Book Review: After You Believe
After You Believe:
Why Christian Character Matters
by N. T. Wright
Review by Dianne VanRooyen
A local public school recently posted this on their outdoor sign “February – Character Development Month.” Growing Success, an Ontario Ministry of Education document, lists the following as essential learning skills: responsibility, organization, independent work, collaboration, initiative, and self-regulation. The document recommends developing these habits in the early grades and practicing them continuously through high school so that all students will have school success.
Teachers whose care for their students extends to the development of their character need to read After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright. Wright, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars, now serves as the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. This book travels a similar path to growing success, but takes us on a vastly different journey with a refreshing new destination. While it asks and answers the critical questions: “What am I here for now? What happens after you believe?” he explains that through the power of right habits and the development of virtues, our characters can be transformed. These habits of the heart that we develop now will prepare us for our new life when we will reign fully with Jesus. Practicing these virtues will bring God’s kingdom down to earth; it will join our world and God’s world together. This goal and task far exceeds simply developing school success.
In his masterful way, Wright combines reader-friendly thoughts and illustrations with deep theological underpinnings. He observes that the moral and philosophical climate of our culture makes it difficult to know what is right and wrong and explains how recent historical movements—romanticism, existentialism, and emotivism—have derailed even the desirability of developing virtue. Wright then carefully and logically lays out the path to character transformation. He begins by explaining the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophy that claims humanity flourishes by establishing goals, embracing virtues, and developing habits. He likens this to the biblical virtues of faith, hope, and love and the nine fruits of the Spirit. Wright also examines the findings of contemporary brain science and the need to develop “moral muscles.”
Through fascinating stories such as Chesley Sullenberger III’s landing of the plane on the Hudson River and probing questions such as “Do you think you could sit down at the piano and play a Beethoven sonata straight off? Do you think you could just fly to Moscow, get off the plane, and start speaking fluent Russian?” NT Wright explains that character and virtues are developed through practices. It is by learning and practicing Christian virtues that we help bring God’s wisdom and glory to earth.
The bulk of this volume is a thorough theological exploration of the goal of human beings as priests and rulers, starting with the creation account in Genesis and progressing through the New Testament. Wright has a knack for including key Greek terms that add clarity and understanding without intimidating readers. The net result of following Wright’s reasoning produces confidence in the reader—and teacher—that they can help form Christian character in their students.
Wright concludes his arguments by constructing what he calls a “virtuous circle”: scripture—stories—examples—communities—practices. The circle illustrates the various entry points, and succeeding steps, that lead to a journey of transformed character. Practicing the virtues of faith, hope, and love “is all about learning in advance the language of God’s new world.”
Teachers need to read this book because they are in the business of forming and shaping character and can develop habits in their students that extend far beyond essential learning skills into Kingdom character.
After You Believe
Mar 02, 2010