First, some background information. N.T. “Tom” Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham. He was educated at Oxford and is considered as one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world today. He is as much a historian as a theologian in that Wright believes that to understand Christianity, one has to understand the Old Testament, first century Judaism and the early church.
Simply Christian is broken up into three sections. In section one, Wright looks at four “Echoes of a voice” that each hear—
• The Longing for Justice (Chapter One)
• The Quest for Spirituality (Chapter Two)
• The Hunger for Relationship (Chapter Three)
• The Delight in Beauty (Chapter Four)
These four Echoes are “universal intuitions” that each of us hear. They have been distorted though because the Voice is heard through our own line of personal defenses that we have to protect us from the outside world. As a result, justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty have been distorted and we fill our longing with versions of the four echoes that are less than they ought to be.
Alright. On to Chapter Three and Four….
Chapter Three—Made For Each Other
“It seems that we humans were designed to find our purpose and meaning not simply in ourselves and our own inner lives, but in one another and in the shared meanings and purposes of a family, a street, a workplace, a community, a town. A nation.” (pg. 31).
We were made for relationships. Life together. Community. The person who avoids relationships—the loner, the hermit, the recluse—are seen as unusual because they separate themselves from that which we all know deep in our being that we need—relationships.
Thus from the most intimate relationship (marriage) to those on the largest scale (national institutions) we find the same thing: we all know we are made to live together, but we all find that doing so is more difficult than we had imagined.” (pgs. 33).
Yet while we know the importance of relationships and regardless of whether we are “extroverts” or “introverts” we all long to be known by someone, we also know that relationships are incredibly difficult. Look at any the relationships you have with your family, your friends, your neighbors and your colleagues. Failed marriages. Dysfunctional families. Betrayed friendships. Politics at work. Are any of your relationship easy? How could something so desired, so longed for and so important to understanding who we are be at the same time so difficult, so damaging, so painful and mind-numbingly hard?
“Relationship was part of the way in which we were meant to be fully human, not for our own sake, but as part of a much larger scheme of things. And our failures in human relationship are thereby woven into our failures in the other large projects of which we know in our bones that we are part: our failure to put the world to rights in systems of justice, and our failure to maintain and develop that spirituality which, at its heart, involves a relationship of trust and love with the Creator” (pg. 37).
Wright ends his chapter with hope—It is only Christianity that shows us a God that loves healthy relationships. God is in relationship with Himself—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God desires relationship with God’s Creation and that model of health is what God desires for us both with God, with ourselves and with one another. “The voice is reminding us of who we really are. It may even be offering us some kind of rescue from our predicament…” (pg. 38).
Questions to think about—
1. How have the following relationships formed who you are today, both good and bad—
a. Your parents or guardians from when you were a child—
b. Your siblings—
c. Your Spouse or significant other—
d. Your Friends—
2. What is the most important relationship in your life today? What about that relationship makes it so important? How difficult is it to maintain that relationship?
Chapter Four—For the Beauty of the Earth
In 2002, Julie and I renewed our wedding vows. Our original wedding day was a wet, overcast event in which two very young and “in love” people committed themselves to something bigger than they either imagined. I had just graduated from college (barely) the week before and Julie really didn’t get to plan her wedding the way she would have wanted. It was beautiful and tasteful yet it was not what she had envisioned for that special day.
So on a beautiful spring morning in an outside garden service, Julie and I recommitted ourselves to the vows we had made ten years earlier. It was amazing. Julie was stunning in a simple white gown and hair up in flowers with curls hanging down framing her deep blue eyes. Samuel walked her down from the back door of the church to the garden of tall trees that shaded the area from the morning sun. Noah carried the second ring we found for the occasion and Emma tried her best to drop flower pedals for Julie to walk on. I was a little thinner in the waste (and the hair) than I was ten years earlier. Dear friends from seminary (whom we had spent the past five and a half years living life together—see the previous chapter) were there to celebrate with us and one of my favorite professors performed the ceremony.
It was beautiful but now, six years later, the beauty of that moment is gone. We have lots of photos and videos taken by neighbors. Yet in all of the photos and all of the video, nothing can capture the beauty of that day and that moment. Even in that moment though, we were left wanting more beauty.
Wright talks about the “transience of beauty” (pg. 40). A photograph, a recording, a book, a painting, a play, a film—all of these things are flashes of beauty that fade away. Wright says that beauty always leaves us wanting more. Beauty is “the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied….The world is full of beauty, but the beauty [itself] is incomplete” (pg. 40).
Wright suggests that we know, deep inside, that this beauty is fleeting and transient. But at the same time, we deeply long for a beauty that is permanent and lasting. Paul says that permanence is coming and today we see things through a dimly lit mirror but someday, “we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1st Cor. 13:12). Wright says that God promises to complete what God began “The beauty of this world will be enfolded in the beauty of God—and not just the beauty of God himself, but the beauty which, because God is the creator par excellence, he will create when the present world is rescued, healed, restored and completed.”
1. What did you experience this week (see, touch, smell, hear) that was beautiful? How does that compare with the most beautiful thing you have experienced?
2. Have you ever longed for beauty? What is it like? What is it like to experience beauty knowing that it won’t always be the way you experienced it for the moment you were there?
3. How has that beautiful thing, not lost its luster but left you longing for more beauty?