If we are honest, we have to admit that there are many things we don't understand about God, especially in the face of terrible suffering and evil. Chris Wright offers reflections and encouragement from the Scriptures, so that those who are troubled by these tough questions can still sustain their faith
- Very good, biblical look at what we can know about God
Christopher Wright is an Anglican Priest and professor and the head of the foundation that John Stott started to encourage pastoral education in the developing world. This is the second book I have read by him recently and I will be reading more. Christopher Wright (no relation to NT Wright) is wonderfully pastoral in his approach, but even more important he is incredibly biblical. Christopher Wright specializes in teaching Old Testament theology and more naturally than any other scholar I have read, talks about the bible as a single grand narrative of which the Old Testament cannot be removed.
This books deals with four main areas where Wright does not understand why God chose to act as he did. The first is the basic problem of evil. This is a broad area, but I believe this is one of the better treatments of it that I have read. Wright does not claim to know why God has allowed evil to exist, but he is clear about what we can know. We know that God does not cause evil, that natural evil happens to both those that deserve it and those that do not deserve it, that we cannot know why God sometimes choses to prevent evil and other times does not and that God is still sovereign in a way that we do not really understand (because it can't violate the first issue)
This sets up a re-occurring theme for the book. Wright talks about the issue, what we can know about the issue from scripture, highlights areas that may be common beliefs, but are not biblical and then summarizes areas that we cannot know. I find this very helpful approach. This is not apologetics as traditionally conceived, but rather an approach that sets up guidelines for human knowledge and boundaries beyond which we enter pure speculation. In several areas, Wright hints that it is not only speculation, but potentially dangerous to go beyond what scripture has revealed. Some may disagree with this approach, but it validates doubt in a way that I find helpful and biblical.
The other areas of exploration follow this basic framework. Christopher Wright approached ways that we can understand Old Testament stories of slaughter of Israel’s enemies (is God a moral monster). Then he moves on to the crucifixion (is God an abusive father). And finally he concludes with a more positive topic of what we can and cannot understand about heaven, the after-life and revelations. If you have read NT Wright’s writings about heaven you will have a summary of Christopher Wright’s last couple of chapters. It is amazing to me how much of most Christian’s understanding of end times and heaven is not back up (or flatly contradicted) by scripture.
This book reads mostly like fatherly advice or listening to the wisdom of an older mentor. I cannot help but thinking of Paul instructing Timothy. Christopher Wright is assuming some biblical and Christian background, but more importantly he is really teaching us how to read scripture for ourselves. There is a lot of places where he asks us to stop, find our bibles and read one or more passages as background for what he is going to talk about. There is no taking a couple verses out of context for Christopher Wright. He is painting in broad brushstrokes of the whole of scripture.
I listened to this in audiobook. Christopher Wright narrates it in his very conversational style with his nice Irish accent. This probably helps it feel more like advice giving then it would if I had read a print version of the book. The book can be a bit repetitive because he is careful to make sure we are on board with his argument and that we are not relying on just a small portion of scripture but we understand the whole meaning of scripture. But again, like several others I have read lately, I would prefer the repetition to the problems that would be introduced by not having it thoroughly documented with scripture. (I also had problems with my phone as audiobook player, it kept losing my place, so I actually did listen to a number of sections twice.)
A slightly different version of this review first appeared on my blog at http://bookwi.se/understand/