Some men realize that they are getting old when they hit a significant birthday, or when they notice that they are much balder than they had previously imagined. For me, the realization I am aging struck hard this summer when I realized that I had started buying certain books in bulk just to give them away. I had observed this trait in my father and father-in-law, and many mostly middle-aged men who discover a book that is so significant to them that the feel that everyone they know should read it, too. So they buy a box of them to give to unsuspecting loved ones at Christmas and other holidays.
The first book that I bought in bulk just to give away was After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, by N.T. Wright. The title is not particularly enticing, but once I opened it up earlier this year I realized that once again Wright was answering questions I’d been asking for many years, and with a deft clarity that I had seldom found.
In short, Wright puts forth an argument that Paul’s & Jesus’ vision for Christian life-in-action is a Christ-oriented appropriation of Aristotle’s virtue ethics. In other words, having been welcomed into the Kingdom of God, it is now the life’s work of every Jesus-follower to embody the virtues of Christian maturity, particularly faith, hope, and love. These and other virtues take shape in us as we practice the discipline of denying our sinful impulses and thinking out and enacting Christ-like deeds instead.
The Christian pursuit of virtue, says Wright, is grounded in the centrality of the future hope of resurrection, where we are to be rulers & priests with Jesus in the New Heavens and New Earth. It is only after we take our eyes off of the patently un-Christian hope of a disembodied afterlife in the clouds, and refocus on God’s true plan for us as laid out in the Bible, that we begin to become the people that he has meant for us to be. All this happens through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the difficult daily practice.