Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review: Simply Christian, by N.T. Wright

I have to say that I was disappointed by this book. The book is broken up into three sections. The first focused on the echoes of God’s voice in our desire for justice, morality, beauty and truth. The second focused on the story of God through Israel culminating in Jesus Christ. The third was about Christian life and practice. I think that Wright was aiming to write a Mere Christianity type book a la Lewis style. When it came to presenting the story of God’s work in Israel and the person of Christ, I think Wright did an excellent job far surpassing Lewis. I think my disappointment probably was due to listening too many of Wright’s lectures before I read this book so I already anticipated pretty much everything he said. I would loan this book to interested non-Christians although I am leery of some details of this book.

Firstly on page 72 Wright makes a move that is common to Christians who are historians of the first century. I admire him for honestly saying that he is telling the story of Israel from the point of view of a first-century Jew. Thus he side-steps the modern debate about whether the Old Testament events of Moses, the exodus and all that other stuff really happened or not. Since Wright has a whole chapter on the story of Israel, this raises a lot of doubts in ones mind right off the bat. If the story of Israel is fundamentally legend then doesn’t that have serious implications for Jesus and the veracity of Christianity? I don’t think just saying that a “first century Jewish” perspective is enough. Wright ought to have at least dealt with the issue rather than avoiding it. Avoiding the issue opens up a serious hole right in the beginning of Wright’s argument.

Also, while Wright does mention contemporary moral problems such as U.S. imperialism, world peace and whatnot, he doesn’t mention abortion at all. Mentioning contemporary issues in being a Christian without mentioning abortion is more than a little disingenuous. The doctrine of hell is also absent. Besides a few brief comments in a few of his lectures, hell does not come up at all. The only thing he says in his lectures is that we have a medieval conception of hell that is a heritage gained more through Dante more than Christ. Otherwise, there is no talk of hell at all in this book. Since I am struggling with this very issue in my faith right now, I find Wright’s avoidance of this doctrine very troubling.

For these reasons this book was an annoying read. Wright spoke of the desire of justice being a universal basic want of all people but I don’t think he does justice to the issue of OT historicity, abortion or hell. Such topics need to be discussed, not avoided.

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