Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: "After You Believe"

TITLE: AFTER YOU BELIEVE - Why Christian Character Matters
AUTHOR: N. T. Wright
PUBLISHER: NY: HarperOne, 2010, (307 pages).

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
This book won a place on ChristianityToday's list of top books for the year 2011. Appearing under the THEOLOGY/ETHICS section, it is the third book on the important question: "How Christians should live?"

The first book, "Simply Christian" argues for the rationale of the Christian faith. The second book, "Surprised by Hope" is a nice eschatological treatise on what really happens when we die. It brings Christians back down to earth, saying that the final hope of a Christian is not waiting to go someplace in the future, but is in being resurrected into God's new heaven and new earth, available right now! This third book also deals with the present moment, about the need to cultivate Christian character in the now. The author's basic point is this:

"Christian life in the present, with its responsibilities and particular callings, is to be understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed. The better we understand that goal, the better we shall understand the path toward it." (NT Wright, After You Believe, NY: HarperOne, 2010, ix)

About the Book
Wright makes a passionate call for Christian believers to be transformed in God toward a personal revolution that overcomes worldliness unto godliness in Christ. The chapters are set out as follows:

  1. What am I Here For?
  2. The Transformation of Character
  3. Priests and Rulers
  4. The Kingdom Coming and the People Prepared
  5. Transformed by the Renewal of the Mind
  6. Three Virtues, Nine Varieties of Faith, and One Body
  7. Virtue in Action: The Royal Priesthood
  8. The Virtuous Cycle
In Chapter One, Wright argues that to be fully Christian is to be fully human, or vice versa. Rather than living by 'rules' which is based on a sense of duty and obligation, one needs to live by heart, that is motivated by authenticity and spontaneity. In Chapter Two, in order for character to be transformed, one needs to work and exercise. It is transformed by three things: A right goal; Right steps; and habitual nature to do them. In Chapter Three, Christ-followers have to imitate Jesus, and to recognize our priestly and kingly vocation patterned after the Person of Christ. In Chapter Four, one lives in expectation of the coming Kingdom. He sees the Sermon on the Mount as:

"God's future is arriving in the present, in the person and work of Jesus, and you can practice, right now, the habits of life which will find their goal in that coming future." (103)

In Chapter Five, one is renewed in the mind as one moves from merely experiencing the 'telos' or goal of happiness, resurrected joy, and human ecstasy toward one that reflects the divine image of Christ.

Chapter Six works on Paul's prescription for Christian living. This is the permanence of three virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. It is the manifestation of the nine varieties of the fruit of the Spirit. It is the unity of one Body of Christ.

Chapters Seven and Eight ties the book up toward a virtuous and habitual cycle for the people of God. It covers a life of worship (225). It celebrates the sacraments (223). Christians are the agents of God's rule in a virtuous sense (227).

"Royal priests are, in short, to work at revealing the glory of God to the world. That is the task of the renewed Temple." (234)
He closes with a reminder of the five elements of cultivating faith: "scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices." All five are linked.
  • Scripture is the primary basis for Christian character; 'habit forming and character forming' (264)
  • Scripture then trains one to listen to stories from all over. Saying that we are 'storied creatures,' we live according to learning from stories
  • Learning from examples.
  • Living in community
  • Practices in heart and mind; like eucharist, baptism, giving, prayer, etc.

My Comments

I like the way the author places the goal and purpose of Christians after they believe.

  1. "The goal is God's kingdom: a time of comfort, of heaven coming to earth at last, of the renewal of creation, of plenty, of mercy, of reward, and perhaps above all of seeing God himself."
  2. "This goal has arrived in the present, now that Jesus is here. How his public career will work out is, from the perspective of those listening to the Sermon on the Mount, not yet clear."
  3. "Those who follow Jesus can begin to practice, in the present, the habits of heart and life which correspond to the way things are in God's kingdom - the way they will be eventually, yes, but also the way they already are because Jesus is here." (105)

Though this is considered a theological book, it is not difficult to read as the author makes his points clear with a step by step revelation of his ideas and thoughts. He summarizes his points regularly to make sure readers are not lost in the details. More importantly, he provides a very biblical and intelligent read to shed light on what Christians ought to be doing after they believe. Like a motor, the Holy Spirit sparks the person to confess faith in Jesus. The renewal of the mind is the starting torque. Upon regular exercise of the cultivation of Christian characters, like the three virtues and nine varieties of fruits, at cruising speed, the Christian will habitually live out their calling as the people of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, of a people belonging to God.  This book is a brilliant glimpse of how theology, ethics, character formation, Christian living are all intricately bounded together in one Person: Jesus Christ.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


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