Takeaway: 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.