Non-Fiction Review: Simply Good News

My decision for what to read in the 200s is a great window into the difficulties of categorizing books.

I considered reviewing N.T. Wright's Paul: A Biography which I'm currently reading. In Worldcat, some libraries list this book under the 200s (religion) while others list it under the 900s (history) while still others list it under "Biographies" (which makes sense, considering the title).

Since my local library places it in "Biographies," I decided that using it as my 200 book would be cheating. So I got out another N.T. Wright book (230 Wright).

All in all, the experience reminded me of Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a book that ended up being categorized as both adult and teen--such are the vagaries of determining audience!

N.T. Wright is a Anglican bishop/writer about Christianity. He is a cross between Rodney Stark (history in context) and C.S. Lewis (ecumenical gospel explanations). I quite liked Simply Good News which points out that Jesus and the apostles perceived the events of the New Testament precisely in those terms: "news" rather than "advice." The news? The Messiah Jesus Christ fulfilled ancient covenants in order to be present to the entire world. His object is not (necessarily) to take us to heaven, but to bring heaven to earth. Isn't that amazing?!

This summarizes much of Wright's view.
Sounds fairly simple (hence the title). N.T. Wright argues that most Christian churches spend too much time translating "gospel" into "advice" and also fail to teach the historical context for "Messiah" and "covenant." Therefore, most Christians don't know what the "good news" actually is.

I didn't entirely disagree with him regarding this last claim, but since I knew the context (I was raised by amateur--in the best sense of that word--Bible scholars), I bridled a little at the beginning of the book when he kept telling me that I didn't.

In other words, Wright uses a fairly standard teaching approach of "most people don't know!" to prepare the ground for his presentation. I'm always skeptical of this approach. In grad school, I had a professor who used in and when I protested that I did, in fact, know the information, he snapped at me, "That's just you!"

Eh . . . no. But then, too, most people's understanding of anything is piecemeal. If the grad school professor had used the "most people don't know" approach about Antarctica (rather than American history), I wouldn't have protested! (I know nothing about Antarctica. Yet.)

Charlie (voice over): Entropy. Parameter of
broken down in irretrievable heat. What might appear to be
chaos, even decay, is really a system's way of smoothing out
differences--its search for equilibrium. Uncorrelated parts
interact...find their connections in an evolving system...
so, from one perspective, entropy is a clock...charting
the irreversible.
I also disagreed with Wright's insistence that Christianity holds different principles from those of the Enlightenment. Granted, proponents of the Enlightenment tend to also see themselves as distinct from proponents of Christianity, but I've never been a fan of the either-or version of history. As people like Rodney Stark and Karen Armstrong point out, the beginning of the Common Era saw a change in perspective within religion, which sent ripples throughout the human experience. Claiming that this change had no impact on later human developments, good and bad, is foolish, both for secular humanists and for religious apologists. And wrong. History doesn't work in compartments.

However, Wright does do a decent job pinpointing the flaw in much secular humanism, basically the self-centered Victorian belief that humans have reached some pinnacle of perfection or degradation ("it was the best of times; it was the worst of times") and the unfortunately still prevalent belief that "theory" can be plastered onto human behavior.

Well, that's like just so much hokum, isn't it? I mean,
Maxwell's Demon is a thought experiment, right? Granted, there
 are theoretical applications, but, um, when the window breaks,
the cold air still rushes in. Gears fail, oil leaks.
Sooner or later, that engine is gonna break down.
Wright wraps up by discussing the human tendency to not think outside the box, to insist that God is one way, namely an angry, absent, vengeful landlord rather than a loving creator. Instead, Wright argues (echoing Paul), God loves us so much He sent us Jesus Christ and when we love God we'll be happier because we'll be closer to God as He truly is--and our happiness will affect others.

Or to put all this in C.S. Lewis's terms, God is not a tamed lion.

The Good News isn't something we can categorize; it simply is.

Overall, I recommend N.T. Wright as a sincere believer who is neither too cloying nor too erudite. Overall, I find his works quite refreshing despite continuing to disagree with some of his more dogmatic statements.

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