Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2008
An extension of Wright's book could be "why Christianity makes sense to post modern people". This is a fine book, for what it tries to do, which is to clearly explain what Christianity is about. It is not necessarily designed to persuade anyone, other than to show that what the basic Christian story is about is reasonable and worth taking a look in.
Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, and one of the more renowned and accessible to the public, theologians of our day is at times controversial, but never a poor writer, even to the most untrained ear for the nuances of theology. From the very first paragraph of the book, the reader is alerted that this is a different sort of explanation of the Christian faith, for Wright talks of how people might understand the meaning, but miss the experience of what the yearning for the faith is all about. He talks of justice, beauty, and relationship and how the reality of what we hope for is often far from present, what he calls the "echo of the voice", something that we think that should be there, but is not there at all, and begs the question why.
This book will not help but to be compared to C S Lewis classic work, Mere Christianity. And there are enough similarities between the two, that make the differences jarring enough. Lewis' is more of a classic apologetic. He speaks of universal laws, the differences between longstanding morality and modern pyschology, and the logic of why the Christian Gospel, of the invaision of humanity by the God/man Jesus and how theology is constantly practical in every area of the individual, personal lives of moder people. Written in the 1940's, Mere Christianity answers quite well the challenges of its, and still to a large extent, our age. What Wright is trying to do with "Simply Christian" is to take the same old story and apply to the common questions of our era, from a different perspective.
Loneliness, rejection of an older era, cynicism at the structures designed to meet the challenges of day to day life, like the family, the church, and the state are real actions obviously taken by many today. So for Wright, to begin his work, not by explaining who God is and why man needs him, but instead to point out and agree that there are many things missing and empty in the solutions that post modern people have used for solutions to their concerns about why older systems failed, the older systems that Lewis attempted to answer to in a very reasonable way in Mere Christianity.
Wright does spend a lot more time on how communal activities and experiences are far more vital to the simply Christian life than is realized, and why vital relationships, as expressed in the church, seen as a real community, are the engine for linking understanding and experience. Wright's three common expressions of the Christian life: worship, prayer and Bible study only have their fullest expression when done in community with others, so as to grow as a living, breathing organism might. In so doing, Wright is bridging the gap between the credibility of the Christian message, with those who are disaffected and disbelieving, not at necessarily the propositions in the gospel, but at how the whole system around contemporary life has been disapointing to many.
Developing a theology of the person and work of Jesus has been the hallmark of Wright's career as a pastor and theologian, and it is in writing about who Jesus is and what he has done that this work finds its greatest strength, and to some degree its greatest weakness. He has written how Jesus was the final victory of God, the great exodus of his people and the culmination of a great military campaign to bring justice and the arrival of the kingdom of God on earth. Stupendous claims, as they always are, when fully understood, even more so when contrasted with the paradoxes of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, with the expectations of the Jewish people of first century Palestine. By so doing, Wright encourages the post modern audience to look again at the reality of real history, and the undeniable facts as told, which led to radical conclusions by those who first lived them. It is here that Wright is at his weakest, for he doesn't make the leap between the person and work of Jesus and that connection of justification from sin for today's believer as a direct, actionable item. Not that he denies it, but the connection is just not made at all. Even Lewis spends a great deal of Mere Christianity discussing sin and the necesity of events long ago affecting today's actions.
Nevertheless, this is an important work that should be read by many, especially in the post industrial world. Wright's pastoral call to look to Christ, living out in the community of believers to answer the deep longings and disapointments of the human experience is freshly written and worth considering.