The Arts as Highways

The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way. The present world is good, but broken and in any case incomplete; art of all kinds enables us to understand that paradox and its many dimensions. But the present world is also designed for something which has not yet happened. It is like a violin waiting to be played: beautiful to look at, graceful to hold–and yet if you’d never heard one in the hands of a musician, you wouldn’t believe the new dimensions of beauty to be revealed. Perhaps art can show something of that, can glimpse the future possibilities pregnant within the present time. It is like a chalice: again, beautiful to look at, pleasing to hold, but waiting to be filled with the wine which, itself full of sacramental possibilities, gives the chalice its fullest meaning. Perhaps art can help us to look beyond the immediate beauty with all its puzzles, and to glimpse that new creation which makes sense not only of beauty but of the world as a whole, and ourselves within it. Perhaps.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 235-36

Different Roads

We have lived for too long in the world, and tragically even in a church . . . where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out – which is, as many have discovered, a recipe for chaotic, disjointed, and dysfunctional humanness. The logic of cross and resurrection, of the new creation which gives shape to all truly Christian living, points in a different direction. And one of the central names for that direction is joy: the joy of relationships healed as well as enhanced, the joy of belonging to the new creation, of finding not what we already had but what God was longing to give us. At the heart of the Christian ethic is humility; at the heart of its parodies, pride. Different roads with different destinations, and the destinations color the character of those who travel by them.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 233-34

Agents, Heralds and Stewards

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning.

N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 237

Only More So

There is always the suspicion that creeps into discussions of this kind, a niggling worry that the call to worship God is rather like the order that goes out from the dictator whose subjects may not like him but have learned to fear him. You want hundred thousand people to line the route for his birthday parade? Very well, he shall have them, and they will all be cheering and waving as if their lives depended on it–because, in fact, they do. Turn away in boredom, or don’t turn up at all, and it will be the worse for you.

If it has crossed your mind that worshipping the true God is like that, let me offer you a very different model. . . . I am been in the audience for some great performances that moved me and fed me and satisfied me richly. But only two or three times in my life have I been in an audience which, the moment the conductor’s baton came down the last time, leaped to its feet in electrified excitement, unable to contain its enthusiastic delight and wonder at what it has just experienced. That sort of response is pretty close to genuine worship. Something like that, but more so, is the mood of Revelation 4 and 5. That is what, when we come to worship the living God, we are being invited to join in.

—N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 147

Footnotes

I believe that we can move beyond these sterile disputes by putting our discussion of worship within our larger picture of heaven and earth, of God’s future and our present, and of the way in which those two pairs come together in Jesus and the Spirit. . . . This, I believe, sets the right framework for all our thinking about worship, and all discussion of the church’s sacramental life. The rest is footnotes, temperament, tradition, and—let’s face it—individual likes and dislikes (which is what I call them when they’re mine) and irrational prejudices (which is what I call them when they’re yours).

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 157

Get on with It!

As our culture changes, and as change itself becomes the most constant feature of our culture, we shouldn’t be surprised that many people find traditional forms puzzling and off-putting. I’ve met people in the last year or two who have stopped going to their local church because people have started singing new songs and dancing in the aisles. And I’ve met others who have started going for precisely the same reason. It’s time to give ourselves a shake—to recognize that different people need different kinds of help at different stages of their lives—and get on with it.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 167