by Joel Lian
Why bother reading a book about Christianity in general? We know what we believe; now shouldn’t we roll up our sleeves and study some aspect of our faith in depth? Yes and no. For those of us labouring in the trenches of Christian living, it is sometimes helpful to zoom out and ask: where does this all fit in? Similarly, for the new believer, or even an interested non-Christian, it is useful to have a roadmap on hand to plot out the bewildering maze that we call ‘the Christian faith’.
Simply Christian is just such a roadmap of what Christians believe. Written by N.T. Wright (also known as Tom Wright), the former Anglican Bishop of Durham, Wright is one of the foremost biblical scholars of our time. His book is structured into three parts. In Part One, he explores four ‘echoes of a voice’ – our frustrated longings for justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty, which suggest there is more to this life than what we see. In Part Two, he sets out the core Christian doctrines about God, Jesus, and the problem with the world. In Part Three, he explains what it means to be Christian and follow Jesus.
On their own, none of these topics is new stuff. What is refreshing is the perspective that Wright brings to the grand narrative of the Christian faith. This is perhaps best illustrated by starting with the end of the book. In his final chapter, Wright states: “Despite what many people think, within the Christian family and outside it, the point of it all is not ‘to go to heaven when you die’”. Rather, following the example of Jesus and empowered by his Spirit, we are to help bring heaven to earth. In other words, new creation. “When you announce the good news that the risen Jesus is Lord,” Wright writes, “new life from God’s dimension comes to bring new creation within ours”. We are to live as “one of those places where, and one of those means by which, heaven and earth overlap”.
This is a point that bears repeating. As evangelical Christians, we are often focused on how Jesus’ victory over sin and death applies to us in terms of salvation from an eternity of damnation. In the process, we sometimes forget what we are saved for. Returning to this point several times throughout his book, Wright stresses that one of the key themes of Christianity is that “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world of which he said that it was ‘very good’. He intends to remake it”. And it is Christians who are called to share in this amazing task of remaking the world. In the areas of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, the church exists to show the world what the kingdom of God looks like.
On balance, Simply Christian is a book that might be better appreciated by those who already have some familiarity with Christianity. Its themes and arguments present the faith in a fresh way and therefore invite us to consider anew aspects that many of us have come to take for granted. That being said, it still makes for a wonderful introduction to Christianity for those who are starting to explore.
Joel worships in Sunday Worship Service with his wife, Naomi. He likes plants but wishes they wouldn’t keep dying on him.
This article first appeared in Issue 18, July 2018 CHORUS Magazine.