Takeaway: It is fine (and biblical) to admit we do not understand God.
I have recently discovered the blog Black, White and Gray. Bradley Wright (links to reviews of his books below) and a couple of other Christian Sociologists talk about statistics and sociology of Christianity. When I started The God I Don’t Understand I had just read the third of a four part series about research into Deconversion. Each of the posts were interesting and I would really recommend reading them to get past a lot of myths about why people leave Christianity.
The third post was about Christians responding badly to doubt. Of the 50 deconverts that wrote testimonies of their deconversion that were analyzed, 42 mentioned frustrations with Christians they knew. The problem was not primarily misbehavior or hypocritical attitudes as I would have assumed, but frustration with how Christians respond to doubt.
Having finished The God I Don’t Understand, I would highly recommend it as a book that properly responds to doubt. 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 book 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 chooses to prevent evil and other times does not, and that God is still sovereign in a way that we do not really understand (because sovereignty cannot mean that God causes evil).
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 many commonly believe, 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. This approach may not have stopped or slowed the deconversion on any of Bradley Wright’s (again no relation) 50 people, but it would have been a much healthier place for them to have grown spiritually from.
The other areas of exploration follow this basic framework. Christopher Wright approached ways that we can understand Old Testament stories of the 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 Revelation. 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 backed 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 think 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 are 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 of verses out of context for Christopher Wright. He is painting, in broad brushstrokes, 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.)
Related Bookwi.se Reviews
- The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher Wright
- Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright
- Upside: Surprising Good News About The State of Our World by Bradley Wright
- Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media by Bradley R.E. Wright
- The Mystery of God by Christopher Hall and Steven D. Boye
- Why I am a Christian by John Stott
- How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by NT Wright
- Basic Christianity by John Stott
- The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John Stott
- All is Grace: A Memoir by Brennan Manning and John Blase