Bishop, Bible scholar, and best-selling author N. T. Wright here provides a series of case studies on how to apply the Bible to the pressing issues of today. Among the topics Wright addresses are the intersection of religion and science, why women should be allowed to be ordained, what we get wrong and how we can do better when Christians engage in politics, why the Christian belief in heaven means we should be at the forefront of the environmental movement, and many more.
Wright fearlessly wades through the difficult issues facing us. Listeners will find new models for understanding how to affirm the Bible in today's world as well as encouragement and renewed energy for deepening our faith and engaging with the culture around us.
©2014 N. T. Wright (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
I am an unabashed fan of NT Wright. I have read most of his popular level books (except the commentary series) and a few of his more academic oriented books. I appreciate his focus on calling people to a fresh look at scripture and his ability to take scripture seriously while maintaining real academic quality.
But on the whole I was disappointed by this book. It is a re-working of articles that have previously appeared elsewhere. Most of them were commissioned by US journals or from chapters in books that were for US audiences, so as a Brit, he is most of the time consciously writing for the North American Evangelical audience.
His basic arguments, like most of Wright, is that given historical realities of the original writers and audience, we modern readers tend to be missing the intended point of the original writers.
As with most Wright he needs to go through a fairly long narrative to be able to help the reader understand his point. And I think that is why his full length book treatments are better than these shorter issue based chapters.
The problem is not so much the individual chapters, but that in almost every case, he has a better response in a full length books (and he frequently tells the reader that there is more to the story if you want to pick up another one of his books.) So his first three chapters on science and religion, the historical Adam and the resurrection were all better handled by his book Scripture and the Authority of God.
The fourth chapter, The Biblical Case for Ordaining Women, is actually one of the two issues in the book that was new to me (although he says he has brought up several of the issues before in his commentary series.)
The fifth chapter is theoretically about environmentalism, but is really a short version of his Surprised by Hope book about eschatology.
The sixth chapter is the only chapter that I think might be better as a chapter than the book. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God was decent, but in this chapter he does a better job of summarizing by saying, we cannot solve the problem of evil. Instead, God has chosen to give us scripture, not as a way to intellectually solve the problem of evil, but as a way to remind us that God is with us through difficult times.
Several of the later chapters are more political and this is where likely a number of bad reviews will focus. Wright have a very good defence of why a scriptural church is a political church. And Wright also is theologically consistent with his politics. The problem for many readers is that those politics do not match well with our US political systems. So Wright is 'conservative' about sexual issues, 'liberal' about environmentalism, international debt and immigration policy, and off the political map in regard to terrorism. He is against anabaptist retreat and attempts of re-creating Christendom. As I have said in regard to his discussion of politics in other books, I think he is theologically right about most of his points, but he is not a great economist, political historian or political theorist. (And I agree with him in a large number of his political stances.)
If there is a main theme in the book it is that we are now all Epicureans. It is the focus of the chapter on Idolatry, but comes up multiple times throughout the book. Essentially this is not unlike what some others describe as modern Deism. But Wright believes that Epicureanism is actually a better description. The short description of Epicureanism is that it is a believe that the gods don't really care about us or at least don't have much influence over our daily lives, so we might as well live for pleasure because that is something we can do.
The rest of the chapters not mentioned are basically the same. Good topics, fairly well handled by Wright, but always feeling a bit too rushed and too thematically squeezed into the book. On the whole, I would just suggest that you read Wright’s others books and skip this one, unless you are really interested in his take on Epicureanism or Women in Ministry.
Personally, I think you should start with Scripture and the Authority of God, then read Surprised by Hope and Simply Jesus and expand from there as you have time and interest.
3 stars is probably too harsh, but I give very few 5 stars and this just isn't quite a 4.
Mostly right on!
I must first say that I enjoy N. T. Wright, his writing, his style, his form of expression, and I usually agree with him, about 90% of the time. But this book is flawed, not necessarily in its conclusions, but in its analysis of American evangelicalism, and I think, in some of its eschatology.
Wright was mostly right on with his scriptural analysis, in my opinion. With a few exceptions, I agreed with his theology of the kingdom of God, its now, but not yet point of view. I also agreed with his appeal for the church to become more culturally relevant through its implementation of the principles and life of genuine New Testament righteousness, as a result of the transformative power of Christ's death and resurrection (though I am still not sure of all of his views about the death of Christ in terms of atonement).
What I found very disappointing was his continual reference to American Christianity in these essays, especially what he called fundamentalism, as extreme, and politically right (to the extent that it misrepresents the gospel and New Testament). He paints with a very broad brush! His portrayal of virtually all American evangelicalism as wide-eyed fanaticism, focused on escaping the material world, in favor of an eternity in heaven, the rest of it be damned, suffers from gross oversimplification. Indeed, his claim that he has spent some time in America, knowns some American Christians, has debated some Americans Christians in theology, and has read American newspapers, and the like, rings entirely hollow.
To effectively caricature American evangelical Christianity as dangerous, misrepresentative of the intention of God, and in gross error concerning the kingdom of God and indeed the atonement of Christ, simply because it is passionate and politically engaged, more openly and visibly, than, say, in the UK, is to betray his lack of real knowledge of the genuine hearts of millions of ordinary and sincere American Christians. It is a fact that the American church in general is more culturally and politically resistive to what it sees as liberal government policies, than in the UK, but his evaluation does not take into account the generosity and engagement of millions of sincerely committed American Christians, and of thousands of churches that make genuine efforts to meet the needs of disadvantaged people at home and abroad, regardless of their religious affiliation, contributing per capita and in percentage (in the church), far more than the overage church-goer in Europe, liberal or conservative. I can vouch for the fact, that the overwhelming generosity of Americans as a people, displayed not least by the millions of dollars contributed to alleviate the suffering of people world wide, is precisely fueled by their faith and church connections. (Unlike Brits you can check most Americans charitable contributions every year in their tax returns. By contrast, Americans who identify as Christian often give in excess of 10%, (up to 20% is not uncommon) of their income to charity and the church, in contrast to those who identify as liberal, where the percentage is often below 1%). It is a shame that Wright believes the liberal press, and the BBC in particular when they speak authoritatively about the American church and what it believes. It would be equally wrong for me to characterize the British church as so hopelessly anemic as to be virtually irrelevant in the public square, or to a have sufficiently influential enough voice to make even a modest contribution to reversing the decline of British moral culture. That would be an unfair caricature, despite appearances from outside of the UK.
Many of us in the American protestant, evangelical tradition believe in the role of the church, almost exactly as Wright describes it. Fundamentalism is not the only or even the majority constituency in the American church. Furthermore, serious minded believers are not all escapists. Wright leaves the impression that pretty much everyone who is evangelical or fundamentalist has a hopelessly truncated and unsophisticated eschatology, A good number of preachers and teachers do realize that the new heaven and earth will recapitulate the original overlapping dimensions of heaven and earth, and not a perpetual material - "spiritual" dichotomy. Furthermore, the American evangelical church works as hard as it does, is as politically and culturally active as it is, precisely because it does believe in the breaking into this age of the kingdom of God, for the sake of the world that God created. To criticize American evangelicals because their theology leads to passion and action which he considers over the top, presumably in contrast to the the more measured and less confrontational UK model, is to split hairs. Maybe the American church can be a bit brash, but at least it is raising a blip on the radar.
In case, you are wondering, I am a Brit, who came to the United States as an adult. I have lived here 36 years, in the South, where the "radicals" live and move and have their being. If Wright can claim to know the American church in general, I can a least claim to have an acquaintance with the church in its evangelical (radical) heartland! I am a pastor too (30+ yeas), so I do modestly claim credibility for these remarks, although compared to Wright, I am of course small potatoes.
The reader is clear and audible.
Hmmm.. N character was there. But it is easy to follow N.T. Wright's arguments.
He is not just a reader. He is dramatic - giving the listener an opportunity to "experience the events in the book.
I consider Audible.com an excellent "find" and a gift for the year 2015.
Wright is an extremely gifted thinker and author but I honestly felt that he repeatedly mischaracterized others' points of view and tended to attack the easy straw-men at the extremes of a competing belief. I'm sure he is familiar with logic, but I noticed many logical problems as he laid out his arguments. My guess is that this is due to motivated reasoning, but perhaps I'm mistaken and I'm the one who has it wrong. Unfortunately, we can't really discuss it further to find out. :(
I both loved and strongly disliked this book. Give it a read for yourself. :)
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