Here is the work of a pastor and scholar who knows that the two sides of the same coin belong together; the pastoral touch reaches to practicing Christian souls and the teacher of the faith serves up a theological meal worth consuming. In fact, the combination of these ingredients makes the entirety stronger. Let us be clear: Not everyone can write with such sensitivity and gravitas at the same time. And that is because they lack either one or the other side of the formula. Dr. Wright has both.
What is this? On the one hand it is by organizational form a systematic theology. But it is not a systematic written for the sake of other scholars or students of theology. It is a systematic written for the Christian community. It is written to those who are already Christian and have perhaps ridden their pew for a very long time. It is written for the sake of those who have practiced faith but want to seek more understanding, definition and clarity. Neither a magisterial systematic nor a simple summary, its length and format is somewhere in-between and is similar to other “primers” of the faith that have been written throughout the centuries. Every generation picks up the task of distilling the Christian story into to its palpable essentials. This is another run at that same project and the goal of Vital Truth. It is a Didache for today.
Starting places often indicate one’s theological position and that is true for Vital Truth. The first word of the book is about the resurrection faith. In fact, the kerygma frames the totality, beginning and end. The fundamental Christian proclamation is the jumping off place, much as it was for the early Christian evangelists. And from there further exploration is made into Creation, Christ, Trinity, Church and other traditional Christian doctrines.
Because Wright does theology in a confessional way – presenting, explaining and relating traditional themes and sources of authority – the book functions most closely as an apologetic, presenting a defense of the Christian story in logical and methodical ways. Most often he defends the doctrines by explaining their sensibility. Abundant with scripture and historic references Wright stands in the tradition of a Luke Timothy Johnson or N.T. Wright as he presents the plain sense of the story without reinterpreting by means of other philosophical categories.
I found his defense of the particularity of the Christian message – the revelation of Christ, particular eschatological claims, our ultimate destiny – similar to what Brian McLaren has called “generous orthodoxy.” It is a Christian position that is clear about its particular story without the arrogance of defining the limits of God’s activity in the world. We make claims and affirmations about where God is at work without defining the many places God is not at work, thus condemning all non-Christians. For example, Wright makes sure to steer clear of a simple pantheism when discussing the God of creation; God has a creation but is not the creation. But that does not negate the understanding held by so many other Christians and world religions that God is interwoven in the fabric of the cosmos. God may both have and be in the created order, energy manifesting in matter. Not monism but closer to panentheism. So his orthodoxy is clear but open and generous. Certain things are left where they belong, in the land of our unknown and God’s known.
There is nothing uncertain or unclear about this propositional language that includes careful nuance. As clearly as I understand these well-presented positions I leave this fine book concerned, maybe even anxious. This is a book for believers and believers in the world of classical theism. As in neo-orthodoxy the message is unwavering regardless of the vagaries of the culture that surround us. It is not especially concerned with correlation to other pathways of wisdom or new revelations of truth from other sources.
What haunts me, really haunts me, is that many – the majority who are not in our churches – will not give this elucidation of the faith a chance because it is not connected in compelling ways to some of the very things either dismissed or omitted: the new physics and universal, mythical and symbolic substrate that give the Christian story its power. The assumption is that the Gospel cannot be confined by anything as relative or culturally determined as these. But it is exactly those touch stones in the culture that will make the rest of the story approachable, interesting and even digestible by the 21st century person in the West. If we insist on an exclusively historical or literal rendering of the meaning of some of the Christian doctrines we will lose enormous numbers of those who might otherwise be drawn to God. This will not be because some saw the truth and others did not. There are other reasons.
Christian apologists have, throughout the centuries, found ways to create correlations between the vital truth of the Christian story and the vital truth generally revealed in the world. My great fear in this urgent moment is if we do not take up that challenge the wisdom and peace that we treasure will be lost on the many and held only by a few. And that will not be the result of divine election. That will be the result of us not taking up the hard work of cultural translation and bridge building.
There is a reason that the early Christian missionaries, those before the colonial period, went and lived with those whom they served. They had to become fluent in the language, culture, poetry and story of those with whom they shared the Christian story. We will have to do the same. If we do not there will be no one left to consider such faithful writing as this.
Rev. Timothy Carson, D.Min, Senior Pastor of Broadway Christian Church
Columbia, Missouri, USA
Author of Transforming Worship, Your Calling as a Christian, The Square Root of God, Six Doors to the Seventh Dimension and Liminal Reality and Transformational Power. Click here to read his most recent author Q&A.
Recent praise for Vital Truth:
“The experience of a creative theologian, teacher, and pastor are clearly on view in this theologically rich account of the core convictions of the Christian community. Profoundly and imaginatively written, yet eminently accessible, this volume will be a wonderful resource for those who wish to go deeper in their understanding of core Christian doctrines.”
Graham Watts, Tutor, Christian Doctrine and Ethics, Spurgeon’s College, London
“Nigel has a real gift for exploring profound theological truth in a very readable way. I have found that his books inspire, challenge, and develop my thinking and practice as a Christian leader, and so I am delighted to commend this latest book to you.”
Lynn Green, General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain
“In a day when many Christians have a hazy grasp of their faith, Nigel Wright’s Vital Truth comes as a timely corrective. Written with commendable clarity, it succinctly and accessibly explores the core convictions of Christianity. It is persuasive, winsome, and readable. Chapters are short enough to be savoured and provide excellent material for small group study. Definitely a book to get hold of.”
Brian Harris, Principal, Vose Seminary, Perth, Australia
Vital Truth: Convictions of the Christian Community is available for purchase here now.
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