It is something of a juggling act to be continually discovering whole troves of prime, timeless material from past decades, while at the same time struggling to keep up with contemporary writings. Simply Christian, a 2006 title from N. T. Wright (website), is part of the latter attempt.
I have heard this book compared to Mere Christianity, and while I suppose the comparison is somewhat warranted, in no way is Simply Christian a fair replacement. The two books deal with similar subjects, but for different audiences. Wright's softer tone, celebrative and reflective, appeals to the already-Christian, while Lewis's deft, curt apologetics are appropriate for the not-yet- or the anti-Christian.
The book is aptly titled. The writing is accessible, the subjects majestic but manageable. Some may criticize the books refusal to split hairs and chase rabbits, but there are plenty of other books that do those things. As Wright says in his introduction: "Being a Christian in today's world is, of course, anything but simple. But there is a time for trying to say, as simply as possible, what it's all about, and this seems to me that sort of a time."
To begin, Wright examines four universal human themes, which he calls "Echoes of a Voice": justice, spirituality, relationships, and beauty. He spends a chapter empirically exploring each theme, while gently tying it back to Christianity. It makes good, relaxed reading. I especially appreciated Wright's thoughts on beauty: not revolutionary, but well-stated.
In Part 2, Staring At The Sun, the book takes a more theological turn. To set the stage for Christ, Wright traces the historical, Biblical progression, beginning with the In-the-beginning: "A great many arguments about God - God's existence, God's nature, God's actions in the world - run the risk of being like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining."
Moving on, Part 3 examines the practicalities of the faith: worship, prayer, the Bible, and New-Creation life. For me, this was a large portion of the book's meat. I hope to explore some of Wright's ideas on prayer in another, dedicated, post.
I'll wrap the review with this stunning paragraph on scripture and the Christian life:
"Because our love remains frail and partial, and because in the nature of the case our own hopes and fears are so closely bound up with it, our hearing of God's voice as we read scripture always needs testing by reference to other fellow Christians, past as well as present, and indeed other scriptural passages themselves. That's just common sense. Listening to God's voice in scripture doesn't put us in the position of having infallible opinions. It puts us where it put Jesus himself: in possession of a vocation, whether for a lifetime or for the next minute. Vocations are fragile, and are tested in performance. That is what it's like to live at the intersection of heaven and earth."
Image courtesy of amazon.com