Against the backdrop of the recent economic crisis, N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, opens with a persuasive call to recover character. Many Christians focus on "getting saved," but what about the rest of the Christian life? Often we get stuck between two extremes: an antinomian ("against law") spontaneity, and a rule-focused legalism. Instead, argues Wright in After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (HarperOne), we need to develop virtuous character.
At first, the author's prescription sounds like a popular version of Aristotle's ethics: Virtue is formed by self-consciously adopting new habits, countless daily decisions, with the goal of becoming a just person. Do the right thing (which feels odd at first, not spontaneous) long enough, and it becomes second nature. The main means of attaining this virtue is "following Jesus."
By the second chapter, however, Wright begins to show how the valid concerns of pagan wisdom are taken up by the New Testament writers (especially Paul) and, in the process, are transformed by the gospel. We do not live toward the human-centered goal of virtue formation for the sake of happiness or even "human flourishing," but ultimately as priests and rulers who anticipate the restoration of the whole cosmos. "[W]e urgently need to recapture the New Testament's vision of a genuinely 'good' human life as a life of character formed by God's promised future, as a life with that future-shaped character lived within the ongoing story of God's people, and, with that, a freshly worked notion of virtue." And "you don't get that character just by trying. You get it by following Jesus."
Wright points out the tendency of Christians to assume the wider culture's romantic, existential, and therapeutic ...1