Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tom Wright: Virtue Reborn

How to be good?
How to live a good life?

Tom Wright's book interrogates both the New Testament and the classical Greek understanding of virtue to come up with what he presents as the Christian vision of virtue. Roughly it's this (I think). Being good means 'developing character traits whose radical novelty is generated from within the life, vision, achievement, death, and resurrection of Jesus himself.' (p222) We develop these traits not by our own efforts only, but renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit as we freely choose to build new habits.

This gives us all this:
- We become truly human and fruitful
- The classical virtues are taken through a kind of death and resurrection, and reborn. So there's both a discontinuiy and a continuity with them.
- Goodness is not attained through rule-keeping, or through just following your (new) instinct, but by repeated decisions to build new habits

Wright suggests that the way we nourish this practice of building good habits which slowly coalesce into virtue, into 'second nature', is through scripture, stories (which can teach us wisdom), examples, community, and action or practices. In other words, stuff we do corporately and individually as Christians.

This is a good book, the sort that stirs all kinds of prayerful and devotional impulses as you read it.

If you were being critical, you might say that, in his keenness to dialogue with the classical tradition, and with other ethicists, he makes his subject a little more complex than it actually is. And us ordinary joes who just want to be good, and, sad to say, have gone through life without being troubled what dead Greeks thought about the matter (just as Wright has gone through life unworried evidently about what dead Chinese like Confucius, say, thought about the matter) -- possibly find a bit more detail than we really need. Maybe. But Wright's thinking is stimulating throughout the book.

The book is better edited than some others of his, though he repeats the large error that he's also documented elsewhere, that there are more people alive than those who have already lived. It does't matter all that much, but look it up, Tom, you're wrong. The dead outnumber the living by by about 11 to 1, half of them were children, and I have yet to find a serious theologian who has thought about that. But I'm nitpicking.

I like having a thoughtful, stretching, devotional book on the go and this latest Tom Wright outing was excellent.

1 comment:

Andrew Bowker said...

I did like this book. I think it is valuable and important for someone at this point in our culture to try and engage with the question, 'Why should I be good?' What is being good, anyway? And how does that fit in with the new life that comes from being born again and being directed by the Holy Spirit?
And he can write.