Category: Doctrine and Theology
204 pages, paperback.
This well-written and engaging book sets out to provide for our day an account of the heart of the Christian faith for thoughtful people, akin to C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity—a book which did great service for the second half of the twentieth century. The weakness of Lewis' book today is that not-yet-believers generally lack knowledge of the basic Christian claims, and are generally ignorant of the Bible—and Lewis (rightly, in his time) took much of this important background for granted. Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, seeks to set out the central points in a way that will be accessible to today's not-yet-believers, and along the way provides lots of help to those who have been believers for shorter or longer time.
Wright's approach is to begin with four 'echoes of a voice' (chapters 1-4), features of life which he suggests point beyond themselves: the quest for justice, the hunger for spirituality, the desire for relationships, and the recognition of beauty. He sketches each succinctly and suggests why Christians see them as pointing to a greater reality than this universe alone.
He then turns to outline the central features of the Christian faith, to 'stare at the sun' by considering who God is and how God has made himself known and knowable (chapters 5-10). Successive readable chapters consider what Christians mean by 'God', the story of Israel, the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. A key tool set up within this section is a threefold analysis of how people see the universe in relation to God (pp 53-9): the idea that everything is God (pantheism or panentheism); the idea that God is not involved with the universe beyond having set it going (deism); and the idea that the spheres of this universe and of God interlock and overlap (traditional theism). At several points later in the book Wright helpfully returns to these three models in order to clarify the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. Here, he uses this analysis to show that the way Christians see God is not how they are widely understood to see God, for most modern westerners go for one of the first two options and thus misunderstand the nature of Christian claims—a sharp and helpful insight. Throughout this part, as elsewhere in the book, Wright has a great gift for relevant stories and illustrations which grab the reader's attention and direct it towards the central point he wants to consider.
The third part of the book looks at the Christian life (chapters 11-16), considering worship, prayer, the Bible, what it means to become a Christian and to belong to the church, and hope for the future expressed in present living. Each of these chapters is insightful and comes at ideas familiar to established Christians from fresh angles—for example, his brief discussion of baptism (pp 182-4) is simply brilliant, tracking the theme of water through the Bible and using each point to illuminate Christian baptism. The book closes with some brief suggestions for further reading.
Throughout the book Wright expresses deep and complex ideas with great clarity; he frequently summarises big ideas (sometimes drawn from his own scholarly work) in a sentence or a paragraph with evident care and precision of wording. Occasionally this means his writing is a little dense, but those occasions are fairly rare. He constantly stays with the mainstream of the Christian faith, not majoring on minors. This is a book which could confidently be given to friends or family who want to explore the Christian faith for themselves and who are prepared to think. It would also be of great value to Christians who want to gain or renew a grip on the heart of their faith—it is an ideal confirmation or baptism gift, or a terrific follow-on for those who have come to faith through the Alpha course or similar. I commend it most warmly.
Steve Walton, September 2006Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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