Wright's work thought provoking

By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP Religion Writer Published:

The late C.S. Lewis is winning new readers through The Chronicles of Narnia, the successful movie version of his childrens novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis was also a heavyweight literature scholar, but his writings that explain Christianity from a laymans perspective are more influential.

The most popular of these, Mere Christianity, collects 33 radio talks about basics of the faith he delivered during World War II. This little classic, only slightly dated decades later, continues to open inquiring minds to Christian claims.

Fellow Brit N.T. Wright attempts a 21st-century counterpart in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperSanFrancisco). Its doubtful anyone will soon match Lewis achievement, but Wrights offering is notably clear, readable and thought-provoking.

Like Lewis, Wright is an Anglican who has taught at Oxford and Cambridge and writes both popular-level books like this one and scholarly tomes.

(One Wright fan is Anne Rice, the vampire novelist who now writes about Jesus; theyll appear together May 14 at San Franciscos Grace Cathedral during Wrights book tour.)

Unlike Lewis, a one-time atheist and a layman, Wright is a lifelong Christian and a clergyman. Hes now bishop of Durham, the Church of Englands No. 4 post.

The world Wright addresses continues to suffer war and devastation like Lewis listeners experienced, but features new forms of skepticism. For instance, influential Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson writes that the purposeless blind force of Darwinian evolution has eliminated God so humanity should drain the fever swamps of religion.

Many find that constricted outlook leaves too many questions unasked and unanswered, such as Lewis starting point: How to explain humanitys universal sense of right and wrong.

Wright is dubious about classical arguments for Gods existence: The difficulty is that speaking of God in anything like the Christian sense is like staring into the sun. Instead, he says we all hear echoes of a voice that hint things are imperfect and theres a better world.

His starting points:

Justice.

Rather like Lewis, Wright says even children on playgrounds have an inborn sense of justice and its absence: Thats not fair! We know matters are wrong and should be put right. Is this fantasy, or is there a just realm to which we truly belong? Is someone speaking to us? Judaism and Christianity (and Islam) say there is, and its God.

(Yes, Christians have been unjust throughout history, he acknowledges, but theyve also acknowledged sins and strived to overcome injustices.)

Spirituality.

Some innate sense points us away from the bleak landscape of modern secularism and toward the possibility that we humans are made for more than this. That underlies widespread religious experience, the haunting possibility of another world, and realization that humans are badly damaged by evil and need rescue from outside themselves.

Relationships.

With this universal human hunger, we all know we are made to live together, but we all find that doing so is more difficult than we had imagined. As part of it, humans see that all bonds within the present world are transitory. The fact of death provides a stark, constant reminder. Are relationships God-given? Can they be ennobled?

Beauty.

We all realize the world is full of beauty, yet also sense that this beauty is incomplete and feel somehow dissatisfied. Whose glory is it? Gods, perhaps? Wright contends that beauty points away from the present world to a different one altogether.

In another section, Wright rejects both pantheism (God is everywhere and everything) and deism (God has little direct involvement with us) in favor of the Christian belief that heaven and earth overlap and interlock.

From there, Wright looks at Israel as Gods people, Jesus as Gods manifestation, the Bible as Gods guidance and the church as Gods community.

Other topics: prayer, worship, and believers moral responsibility to meet humanitys desire for justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty.

On the Net: Wright fan page (unofficial): http://www.ntwrightpage.com

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