With every earthquake and war, understanding the nature of evil and our response to it becomes more urgent. Evil is no longer the concern just of ministers and theologians but also of politicians and the media.
We hear of child abuse, ethnic cleansing, AIDS, torture and terrorism, and rightfully we are shocked. But, N. T. Wright says, we should not be surprised. For too long we have naively believed in the modern idea of human progress. In contrast, postmodern thinkers have rightly argued that evil is real, powerful and important, but they give no real clue as to what we should do about it.
In fact, evil is more serious than either our culture or our theology has supposed. How then might Jesus\' death be the culmination of the Old Testament solution to evil but on a wider and deeper scale than most imagine? Can we possibly envision a world in which we are delivered from evil? How might we work toward such a future through prayer and justice in the present?
These are the powerful and pressing themes that N. T. Wright addresses in this book that is at once timely and timeless.
- Great Book on the Problem of Evil
This is a great and down-to-earth book written by a stellar New Testament scholar who really knows his stuff. It is a book that is easy to read for the common layperson, but is backed by someone who is well respected in academia and has done his homework on the subject. One of the things I appreciated about Wright's undertaking of the problem of evil was that he makes a point to stress that it is a problem. He doesn't downplay the difficulty that evil gives us in this world - he doesn't dismiss evil as "not a big deal." He recognizes evil for what it is and the pain in brings through the suffering of countless people. But because of that, he demonstrates the great justice and victory of God as he defeats evil in the person of Jesus.
Wright's chapter on forgiveness is exceptional (Chapter 5: "Deliver Us From Evil"), and was very insightful and beneficial for me personally on understanding how there can be healing and restoration in light of evil that affects us individually.
Simon Vance, with his british accent, serves as fitting reader (I even initially wondered if it was Wright himself reading the book).
- Forgiveness is supremely important (chapter 5 is probably worth the price of the book.)
Wright, after the horrors of Sept 11, the 2004 tsunami, Katrina and the 2005 Kashmir area earthquakes set aside his intent to write a book on atonement and instead wrote a book about why we need the atonement. I really do appreciate Wright’s pastoral intent and the fact that he wants to affect the church, not just the academic world. But I am a bit mixed about this book.
The first chapter is a bit of social commentary about why philosophy and culture has not solved the problem of evil and why we as Christians need to think about it. Not bad, but nothing really special about it. The main point here that I think is useful is that Wright argues that there is both personal evil that we as individuals do, and there is more abstract evil, Satan or demonic evil. These are two different things and both are important. We cannot simply try to get everyone to act right and solve the world’s problems (like the progressivists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries wanted to do.) Nor can we just focus societal issues and ignore individual responsibility.
The second chapter is mostly about how the Old Testament deals with evil. This is more unique material than the third chapter, since Wright is primarily a New Testament scholar. But it is not all that surprising given the other Wright books that I have read.
Like almost all of NT Wright’s books he is building on previous books. So if you have read Jesus and the Victory of God or The Challenge of Jesus, the middle chapter on Evil in the New Testament will be a lot of retreading of old material.
Chapter 4 is about institutional evil. There is good insight here about why we need to pay attention to institutional evil. But Wright spends time on his favorite subject of international debt relief and retreads a lot of similar thoughts that are in the last half of Surprised by Hope. If you have not read Surprised by Hope, Wright believes that many Christians mis-understand the afterlife. So instead of focusing on getting away from the earth and going to heaven, we need to re-orient ourselves to the new creation that God says will come in the next age. Our work now, is preparing us for our work in the New Earth. We should not be abandoning the earth because Christ is coming again, but we should be serving the entire world because God is using us in a meaningful way to transform the whole world. This is supremely important to Wright’s overall thinking process and all of his theological work. It is much more beautiful and important than I am making it seem here, but after having read a number of Wright books recently, the first four chapters seem like summaries of previous books.
Chapter 5 is the highlight of the book. This is the chapter that he focuses on the response to personal evil. In summary, the response is forgiveness. This is the best short treatment on forgiveness (the need for it, what it is and is not, and how to do it) that I have read. He borrows heavily on Miroslav Volf (a theologian that I had not heard of three weeks ago, but one that I have now heard mentioned in three different contexts recently.) Volf is a professor at Yale, but is Croatian by birth and has written extensively about Yugoslavia and the recent civil war and ethnic cleansing that went on there. l now have another couple books that I have added to my list.
I think chapter 5 is probably worth the price of the book, but honestly, I still a bit mixed about whether this is a good introduction to Wright and I should recommend it to people that have not read Wright before or whether it is to much re-treading of material and I should say if you have read Wright before, do not bother with this one. I am happy I found this on sale for around $3. It is not a bad book, but I think I am done with Wright for a little while.
Originally posted on my blog at http://bookwi.se/evil-wright/
- Do not theorize about evil; do...
Do not theorize about evil; do something about it. That’s the gist of Anglican bishop and renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright’s book, "Evil and the Justice of God." Here Wright focuses his years of biblical study on the so-called “problem of evil.” Anyone who has read more than one of Wright’s books will recognize standard themes. The book, which emerged from a series of lectures, deviates from standard attempts in the fields of philosophy and theology that attempt to “solve” the problem of evil. In short, because Wright sticks so close to the teaching and imagery of the Bible, he doesn’t try to explain the origin of evil. Instead he focuses on what God is doing to counter evil in Jesus Christ, in the people of God and in the new creation which has begun in Jesus.
According to one text on the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil traditionally runs in either a logical argument or an evidential argument. Those who use the logical version say that it’s logically impossible to believe 1) that God exists, 2) God is good, 3) God is all-powerful and 4) that evil exists. Those who use the evidential version argue that events like 2010 Haiti earthquake or hurricane Katrina or the abuse of children make it unlikely that a good, all-powerful God exists in a world with such evil. In the late 20th century and now into the early 21st century, Christian philosophy has regained momentum and maturity, providing intriguing answers to nay-sayers who deny that a good, all-powerful God can exist side by side with evil.
But Wright avoids such philosophical debates, preferring instead to stick with the imagery of the Bible. Philosophers and theologians generally feel compelled to explore the origins and purpose of evil, but the Bible does not explicitly deal with these questions. Neither does Wright. Wright focuses on God “exhausting” evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ultimately, Wright indicates that sin and death (the real world culprits of evil according to the Bible) will be abolished in God’s new creation (cf. Revelation 21). However, we can have a foretaste of that future day when justice and peace prevail. We should, in fact, Wright says, become agents of God’s kingdom through the Holy Spirit, confronting and combating evil now.
One of the key ways we do this is through forgiveness. Though it isn’t exactly clear what Wright means when he says that God “exhausts” evil in Christ, I take it that forgiveness must be essential to what he means. Wright engages several contemporary theologians on forgiveness, including Desmund Tutu, Miroslav Volf and I. Gregory Jones (and I highly recommend Volf’s “Exclusion and Embrace,” though it’s not for light readers).
I agree with some of Wright’s critics that his refusal to engage the origins and/or purpose of evil within Creation is frustrating. Christian philosophers obviously must go beyond the simple text of the Bible to piece together their arguments and conclusions, but that does not make them any less biblical or even necessary in thinking through such a major obstacle to faith in our time (Greg Boyd, William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga are notable Christian philosophers who have done so). But I wonder how much non-Christian criticism of Wright’s work in this book is the stumbling block of forgiveness. We all want other people to pay in kind for what they’ve done, especially to us, even if it’s petty and small.
Some within the Christian community criticize Wright for being “political.” They don’t like a Christian (much less a bishop) suggesting that the debt of developing countries sometimes be forgiven, or his criticism of American foreign policy. I’m not bothered by his convictions in the least. Jesus was definitely political just more so and in a different way then most Americans are used to thinking of “politics.”
"Evil and the Justice of God" is not the definite book on evil and Christian theology, but it is a valuable contribution. The work of philosophers and theologians is useful, but Christians can always use the reminder that the fullest revelation of God is in Jesus Christ. Bishop Wright grounds our discussion of evil thoroughly in Jesus and in Scripture. For that reason alone, it’s worth a read.
* This review refers to the audiobook version of Evil and the Justice of God available through christianaudio.com. Simon Vance provided the audiobook narration and did an excellent job. I love a good English accent, and Vance actually seems to have caught Wright’s inflection and nuance. Recommended!
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- Initially wanting to produce a work...
Initially wanting to produce a work on the meaning of Jesus's crucifixion, Wright quickly realized that he first needed to address the problem of evil itself within a Christian paradigm. Simon Vance voices the Anglican bishop authoritatively, taking heady matter and bringing it--if not all the way down to basics--at least to the layman's level in a conversational tone at once friendly and instructive. Tackling major theological hurdles--with subtle nods toward his "Christus victor" view of Christ's atonement--Wright brings his decades of public speaking experience to the fore in crafting a work that works well as delivered by Vance. S.M.M. © AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine