Book Review: Simply Christian

Simply Christian by N.T. Wright.

There are no shortage of books that
attempt to make sense of Christianity to those who are either
unfamiliar with it or perhaps estranged from it. Simply Christian is
a credible entry into this ever-expanding catalog.

Wright is an accomplished and
controversial theologian. Lutherans are wary of him for some of his
revisionist ideas about St. Paul’s intent in his writings. However
there is practically none of that here. Nor is this an intense
apologetic effort to demonstrate the rationality of the Biblical
Christian truth claims about the universe. It is more of a soft
apologetic, intended I suspect to not frighten off the casual reader
while still leading them to see that the Biblical Christian
description of reality answers many of the questions that keep us all
awake at night.

Wright goes about this by discussing
four broad themes that haunt the human experience with expectations
for something other than what we regularly encounter and experience:
“the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger
for relationships, and the delight in beauty.” Each topic is
simple and universal enough to appeal to almost everyone. Using each
of these topics as a springboard, Wright endeavors to demonstrate how
the Biblical Christian account of things addresses each of these
areas.

Wright is an engaging writer, at times
clever and humorous but never in a mean-spirited fashion. He writes
with a respect for the reader that assumes they struggle for answers,
and without the tone that anyone outside the Christian faith is a
fool. He is convinced of the validity of the Biblical Christian
position, but he writes in a way that this conviction is not
overbearing or suffocating.

As such, this is a reasonable book to
suggest to friends who may be interested in the Christian faith. The
book is divided into three major sections. The first fleshes out the
four themes quoted above, demonstrating how pantheism/panentheism on
the one hand and deism on the other both miss the mark in addressing
these issues, and how a third way – a Christian way – is a better
fit. The second section uses broad brush strokes to paint the major
aspects of this Christian way as elaborated on in the Bible. Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit each receive two chapters that describe their
roles in the Christian way. The last section of the book introduces
the reader to major aspects of the Christian life – what practices
have marked the lives of followers of Christ for the last two
thousand years. Worship, prayer, the Bible, and an interest in this
life and world and not simply in the hereafter are touched upon.

While Wright makes strong efforts to
not make assumptions about what readers are familiar with, in a book
of this size (not quite 250 pages), it’s impossible at times not to.
The areas that I found the most problematic were areas that
insinuated social justice as a primary activity of the Church –
both politically and socially. While I agree wholeheartedly that
Christians are to care for our world and the people in it, assuming
that modern evangelical notions about social justice are the best
response to this left me less than enchanted. He doesn’t hammer on
about these things, which is good.

It’s a pleasant read. He lays his
thoughts out well. I think that his approach is something accessible
to people of any age. Whether it is enough to crack through the
thick shell of relativism that surrounds so many young adults is
another matter. In my experience as an educator and apologist,
sustained discussion and debate are often the only ways to pin
someone into a corner and force them to acknowledge the contradictory
nature of their thinking about the world. That sounds unloving and I
don’t mean it that way. It’s just that we need to be very clear that
the philosophical training that is common throughout American secular
educational systems is very effective and rarely challenged. When a
person reaches college age and their 20’s, it may take a rather
traumatic experience or loving and persistent discussion bathed in
prayer to break through.

This book is likely to fare better with
people who are honestly searching and questioning rather than with
hardened skeptics or relativists. It is also not going to satisfy
the interests or needs of hard-core theology junkies. That isn’t
Wright’s intention though and it would be unfair to judge him by that
criteria.

This book might make a worthwhile
selection for a reading club, possibly even for a Bible study.
Sixteen chapters plus an introduction could take you four months or
more to work through, although the chapters are usually less than 20
pages long and so you could cut the length in half by doubling up.

If you’re looking for a place to get
familiar with Wright, working your way up to his more intimidating
theological works, this isn’t a bad start at all.   

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