635: Bishop N.T. Wright is back with a powerful new book (and video too)

No contemporary religious author attracts more attention among Christian audiences than N.T. Wright.
    He’s half Bible scholar and half a contemporary embodiment of the celebrity of C.S. Lewis. No, Wright doesn’t write fantasy or allegory, but he is a master at what once was Lewis’ style of straight-forward, street-level writing about what makes our religious lives truly matter in the world.
This week, Wright has a powerful new book available, “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.” AND, there’s also a 6-session “Surprised by Hope” study guide—plus a 6-part DVD set—based on his previous book by the same name.
If you’re not familiar with Wright’s work, here’s what you need to know: Over the past decade or so, he burst on the American scene largely regarded as the evangelical defender of biblical truth from other Bible scholars who question the historical accuracy of many scriptural passages. But, if you think of Wright as merely a Bible traditionalist, you’ve completely missed his larger importance. Like Lewis before him, Wright uses his beloved-uncle-from-England persona to relentlessly push Christians to rethink our often too-passive approach to the faith. Like Lewis before him, Wright wants church people to get our butts out of the pews and become compassionate, transformative neighbors in the world.
    This new book is a clarion call to mature Christians to take seriously some of Jesus’ messages we’ve long ignored.
This week, we have 3 Stories with N.T. Wright, including video on Tuesday and an in-depth interview with the Bishop of Durham “Tom” Wright on Wednesday.

HERE ARE convenient links for ordering the new book and the study guide to “Surprised by Hope”:
CLICK HERE to order “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters” from Amazon now.
OR, for the study guide: CLICK HERE to order the new “Surprised by Hope Participant’s Guide: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” for a 6-week small-group series.

N.T. Wright Part 1:
Sample of “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters”

It rains quite a lot in England, where I live, but early September 2008 was exceptional. It had poured for days on end, with as much rain falling on the final day of the spell as you’d normally expect in a month. It wasn’t the nicest time to be out for a walk, but one family had decided to brave it. As they were crossing a park in the town of Chester-le-Street, about 15 miles northwest of my home, the family dog went to splash in a large puddle, and the 3-year-old daughter went to join him. Suddenly, without warning, the little girl simply disappeared. The father, running up, saw the dog disappear as well. He realized in a flash what had happened: a strom drain had burst its cover beneath the puddle, and the girl and the dog had both been sucked down into the drain itself. Thinking quickly, the father, Mark Baxter, realized that a storm drain would almost likely spill out into the river, about a hundred yards away. He set off at once at a run. When he got to the river, he spotted the girl’s coat floating downstream—with Laura, his daughter, face-down inside it. Immediately he plunged in and rescued her, bruised and battered but alive.
Another miracle? In a sense, yes. All sorts of things might have happened. … But what impressed me most, hearing the story, was what the father said afterward about his frantic run to the riverbank.
“Everytime I thought a bad thought,” he said, “I forced myself to think of somehting else.”
Therein lies the secret. Mark Baxter wasn’t working out, step by step, what he had to do. He had grasped that in a flash. But he needed self-discipline to keep a firm grip on his own thoughts. All kinds of fears and terrors were, no doubt, rushing into his mind, threatening to make him panic or go to pieces. But he had what we sometimes call the presence of mind to hold those fears at bay. He consciously made the effort to replace the bad thoughts with good ones, and to concentrate on what he had to do. That is, in the technical sense we’ve been using, “character.”
It doesn’t come by accident. It comes through the self-discipline required to do anything in life really well—to learn a musical instrument, to mend a tractor, to give a lecture, to run an orphanage. Or, indeed, to live as a wise human being. Again and again, when you’re working hard at a difficult or complex task, the mind will try to jump away, to focus instead on something easier or more enticing. And again and again, if you’re going to get the job done, you have to force your mind back onto the job and away from the distraction.

As it happens, Mark Baxter worked for the British Royal Air Force. … He learned his self-discipline in a field where it is obviously vital at every minute. The ability to size up a situation, figure out what to do, and do it as though by instinct is one thing. The ability to hold at arm’s length the thoughts that would terrify and paralyze you as you go about it is another thing, the kind of back-up mental discipline necessary for “virtue” to take effect. … You never know when you might need that discipline; when it might save a life. You won’t have time to stop and think. The “character” of mental discipline needs to run right through you.

Learning to navigate this world wisely, and to grow toward complete and mature human life in and through it all, is the challenge we all face. And the point of this book is to suggest that the dynamic of “virtue,” in this sense—practicing the habits of heart and life that point toward the true goal of human existence—lies at the heart of the challenge of Christian behavior. …
When we approach things from this angle, we are in for some surprises. A great many Christians, in my experience, never think of things this way, and so get themselves in all kinds of confusion. Virtue, to put it bluntly, is a revolutionary idea in today’s world—and today’s church. But the revolution is one we badly need.

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