For those who embrace what the Christmas carols herald--the coming of God to earth in the form of a small child--the "good tidings of great joy" speak of a new kind of life here and now. Yet for Christians around the world how this life works itself out on the "day after Christmas," and all the days yet to come, is not easily answered. It is an "in-between" time when believers are not yet fully formed but are wooed by God's grace to conform more and more to the image of the God-Man.
This is the starting point of a provocative new book by N.T. (Tom) Wright, formerly Anglican Bishop of Durham (in the U.K.), now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "After You Believe" ($24.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; $11.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book formats) is subtitled "Why Christian Character Matters." It matters, Wright maintains, because it's true to the kind of life transformation set out by the New Testament.
"Character," he writes, "--the transforming, shaping, and marking of a life and its habits--will generate the sort of behavior that rules might have pointed toward but which a 'rule-keeping' mentality can never achieve. And it will produce the sort of life which will in fact be true to itself--though the 'self' to which it will at least be true is the redeemed self, the transformed self, not the merely 'discovered' self of popular thought."
Wright draws upon the ancient tradition of virtue to illuminate what he means by character. Virtue--excellence--comes through practice and enables the person to respond appropriately in a wide variety of situations.
But the Biblical idea of virtue, Wright says, is not about celebrating the individual. "Christian virtue isn't about you--your happiness, your fulfillment, your self-realization. It's about God and God's kingdom, and your discovery of a genuine human existence by the paradoxical route--the route God himself took in Jesus Christ!--of giving yourself away, of generous love which constantly refuses to take center stage."
Christians are to be a royal priesthood, clothed in "humility, charity, patience, and chastity." It is nothing less than the practice, through God's power, of becoming fully human.