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Simply Christian - N.T. Wright (2006)

Many of the works I have chosen to review have been deeper theological writings, some of which have been by revered biblical scholar, N.T. Wright. His work as both a historian and theologian has colored his books with a particularly powerful edge. Because of his scholarly bent, when thinking about a general book outlining Christianity and its claims to those outside of the faith (or new to it), I wouldn't have thought to consider a book by Wright. However, "Simply Christian" is just that. It is a book that presents the Christian faith in a clear and understandable format to any who might be interested.

Within its pages, Wright poses a thoughtful progression that examines the human experience to point to an unspoken awareness in ourselves, and our world, of something missing. Wright's "echoes of a voice" elements are justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty– all things which tell us that the universe (and our place in it) are meant for something different than we have come to. But more than a sense of lack, they point to something that exists that we can't name. And in his development of what that is, he names it. The Jewish God, YHWH.

Wright's use of these arguments and specific components (especially justice and beauty) echo clearly the arguments of CS Lewis' writings in both Mere Christianity (which uses moral code/justice) and his sermon/writing The Weight of Glory (which uses beauty and love). I mention Lewis and Wright in the same context, because their parallel books seem to be aimed at the same thing, and both writers are up to the task. Simply Christian, however, is a much more historical and technical exploration of how the world and context of Jewish monotheism brought about the person of Jesus, and how Jesus turned out to be not only the answer for Jewish religious hopes, but also the ultimate "Lord" of the entire human race.

Wright's basic premise is this– God created a good world, but man rebelled from him. God has set out on a plan to rescue his rebelled creation and that plan has come to embodiment in God himself coming to earth in the person of Jesus. Jesus announced this rescue plan of re-creation (putting the creation to rights) and now invites all people into that rescue– not only for their own sakes, but to join in as part of the solution. That solution is called the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the realm/dimension of God's love and reign invading and reclaiming man and the earth for God's purposes. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God continues to work through all those who join in (Christians) and through the church– the gathered Body of Christ.

As best as I can, that is how I would summarize Wright's preposition in Simply Christian. The problem with doing such a summary, however, is that I risk infraction of any number of logical, practical or theological arguments because, simply put, just as life is not simple, Christianity isn't either. And boiling Christian faith down to a few short lines of innocuous (and fairly un-actionable) statement is precisely what Wright avoids by taking on all the salient points in life-breathing detail. I want to make that point because this book is not "Simple Christianity", as if everything intelligent about it could be reduced to a set of polarized truisms. In fact, the author puts to use his own varied, and sometimes extended, metaphors throughout the book to help us grasp the nuance of key concepts and moving narrative of the story of God, creation, man, Jesus, and eventually, the church.

Simply Christian is a very well written book, but it also has significant historical and rhetorical ammunition in its muzzle. The author banters through classical references (Plato, Epicurus, Lucretius), extensive Jewish back-story (all the relevant biblical narrative, as well as apocryphal and historic characters such as Judas Maccabaeus, Simeon ben Kosiba), 1st century Roman world (Caesar, the rise of Rome as a world empire), and plenty of 18th to 21st century (Nietzsche, Hitler, Oscar Wilde, 9/11 attacks) references as well. He does all of this as a way of providing proper context and flow to the presentation being made. It is all excellent, but it is not going to feel "simple" to say a 7th grade student. Wright continues to be in good company, however, as Lewis' regular references to literary or classical world touch-points would likewise be foreign to many readers.

That said, Simply Christian is an excellent book with mountains of good points and very few detractions. The delightful surprises I found are the excellent highlighting he does in correcting the dozens of common misconceptions that people (Christians and non-Christians alike) have of what being Christian really means. His theological stature here helps immensely, as he grasps at "truisms" and debunks them cleanly. Playing with language and logic, he clarifies many incorrect and unhelpful misunderstandings of who Jesus is, what he said and (not the least important) what happens after we die.

Because the truth and explanation of Christianity is not ultimately "simple" (in terms of boiling it down to one-liners that can be defended), this book is not either. However, in the scope sense, it is a well-written exposition and recommendation on what it means to be Simply Christian.


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Review by Kim Gentes

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