By Matt Dabbs
by Joshua J. Graves
(edited by Scott Simpson)
Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: IVP Books (October 13, 2006)
How can one understand, believe and experience God in the face of evil? That question is the central thread woven throughout one of N.T. Wright’s latest writings: Evil and the Justice of God.
More humans died in the twentieth century than in all previous centuries combined. Mass genocide in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Darfur, Northern Uganda, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Srebrenica, along with the devastations of WWI and WWII crushed the optimism that characterized the West at the onset of the 1900s. By 1930, the spirit of progress began to give way to a spirit of disillusionment.
Western Christianity did not fare well either. Many of these atrocities took place in “Christian” nations or nations closely affiliated with the Christian religion (including Nazi Germany which was overwhelmingly Lutheran). According to Alister McGrath, though almost two-thirds of all Christians lived in the West in 1900, only one-third were still recognized as “Western” by 2000. Christianity shifted to the far corners of the world: China, South America, and Africa. Scholars now notes that there are more Anglicans in Africa, for instance, than in all of Great Britain.
Even more chaos consumes the 21st century landscape. The devastation of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, tragic earthquakes in Pakistan and Kashmir, the terror of Hurricane Katrina, and the latest surge of wars in the Middle East push Christians to ask, “is God present and working in the face of such pressing evil?” To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “If the atheist must answer the reality of joy in the world, the Christian must answer the presence of suffering.”
Perhaps to address today’s dilemmas, we need another C.S. Lewis. Wright is a C.S. Lewis of our day.
Wright is the Bishop of Durham, a distinguished leader in the Anglican Church. He is also one of the most influential writers and theologians in the world, influencing the work of many scholars (Scot McKnight), pastors (Rob Bell), and Christian persons of influence (Brian D. McLaren) in the emerging church conversation.
Wright is most known for his works on the scholarly level (see his award winning trilogy: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection and the Son of God) but he demonstrates the rare gift of writing on the popular level as well (Simply Christian and The Challenge of Jesus to name a few). Bishop Wright is a writer and scholar par excellence. He is also a pastor with deep roots in God’s church.
The central thesis of Evil and the Justice of God could be articulated this way:
Evil isn’t simply a philosopher’s puzzle but a reality which stalks our streets and damages people’s lives, homes and property. The quest for a solution is not a quest for an intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of why evil is there in the first place. Rather, the quest for a solution to the problem of evil is a search for ways in which the healing, restorative justice of the Creator God himself—a justice which will one day suffuse the whole creation—can be brought to bear; in advance of that ultimate reality, within the present world of space time, matter and messy realities in human lives and societies, (Wright 150, bold mine).
Wright is committed to a compelling narrative theology that works from Torah through Revelation. The biblical text must be read, according to Wright, through the person of Christ. The life of Jesus shades every nook and cranny of his biblical interpretation. Wright has the ability to exegete texts without turning them into a scientific experiment in which the living word slowly dies. Most importantly, Wright not only deals with evil on communal and public levels, (something many evangelical Christians have no language for), he also deals with the reality that evil runs right through every individual. Evil is not something “out there”—but rather, it is a power that takes up residence in every person. Evil and injustice runs right through the middle of me, right through the heart of us.
Because I am a loyal reader of Wright’s work and believe him to be the single most influential theologian in the West today, I wish Wright had addressed some current pertinent issues more clearly. He certainly lays a foundation upon which one could engage such pressing events as Hezbollah and Israel, and the current war in Iraq. Christianity not only needs its imagination resurrected (Wright does this well), Christians need tangible solutions for engaging the powers that be as they play out in the public arena. In my estimation, Wright offers little in the way of concrete suggestions for events happening right now. This is the only place where the book fails to deliver.
Wright’s concluding chapter on forgiveness (in which he works with the contributions of Desmond Tutu and Miroslav Volf) is worth the price of the book alone. Evil and the Justice of God is a tremendous read for anyone who is not familiar with Wright’s work. It is also pertinent and challenging for those of us who believe Wright has much to offer Christians of all orientations. I cannot read this work (or any of Wright’s ruminations) without arriving at the conviction that my life must change in meaningful ways.
We live in a world bent on “one-upmanship,” revenge, competition, and individual rights. Wright calls the church to be who she already is: the sacramental body of Christ, living God’s mission for the sake of the world. The church is God’s “future on display in the present,” showing the justice of Jesus in counter-cultural ways.
Joshua Graves is a minister serving the Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester Hills, MI and adjunct professor of religion for Rochester College. Josh did graduate studies at Abilene Christian University and Lipscomb University (M.Div.) He is married to Kara, the real theologian in the family. Josh has written two other pieces for New Wineskins (A Prophetic People and Wrestling with Jesus) in 2006. He’s also co-written the Study Guide for Mere Discipleship (Brazos Press) with noted author Lee Camp (forthcoming). You can reach him at [email@example.com] or visit his online journal at [www.joshgraves.blogspot.com].
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