N.T. Wright is one of those writers who has had a major shaping influence on my life and thinking. At a time when I was reading a lot of Biblical criticism and questioning whether it was possible for an intelligent, educated scholar to take the Gospels seriously as history, someone pointed me towards his works and he opened a lot of doors for me. I began by reading his heavier, more scholarly work, so that books intended more for a “popular” audience like this one come as somewhat of a relief after pages dense with footnotes.
I’m still not sure this would qualify as a “light” read, though, because even in his popular works Wright demands a lot of his readers. You have to pay attention and keep up. Here he is trying to do much the same thing as C.S. Lewis did in Mere Christianity — he is trying to look at and explain the essentials of what it means to be a Christian in a way that might make it plausible and even appealing to a non-Christian.
Lewis’s Mere Christianity was a life-shaping book for me at a much earlier age; when I was a teenager it assured me that a rational basis for faith was possible. Later, of course, I came to perceive a lot of holes in Lewis’s logic (Lord, liar, or lunatic … anyone?) and it didn’t satisfy me as it once had, but I still give it a lot of credit. So of course I was interested to see one of my current favourite Christian writers attempt a similar task.
If you’ve read Mere Christianity, you’ll remember that Lewis takes natural moral law as his starting point — the fact that we all have a sense of “right and wrong” implanted in us. He then uses that as a means to show the probability of there actually being a God who is the source of this natural law. Wright takes a different approach. He looks at not one but four common elements of human life — the quest for justice, the appeal of beauty, the desire for spirituality, and the longing for relationships — and shows how each is a vital force in human life, yet each is somehow flawed and unfulfilled in all of us. Then he describes how the Christian story can provide a framework for the fulfillment of each of those needs or desires.
I don’t think as a logical piece of apologetics, Wright’s argument is anymore airtight than Lewis’s was. The weakness is that while he shows brilliantly how Christianity can fulfill human needs, he doesn’t explain why any other system of religion or spirituality couldn’t do that just as well — yet part of his thesis seems to be that Christianity is the BEST way to fulfill those longings, not just one way among many. I doubt this book would convince many non-Christians to give Christianity a try, but for Christians looking for a fresh and well-thought-out approach to the basis of their faith, it may be a worthwhile read. It won’t be my favourite N.T. Wright book — for me it lacks the originality and appeal of something likeThe Challenge of Jesus or The Meaning of Jesus
— the latter co-written with Marcus Borg — but it was anothr thought-provoking read from a great man.