Regarding service, Wright refers the description in Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force …. of how Christians in Asia Minor reacted to the coming of plague in their cities –
The rich, the well-to-do, and particularly the doctors would gather up families and possessions and leave town. … But the Christians, often among the poorest, and many of them slaves, would stay and nurse people, including those who were neither Christian, nor their own family members, nor in any other way obviously connected to them. Sometimes such people got well again; not all diseases were necessarily fatal. Sometimes Christians would themselves catch the disease and die from it. But the point was made, graphically and unmistakably: this was a different way to be human.
(pp. 236; emphasis in original).
Regarding denominationalism –
Our denominations, with all their ambiguities and puzzles, are often rooted in the very kind of ethnic distinctions or personality-based divisions which Paul went out of his way to combat. Perhaps that is one reason why moral discussions in the church tend to go round and round in small circles on a few favored issues, especially sex: discussing how, why, and when two human beings come together in a loving or quasi-loving act may be, after all, a displacement activity when we can’t cope with the question of how, why, and when a whole family of Christians should (but can’t) come together in mutual love and support. That doesn’t mean that sexual ethics are unimportant. On the contrary, they are symptomatic of the health or unhealth of the wider community. But we shouldn’t focus all our worries on the fact that the church secretary has run off with the organist’s spouse when the promised unity of Jesus Christ with all his people is flouted by structures and customs — and sometimes, yes, theology! — which destroy the fabric of the church just as surely as adultery destroys the fabric of the community.
(pp. 209-210). Wright is an Anglican bishop in England. He’s part of his denomination’s denominational structure — and yet he considers denominational division a worse sin than adultery. I agree. Disunity of God’s church is one of the greatest of all sins. It doesn’t excuse any other sin, but unity is of the essence.
Regarding the Spirit’s work, Wright notes (and this is a point of repeated emphasis) –
Paul’s answer is emphatic, here and throughout his writings. Christian virtue, including the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit, is both the gift of God and the result of the person of faith making conscious decisions to cultivate this way of life and these habits of heart and mind. In technical language, these are both “infused” and “acquired,” though the way we “acquire” them is itself, in that language, “infused.”…
Once again, the conduct which Paul expects the Spirit to produce will not come by the Spirit’s bypassing the mind, the will, the conscious choice of young Christians. They have to crucify the flesh. They have to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.
Regarding love, Wright explains,
Left to myself, doing what comes naturally, I would fail. But the point of love is that it doesn’t.
That is why love is a virtue. It is a language to be learned, a musical instrument to be practiced, a mountain to be climbed via some steep and tricky cliff paths but with the most amazing view from the top. It is one of those things that will last; one of the traits of character which provides a genuine anticipation of that complete humanness we are promised at the end. And it is one of the things, therefore, which can be anticipated in the present on the basis of the future goal, the telos, which is already given in Jesus Christ. It is part of the future which can be drawn down into the present.
I got this book for free in exchange for agreeing to review it. But I didn’t promise a favorable review. Just a review. And I was thrilled to get this book for free, because otherwise I’d have bought it — because I buy nearly all of what N. T. Wright writes. He’s a brilliant writer and thinker, and will certainly be cited, quoted, and discussed 100 years from now.
Wright writes at a prodigious pace, putting out books at, the best I can tell, four levels of scholarship. He put out some very basic commentaries as “Tom Wright.” He’s written some massive books rethinking huge portions of Pauline theology at a very scholarly level. These books are marvels but not for the faint of heart. Continue reading