Hooray Wednesday – today is book review day!
Bishop N.T. Wright’s newest work, “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters,” is a New Testament based approach to the world of Christian virtue and ethics. The problem, he states, is that so many Christians today find their religious life empty after they have come to believe in God. “What now?” is essentially the question that so many of us have asked after a conversion experience or a commitment to have faith in God. It’s the “following Christ” that this book describes, stating how it leads to a holy life.
Bishop Wright approaches virtue in an ancient, yet refreshing, way: he refutes both those hard-liners who demand that morality be dictated by a strict set of rules (because that is neither life-giving nor possible), and those on the other hand who believe that individual morality should be aimed at reaching your true or authentic self (because this has no Godly basis or foundation).
Rather, Bishop Wright suggests, the Christian moral life ought to be one organically grown by habits of the heart and the practice of virtue over long periods of time. In this way, one will eventually follow the spirit of the rules that are meant to be life-giving, and one will also live out their true and authentic redeemed self.
However, this virtuous life, a life of sanctification by the Holy Spirit, will not come easy. It takes a lifetime of effort to consciously make the right decision, to make the Christian decision in all of life’s little moral dilemmas and situations. Then, Bishop Wright declares, when the moral emergency arises, you will be so used to consciously making the right decision, you will do the Christian thing by “second-nature.”
Finally, Bishop Wright says, this life of Christian virtue has to be lived in community. Since love, the primary and foundational virtue, has to be expressed to others, Christian virtue must be practiced with others and for others.
All in all, this is an excellent book which lays out the purposes of living the holy life. If you read this in conjunction with two of his other works, “Simply Christian” and “Surprised by Hope,” you will find his writing accessible, biblically grounded, and the fount of many great blessings.