After You Believe

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an unabashed fan of the theologian N. T. Wright. He is one of a handful of people I would pay good money (and even travel more than ten minutes from home) to hear speak. So one of the books on my 2014 reading plan (see here for more about my annual reading plans) was his After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.

After You Believe is the third in a trilogy from Bishop Wright (he is a retired Anglican bishop), following Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, which are among the best books I've read in recent years.

In After You Believe, Wright tackles the topic of Christian character and virtue. Using the wonderfully apt illustration of Captain "Sully" Sullenberger's heroism in saving lives on the ill-fated Flight 1549, he makes the case that "virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become 'second nature.'...Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being, yes, 'second nature'" (p. 21). With his usual thoroughness and eloquence, he leaves the reader no choice but to agree and to desire such character and virtue. He makes it clear that "virtue" doesn't "just happen," nor is it achieved by following someone's example--even that of Jesus. Instead, he depicts what he calls "The Virtuous Circle" (see photo), comprised of regular and intertwining

influences of scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices--the "habits of mind and heart which develop those corporate virtues of which we have spoken" (p. 278), such as shared worship (prayer, scripture, sacrament, and giving). When this "virtuous circle" is habitual (not occasional), cyclical (not sequential), and sincere (not rote), our characters will be transformed and virtue will result.

It's impossible to do justice to what Commonweal calls "Wright’s close reading of Scripture, his clear prose, and his evident love for his Christian faith" in a short review, but After You Believe is a helpful and compelling book by one of the world's leading biblical scholars.

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