WriSimp 06-12-175


Why Christianity Makes Sense


N. T. Wright

HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, 240 pp., ISBN 0-06-050715-2


N.T. Wright is bishop of Durham, England and the author of more than thirty books.  This is an explanation of the Christian faith written for today’s audience, and perhaps especially for those who have some antagonism toward the church.  Wright is clear, open, and non-defensive, helping us see afresh the reasonableness of Christianity.


He begins where we live, with questions like; “Why do we expect justice?” “Why do we crave spirituality?”  “Why are we attracted to beauty?”  “Why are relationships often so painful?”  “These are not simply perennial questions…but…the very echoes of a voice we dimly perceive but deeply long to hear. (from the flyleaf)


“My aim has been to describe what Christianity is all about, both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside.”  (Introduction)


The first part raises questions which are addressed in the later parts.  Part II provides the central tenants of Christianity and Part III describes what it means to follow Jesus. (x)


“We all know there’s something called justice, but we can’t quite get to it.”  “…justice itself slips through our fingers.  Sometimes it works; often it doesn’t.” (4)  “There are some things in our world, on our planet, which makes us say, ‘That’s not right!’ even when there’s nobody to blame.” (5)


“How does it happen that, on the one hand, we all share not just a sense that there is such a thing as justice, but a passion for it…and yet, on the other hand…we still can’t seem to get much closer to it than people did in the most ancient of societies we can discover?” (6)  ‘And isn’t the oddest thing of all the fact that I, myself, know what I ought to do but often don’t do it?” (8)


“One option is that “…there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear—someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves, and who has made us and the world for a purpose which will indeed involve justice, things being put to rights, ourselves being put to rights, the world being rescued at last.”  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all choose this option. (9)


“Christians believe that in Jesus of Nazareth the voice we thought we heard became human and lived and died as one of us.” (10) “…the followers of Jesus have always maintained that he took the tears of the world and made them his own…and that he took the joy of the world and brought it to new birth as he rose from the dead and thereby launched God’s new creation.” (11-12)


“It is important to see, and to say, that those who follow Jesus are committed, as he taught us to pray, to God’s will being done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’  And that means that God’s passion for justice must become ours too.” (13)


“‘The hidden spring’ of spirituality is the second feature of human life which, I suggest, functions as the echo of a voice….” (20)  “The sound of fresh bubbling water is hard to ignore.  Fewer and fewer people, even in our materialistic world, are even trying to resist it.” (21)


“…this interest is exactly what we should expect; because in Jesus we glimpse a God who loves people and wants them to know and respond to that love.” (24)


“How is it that we ache for each other and yet find relationships so difficult?  My proposal is that the whole area of human relationships forms another ‘echo of a voice’….” (29)


“…the Creator loved the world he had made, and wanted to look after it in the best possible way.  To that end, he placed within his world a looking-after creature, a creature who would demonstrate to the creation who he, the Creator, really was, and who would set to work developing the creation and making it flourish and fulfill its purpose.”  “Relationship was part of the way in which we were meant to be fully human, not for our own sake, but as part of a much larger scheme of things.” (37)


“The world is full of beauty, but the beauty is incomplete.  Our puzzlement about what beauty is, what it means, and what (if anything) it is there for is the inevitable result of looking at one part of a larger whole.”  “Beauty, like justice, slips through our fingers.” (40) “And how is it that beauty fades so quickly?” (42)  “The beauty of the natural world is, at best, the echo of a voice, not the voice itself.” (43)


“…both in the Old Testament and in the New, the present suffering of the world…never makes them falter in their claim that the created world really is the good creation of a good God.  They live with the tension.” “They do it by telling a story of what the one creator God has been doing to rescue his beautiful world and put it to rights.” “The point of the story is that the masterpiece already exists—in the mind of the composer.” (47)


Part II

“The Christian story claims to be the true story about God and the world.  As such, it offers itself as the explanation of the voice whose echo we hear….” (55)


No one can ‘prove’ God.  “…no human argument could ever, as it were, get God in a corner, pin him down, and force him to submit to human inspection.” (57)


In the Bible, “‘heaven’ can refer to the sky, but commonly refers to God’s dimension of reality as opposed to ours….” (59)  “This sense of overlap between heaven and earth, and the sense of God thereby being present on earth without having to leave heaven, lies at the heart of Jewish and early Christian theology.” (65)


“For the pantheist, God and the world are basically the same thing: the world is, if you like, God’s self-expression.  For the Deist, the world may indeed have been made by God (or the gods), but there is no contact between divine and human.”  “But for the ancient Israelite and the early Christian, the creation of the world was the free outpouring of God’s powerful love.  The one true God made a world that was other than himself, because that is what love delights to do.  And, having made such a world, he has remained in a close, dynamic, and intimate relationship with it, without in any way being contained within it or having it contained within himself.” (65)


“…God appears to take very seriously the fact that his beloved creation has become corrupt, has rebelled and is suffering the consequences.” (66)


“It is fundamental to the Christian worldview in its truest form that what happened in Jesus of Nazareth was the very climax of the long story of Israel.” (71)


“In Genesis 12, we find the great turning point.  God calls Abram…and makes spectacular promises to him:…. (12:2-3)”  “Abraham and his descendants are somehow to be the means of God putting things to rights, the spearhead of God’s rescue operation.” (73-4)


“This is how God’s ancient promises are to be fulfilled.  There will come a new king, anointed with oil and with God’s own Spirit (the Hebrew for ‘anointed one’ is ‘Messiah’; the Greek is ‘Christ’), and he will put the world back into proper order.  The echoing voice that calls for justice will be answered at last.” (81)


“As he promised to Abraham, back at the beginning, through this people the creator God will bring restoration and healing to the whole world.  More specifically, God will do this through the arrival of the ultimate king of Israel, the descendant of David….” (84)


“The rule of the Messiah, then, will bring peace, justice, and a completely new harmony to the whole of creation.” (84)


“The God of Israel is the creator and redeemer of Israel and the world.”  “Why should we imagine it’s true?  The whole New Testament is written to answer that question.  And the answers all focus, of course, on Jesus of Nazareth.” (88-89)


“Christianity is about something that happened.”  “In other words, Christianity is not about a new moral teaching….” (91)  “Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this—the finding, the saving, the giving of new life—in Jesus.” (92)


“…it has been central to Christian experience, not merely to Christian dogma, that in Jesus of Nazareth heaven and earth have come together once and for all.” (94)


“The portrait of Jesus we find in the canonical gospels makes sense within the world of Palestine in the 20s and 30s of the first century.  Above all, it makes coherent sense in itself.  The Jesus who emerges is thoroughly believable as a figure of history….” (99)


“‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’  This announcement was the center of Jesus’s public proclamation.” (99)  “He believed that the ancient prophecies were being fulfilled….” (100)  But in a way that nobody had expected or anticipated. (101)


“But nobody in this period supposed that the Messiah would have to suffer, let alone die.”  “The Messiah was supposed to be leading the triumphant fight against Israel’s enemies, not dying at their hands.”  “…the disciples couldn’t imagine that he meant it literally when he spoke of his coming death and resurrection.” (107)


“God’s plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worst to the Servant—that is, to Jesus himself—and thereby exhausting its power.” (108)  “In meeting the fate which was rushing toward him, he would be the place where heaven and earth met….” (110)


“The meaning of the story is found in every detail, as well as in the broad narrative.” (111)


“The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.” (111)


“Science, after all, rightly studies phenomena which can be repeated in laboratory conditions.  But history doesn’t.  Historians study things that happened once and once only….” (113)


“…believing that Jesus was raised from the dead…requires that we exchange a worldview which says that such things can’t happen for one which, embracing the notion of a creator God making himself known initially in the traditions of Israel and then fully and finally in Jesus, says that Jesus’ resurrection makes perfect sense when seen from that point of view.” (114)


“Resurrection isn’t a fancy way of saying ‘going to heaven when you die.’  It is not about ‘life after death’ as such.  Rather, it’s a way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead.” (115)


“…the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t leave us as passive, helpless spectators.  We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world.” (116)


The Holy Spirit and the task of the church (Acts 1:6-8) walk together, hand in hand.  We can’t talk about them apart.”  “But the point of the Spirit is to enable those who follow Jesus to take into all the world the news that he is Lord….”  “Without God’s Spirit, there is nothing we can do that will count for God’s kingdom.” (122)


“The Spirit is given to begin the work of making God’s future real in the present.”  “One key element of living as a Christian is learning to live with the life, and by the rules, of God’s future world, even as we are continuing to live within the present one….” (124)


“And the early Christians are encouraging one another to live as points of intersection, points of overlap, between heaven and earth.  Again, this sounds fearsomely difficult, not to say downright impossible.  But there is no getting around it.  Fortunately, a we shall see, what ought to be normal Christianity is actually all about finding out how to sustain this kind of life and even grow in it.” (132)


“Christian spirituality normally involves a measure of suffering.” “Those who follow Jesus are called to live by the rules of the new world rather than the old one, and the old one won’t like it.” (137)  “But the point is this: it is precisely when we are suffering that we can most confidently expect the Spirit to be with us.” (138)


“God is the one who satisfies the passion for justice, the longing for spirituality, the hunger for relationship, the yearning for beauty.  And God, the true God, is the God we see in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah, the world’s true Lord.” (138-9)


Part III.

Regarding worship.  “God’s sphere and ours are not far apart, and that at certain places and moments they interlock.  Sometimes the boundary between them is like a thin partition, in which, to some people and at some times, a door is opened or a curtain pulled back, so that people in our dimension can see what’s going on in God’s dimension.  What John sees in his vision (Rev. 4-5) is the regular life of heaven, the worship of God which, in that dimension, is going on all the time.  It is an astonishing sight.” (144)


“Worship means, literally, acknowledging the worth of something or someone.” “It means celebrating the worth of someone or something far superior to oneself.” (144)


“All creation worships God…because he has made all things.” (145)


“That is what worship is all about.  It is the glad shout of praise that arises to God the creator and God the rescuer from the creation that recognizes its maker….” (146)


Two golden rules of spirituality: 1. You become like what you worship.  “You begin to take on something of the character of the object of your workshop.” 2. “Because you were made in God’s image, worship makes you more truly human.” “Conversely, when you give that same total worship to anything or anyone else, you shrink as a human being.” (148)


“…worship of God as redeemer, the lover and rescuer of the world, must always accompany and complete the worship of God as creator.  This means, of course, telling the story of the rescue operation as well as of creation.” (149)


“Telling the story, rehearsing the mighty acts of God: this is near the heart of Christian worship….” “…reading the Bible aloud is always central to Christian worship.  Cutting back on this for whatever reason…misses the point.” “Reading scripture in worship is, first and foremost, the central way of celebrating who God is and what he’s done.” “Even the simplest acts of Christian worship ought therefore always to focus on the reading of scripture.” (150-51)


“The Bible is, in short, the staple diet of Christian worship, as it is of Christian teaching.” (153)


“…the Bible is nonnegotiable.  It’s a vital, central element in Christian faith and life.  You can’t do without it, even though too many Christians have forgotten what to do with it.  Somehow, God seems to have delegated (as it were) some at least of the things he intends to do in the world to this book.” (173)


“It needs to be stressed that our evidence for the text of the New Testament is in a completely different league than our evidence for every single other book from the ancient world.” “We have dozens of New Testament manuscripts from the third and fourth centuries, and a few from as early as the second.” “…we are on extremely secure ground for getting at what the biblical authors actually wrote.” (178-79)


Equipped for every good work: there’s the point.  The Bible is breathed out by God…so that it can fashion and form God’s people to do his work in the world.” (ref. 2 Timothy 3:16-17) (182)


“We read scripture in order to hear God addressing us—us, here and now, today.” (188)


“And of course, throughout the history of the church, preachers have sought both to understand what scripture was saying in its original context and to convey to their hearers what this might mean in their own day.  Indeed, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that this is the backbone of what Christian preaching is all about.” (188)


“But hearing God’s voice in scripture isn’t simply a matter of precise, technical expertise.  It’s a matter of love…” (189)  “It’s a book designed to be read by those who are living in the present in the light of God’s future…” (189)


“The Bible constantly challenges its readers not to rest content.” (190)


“…this book, by the power of the Spirit, bears witness in a thousand ways to Jesus himself, and to what God has accomplished through him.” (191)


“The church exists, in other words, for what we sometimes call ‘mission’ to announce to the world that Jesus is its Lord.” (204)


“What the early Christians meant by ‘believe’ included both believing that God had done certain things and believing in the God who had done them.  This is not belief that God exists, though clearly that is involved, too, but loving, grateful trust.” (207)


“…the call to faith is also a call to obedience.’ (208)  “To believe, to love, to obey (and to repent of our failure to do those things): faith of this kind is the mark of the Christian, the one and only badge we wear.” (209)


“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world.” “The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another…what is known loosely as fellowship.” (211)



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