about the authority of scripture and whether or not scripture is authoritative because it is closer to the actual events. He also talks about what is in scripture and whether or not what was selected is normative of all early Christian belief and practice and what was ommitted and how that bears on the discussion of re-establishing early Christianity when we do not know the whole of what early Christianity was really like.

For those who read this blog who come from a background in the Church of Christ these words are very challenging. Any thoughts?

N.T. Wright on Finding Meaning in Worship

“The Jewish law begins with worship, with the love of God, because if it’s true that we’re made in God’s image we will find our fullest meaning, our true selves, the more we learn to love and worship the one we are designed to reflect.” – N.T. Wright Mark for Everyone, 170

Christian Sermon Links

Here are the links I have compiled to 67 different Christian ministers and scholars. The majority of these are from the church of Christ and some from Christendom in general. What links would you add? Who has has helped you grow in your faith who has their sermons online? Feel free to add suggestions in the comments. The additions will be reflected in the link at the top of Kingdom Living.

Alister McGrath
Andy Stanley – Northpoint
Ben Witherington III

Bill Williams
Bobby Valentine – Palo Verde Church of Christ
Brian McLaren – Cedar Ridge Community Church
Brian McLaren – Allelon
Brian Nicklaus
Craig Blomberg
Chris Seidman – Farmer’s Branch
Curt Sparks – Overland Park Church of Christ
D. A. Carson
Dallas Willard
Dallas Willard – Veritas
Dallas Willard – Allelon
Dan Holland – Metro Church of Christ
David Shannon – Mt. Juliet CofC (Mt. Juliet, TN)
David Young – North Boulevard CofC (Murfreesboro, TN)
Don McLaughlin – North Atlanta Church of Christ
Erwin McManus – Mosaic
Eugene Peterson – Allelon
Faith Comes By Hearing
Gary Bradley – Mayfair
James Dunn
Jeff Walling – Providence Road Church of Christ
Jim Woodroof
John Alan Turner
John Dobbs
John Ortberg
John Piper
John Risse – North Boulevard Church of Christ
John Scott – Saturn Road Church of Christ
John Stott
John York
Joseph Shulam
Karl Barth
Larry Crabb
Mark Hurt – Cordova Community Church
Mark Taylor
Marva Dawn
Max Lucado
Mike Cope – Highland Church of Christ (Abilene, TX)
Mike Winkler – Madison Church of Christ
Miroslav Volf
N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright – Allelon
Noel Whitlock – College Church of Christ (Searcy, AR)
Parker Palmer
Philip Cunningham III
Prentice Meador
Ravi Zacharias
Rick Atchley – Richland Hills Church of Christ
Rob Bell – Mars Hill Bible Church
Rubel Shelly
Stanley Hauerwas
Tim Bulkeley
Tim Spivey – Highland Oaks Church of Christ
Tim Woodroof – Otter Creek Church of Christ
Tony Campolo
Trey Morgan
Wade Hodges – Garnett Church of Christ (Tulsa, OK)
Walt Leaver – Brentwood Hills Church of Christ
Walter Brueggemann
Wheaton College Chapel – miscellaneous
Will Willimon & Others
William Lane Craig
Wolfhart Pannenburg

N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” Series

I have been really pleased with N.T. Wright’s brief works on different books of the New Testament called the “For Everyone” series. I am going to make it a habit of putting one of these in the hands of each of the teachers when they are covering a New Testament book. He is concise, throws in just enough background to help you get the point and even makes some really good application. I have been really happy with this series of books by N.T. Wright.

N.T. Wright on Emotionalism

From his chapter on A World Reborn: Revelation in Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship:

We have allowed our proper dislike of emotionalism to deceive us into trying to ignore our emotions. But if Good Friday and Easter don’t stir our emotions, then the tyrant has indeed enslaved us. We have become like a garden paved over with stone slabs. Many people live like that; God help us, many of us even choose it, rather than face the terror and the joy of our own hearts, let alone of Calvary and Easter. But Easter is all about the garden in which stone slabs are made to look silly. Jesus weeps before Lazarus’ tomb; and then he calls him out into life. Jesus weeps again in Gethsemane; then he goes off to confront the tyrant and defeat him. Peter weeps bitterly after he has denied Jesus; and the risen Jesus meets him and loves him and commissions him. Mary weeps before Jesus’ tomb; and Jesus meets her, alive. John weeps because the plan of salvation is sealed up, and the world cannot be rescued from tyranny; and his tears turn to worship because of the Lamb who was slain. We can try paving the garden with stone if we like; but come springtime, come Easter, there will be grass pushing its way through.

To experience the full range of human emotions is to recognize the one whose image we are made in and who has experienced the same things himself.

The Original Jesus by N.T. Wright

I finished N.T. Wright’s book The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary yesterday. He divides the book into two parts. The first part introduces Jesus’ life and ministry. The second part deals with how to read the gospels effectively and for the purpose they were written for.He brings the reader in close with the culture of Jesus’ day and the impact that has on how the text is read. This book is a good introduction to the Gospels and would be a good read for someone who is not very familiar with them but who would like to learn more. There are also tidbits that are of interest to those who are more mature in their faith and further along in their Bible study. I would give a small warning to say that there are a few things that should be handled with care. He handles the differences in the gospels and how we view inspiration that could throw someone young in their faith for a little bit of a loop. Overall, his treatment of that topic is helpful in understanding the issue and is crucial for helping us be informed on these issues.

Wright goes into some detail to tell how Jesus was different than the other “would be” Messiahs who met untimely deaths by the hands of the Romans. Many of those groups fell apart at the death of their leader or gave their allegiance to the relatives of the deceased leader. Christianity did not follow that pattern because they understood that their leader had come back to life. He does an adequate job of linking Jesus’ role with how people viewed the temple and the authority that Jesus brought in his person. He debunks the Jesus’ seminar and even makes some application, “You see, when we explore the question about Jesus and God, we discover another question: What might it look like today if people were captivated by the Spirit of this Jesus?” (p.87).

In the second half of the book Wright talks biases, the reasons the gospels differ on some details, the Greek and Jewish roots that are important to understand to “get” the gospels, and brief descriptions of each of the gospels/what makes them unique. Finally he gives four tips for “Reading the Gospels for Yourself.”

Overall it was a good read and useful on several levels. The only thing I would really be in contention with him on was how he mentioned that the patriarchs in their culture didn’t run as it was not dignified and how that has an impact on how we read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. We don’t really know that is the case. That theory came out of observing modern day cultures that are still somewhat similar to the world of the New Testament and not from any ancient documents. Wright is normally a lot more careful than that.

For more from N.T. Wright see the N.T. Wright page.