The title of this book--*After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters--is what drew me to it. As N.T. Wright acknowledges within these pages, there is very often an either/or factor among Christians. We either live our lives trying to legalistically adhere to a bunch of rules (though the rules vary from person to person), or we give very little thought or care to how we live, knowing that "God's grace is sufficient" (which is true). But how we live between our conversion and our funeral very much does matter, and it is not found in either of these approaches. Wright reminds us that God will one day fully combine Heaven and Earth, but the process has already begun. And so has the transformation of character, or virtue.
Wright explains that "virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become 'second nature' . . . 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 . . . But virtue is always the result of work and cost" (pgs. 21, 105, 216).
Having virtue does not mean that we are to be sinless (not that we ever could be), nor is it simply a matter of following someone's example--even Jesus' example! Rather, we are to engage in what Wright calls "The Virtuous Circle"--which involves scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices--and our character will thus be transformed. Our thoughts, words, and actions will begin to reflect our love for God and for other people, and it will just be "second nature," not our pursuit of following a list of rules.
Wright states, "The key is this: the 'fruit of the Spirit' does not grow automatically. The nine varieties of fruit do not suddenly appear just because someone has believed in Jesus, has prayed for God's Spirit, and has then sat back and waited for 'fruit' to arrive . . . The point of using the term 'fruit,' after all, is that these are things which grow from within rather than being imposed from without" (pgs. 195, 206).
I had never read any of N.T. Wright's books before this one, but I am anxious now to read his previous works. Although I was a bit intimidated to dive into this Bible scholar's teachings, I found that this book was challenging but not arduous, complex but not insurmountable. Truthfully, the only negative aspects of the book, in my opinion, are that it becomes somewhat repetitive and that Wright continually tells the reader of things he is going to talk about later in the book. (I'd rather he just let me know when I get there.)
Overall, this is an excellent book and one that I recommend every Christian read.
To order this book, visit bookschristian.com.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the product mentioned above for free by The Ooze Viral Bloggers in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”