Wednesday, November 17, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Question 1:  Wright’ final chapter begins with an introduction to the “virtuous circle.”  Virtue happens “as Christians find themselves caught up within a particular circle of activities and practices.”  As he has said repeatedly, “the key to virtue lies precisely…in the transformation of the mind.”  As with a bicycle (or better yet, a motorcycle!) you need to learn to operate several maneuvers at once to maintain your balance and move forward.  The five elements of the virtuous circle include: scripture, stories, examples, community, and practices.
  • Identify two of these elements that have served to draw you closer to the virtuous life of faith.
  • Provide an example of the power and effect of each in your life.

Question 2:  The reading of scripture is central to the virtuous life.  Wright speaks of us not merely as readers, but as “actors within an ongoing drama.”  This leads to the biblical story becoming “second nature” to us.  He urges us to read it in large chunks and in small bites; but always to make it habit-forming.  Live with the tension of encountering variations of complexity and diversity in the Bible.  Give time an opportunity to allow scripture to work its way into our lives.  No doubt, this has been the case for each of us throughout our lives. 
  • Trace your own footsteps through the scriptures…
  • How would you describe your current position when contrasted with your understanding of scripture as a young adult?
  • What have you learned over the years as you seek to get your arms around the Bible?

Question 3:  “Scripture, then, is habit-forming and character-forming.”  “Living within the world of stories increases – if we let it – the capacity for discernment.”  “Wisdom, after all, is what we’re after; not rules, not templates, but a sense of understanding how the ways of God and humankind work…” 
  • How have you come to understand and appreciate the complex nature of scripture and its characters?
  • How does scripture serve to guide you into the ways of wisdom and spiritual discernment?

Question 4:  Wright gives examples of those who have developed the character of virtue.  This is not limited to mere imitation, but like a spark that turns into a flame, is “led by the Spirit and can be a means toward something quite new.”  Using powerful examples such as Maximilian Kolbe and Chesley Sullenberger, Wright points out that they didn’t have time to think, but they didn’t need to.  “The thinking had been done a long time before, and the second-nature habits of self-giving love had been ingrained as a result.  The moment came; the decision was made.”
  • Recall of a time when you had no time to think, only to act…
  • How did you know what to do at that moment?
  • Recall a similar experience applied to some faith action…
  • How did you tap into your well of Christian virtue at that point?

Question 5:  Here, Wright moves from an individual to corporate context of faith in action.  In essence, he lifts up the work of the church, in all its many forms and groupings.  Our Panera group fits the bill here, too!  Whatever the configuration, our common goal is to develop the fruit of the Spirit.  This community of believers “is the forum within which virtue is learned and practiced.”  “This is how virtue happens: whole communities deciding together, as Hebrews says, ‘to stir up one another to love and good works,’ and then working at it so that what might to begin with have seemed impossible (or at least very unnatural) becomes, remarkably quickly, second nature.”
  • Examine your own such involvement with the church…
  • Name those events, efforts, and connections that mattered.
  • Where have you partnered with others to be the church in action?
  • What were the specific “fruits of the Spirit” that resulted?

Question 6:  Wright’s final section summarizes the central practices of the Christian faith, largely flowing out of the various elements of worship.  These also flow out of our understanding of Word and Sacrament.  The point is, we do this togetherall of it!
  • In conclusion, reflect on the whole of Wright’s book…
  • What have you learned to appreciate about virtue?
  • What has surprised you most about virtue?
  • Where do you still seek to grow in Christian virtue?
  • Finally, name one example – some person – of virtue for whom you can lift up and give thanks today.

*Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
*See you again January 13 as we read, Belief, by Francis Collins

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Question 1:  The “Royal Priesthood”…that’s quite a vocation we bear!  Wright asserts that worship is central to Christian virtue.  It must be learned, however.  While spontaneity has its value, in limited fashion, worship is best approached through training over time.  The analogy of the match and the candle was quite effective here. 
  • Where have you previously “struck a match,” only to see it die with nothing to light? 
  • What “candles” have you found useful to keep the fire burning? 
  • Where has this occurred in your faith life, specifically? 
  • As a result of this, can you name those worship practices that now have become “second nature” and therefore “virtuous?”

Question 2:  Wright promotes our function as “rulers,” flowing out of this royal priesthood.  “…the early Christians were becoming the agents of God’s sovereign rule through their work in announcing Jesus as Lord.”  Transformation is the result.  The virtues that accompany our role as rulers include the work of evangelism, justice, beauty, and freedom.  “Freedom, like authenticity, is what we are promised when our desires and longings completely coincide with God’s designs and plans for us as fully human beings.”  “To accept appropriate moral constraints is not to curtail true freedom, but to create the conditions for it to flourish.”
  • How has this alignment of virtues (partially or otherwise) allowed you to function as a ruler of God’s sovereign kingdom? 
  • Name a specific situation where this “freedom” has brought about transformation, either in you or someone else.

Question 3:  In this brief section, Wright discusses faith and virtue, active in love…specifically, acts of service.  This, too, is a habit or “second nature” that characterizes Christian virtue.  Indeed, this was a different way to be human, as the emergence of the early church shows. 
  • What particular habits of love – service – have made the greatest impression on you?
  • What specific service opportunities have you participated in that further deepened your faith?
  • Why was this so important to you?

Question 4:  Wright identifies several distinctions between pagan virtue and Christian virtue.  Foremost, however, is the distinction that Aristotle’s tradition led ultimately to pride, while Christian virtue is shaped by the cross and leads to humility.  “The Christianly virtuous person is not thinking about his or her own moral performance.  He or she is thinking of Jesus…and how best to love the person next door.” 
  • So, in terms of moral discourse, what do you see as the value and role of non-Christian traditions? 
  • How do we integrate our Christian values with other traditions, without compromising or de-valuing our core virtues?

Question 5:  “God’s work of rescuing, restorative justice must happen in us in order that it can happen through us.”  “It is thus more or less impossible to speak of God with any conviction or effect if those who profess to follow Jesus are not exemplifying humility, charity, patience, and chastity.  These are not optional extras for the especially keen, but the very clothes which the royal priesthood must ‘put on’ day by day.”  Wright addresses the long-standing divisions between those who cultivate their own holiness (in the absence of promoting justice) and those who are passionate for justice but treat personal holiness as an unnecessary distraction.  Wright presses for integration.
  • How has the Lutheran Church traditionally approached these two aspects of faith?  Where is the ELCA presently headed on this? 
  • What are your personal goals in relation to holiness and justice? 
  • How might we more effectively partner with those whose values and strengths are different from ours?

Question 6:  Here, we have chapter sex…I mean, six!  Wright discusses and connects humility, patience, chastity, and forgiveness.  As he suggests, love holds them all together. 
  • Take a moment and review his emphasis on each. 
  • Which of these present the greatest challenge to you?
  • To our society?
  • Which present the greatest satisfaction and reward to you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Question 1:  Wright begins this section with Paul’s depiction of love as a virtue.  As such, love is transcendent…that which transforms us into complete humans and allows us to bear the divine image.  The early church latched upon the word, “agape,” in an attempt to convey this unique activity. 
  • Why is “love” such a peculiar and difficult word to define, much less implement? 
  • What is your current understanding and application of love, as you think God intends of us?
Question 2:  Section two continues to explore the vast implications of agape, especially as set forth in 1 Corinthians 13.  Apparently, love moves both forward and backward…from the future into the present, and the present into the future.  Love represents the great transition and transformation.  Wright further characterizes love as “the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it…”  In fact, love goes beyond duty… “it is our destiny.” 
  • If love is indeed the divine language we are called to learn, a language that bridges the present to the future and back again,  how does 1 Corinthians 13 provide the grammatical structure to comprehend and express this language? 
  • How then do we allow this language to promote deeper intimacy with one another and with God?
Question 3:  Wright insists that “Paul is not discussing the question of rules versus spontaneity.  He is talking about the great change that has come over the people of God with the death and resurrection of the Messiah and the gift of the Spirit.”  This change is marked by the “fruits of the Spirit”…nine in all.  However, these fruits do not grow automatically.  They must be tended to, as with a garden.  Such pruning, etc., is the result of deliberate choice. 

Christian virtue, then, is “both the gift of God and the result of the person of faith making conscious decisions to cultivate this way of life and these habits of heart and mind.”  Thus, we partner with the Holy Spirit to acquire and practice virtue.  To go it alone is to leave the garden untended. 
  • So, what does your “garden” look like these days? 
  • Where have you and the Holy Spirit partnered, and what are the results? 
  • Why do we attempt to go it alone at times?
  • What characteristics “of the flesh” do we find difficult to prune on our own?
Question 4:  This section is a bit challenging to get one’s arms around.  Wright discusses the interplay of virtues and moral values as they relate to individual and communal applications.  In addition to love, faith and hope also have “lasting” qualities in God’s new world.  Imagine how your faith and your hope not only carry over, but are transformed and more deeply realized in the eschaton (the arrival of the new heaven and new earth). 
  • What confidence can you derive and apply from this continuity of virtues in your life?
Question 5:  Living the Christian faith within the Christian community requires sustained effort and work.  Any hope of unity here necessitates “love-in-action.”  The language of virtue must be learned and practiced in order to be realized.  These become habits of mind and heart…“it’s a matter of learning to think and act in accordance with the Spirit of Jesus Christ in such a way that the things which harm unity are spotted early on and rooted out.” 
  • What specific “habits” have you learned and acquired that sustain you today? 
  • How do they intersect with your involvement in the church and in the community?
Question 6:  Wright notes that “virtue is always the result of work and cost.  Paul’s appeal for unity…is nothing if not an appeal for virtue.”  Corporate virtue with the church becomes a significant challenge and opportunity to more fully express love, hope, and faith. 
  • What are the current “challenges and opportunities” we face today as the church? 
  • What sustains us in our efforts to be a part of something much greater than ourselves?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Five Discussion Questions

Question 1:  Wright characterizes Paul as a morning person.  That’s me, too…though not by choice.  How about you?  Hey, you’re here at Panera early in the day, so you get bonus points either way!  (Do I detect a rhyme?)  “Paul’s vision of Christian virtue, centered here as elsewhere on faith, hope, and love, is all about developing the habits of the daytime heart in a world still full of darkness.”  What are some of those “daytime habits” for you, and how do they operate “in the dark?” 

Wright connects all such efforts as Christian virtue…reflecting the divine image fully to the world and to God.  This is our work as “rulers and priests.”  Take a moment in class now and pair up with one person.  Take turns describing one characteristic of your partner that reflects the “divine image” to others.  Don’t be shy…it’s good for you to see it in others and to have it seen in you!

Question 2:  Wright says that Paul is instructing the Colossians “to develop, in the present age, the character which will truly anticipate the life of the coming age.”  This involves doing what does not come naturally.  Therefore, certain behaviors must be “put to death” in order to make way for our new “habits of life.”  He goes on to describe this renewal in terms of team sports, where we benefit from the virtues of community.  From there, the analogy shifts to the “putting on of new clothes.”  Together, they point toward the difficult reality of change… deliberate change.  Take a moment with this last metaphor and consider the variety of “clothing” you’ve cast off and put on lately.  Did this change of clothes take 5 minutes or 5 years?  Give some examples.

Question 3:  The focus of this section is the transformation of the mind.  This, he claims, is the “antidote to the power of the present age.”  He then notes that “the failure to worship the one true God leads to a failure to think, and thence to a failure to act as a fully human being ought.”  How has your life of worship over these many years both equipped and taught you to think in this way?  Wright goes on to draw major distinctions between modernity’s misappropriations of feeling over thinking.  Page 156 provided a delightful, if not stinging, portrayal of the problem before us.  “The more genuinely spiritual you are…the more clearly and accurately and carefully you will think”…p. 158.  What do you think (not feel) are appropriate ways to balance thoughts & feeling?

Question 4:  In this discussion of the conscience, Wright leans on Paul in defining it as “an inner witness, a voice within one’s self, assessing the moral worth of what has been done and, perhaps, what might yet be done.”  He also notes that a conscience needs both educating and listening to.  Moral, as well as intellectual, approval is needed.  What role has your conscience played in the shaping and utilization of your morals?  How does the Holy Spirit both inform and interact with the human conscience? 

Question 5:  On page 169, Wright asks, “How then is the mind to be renewed?”  His response: “The aim is that individual Christians might have their minds and hearts awakened and alerted to fresh visions of God’s reality, of the final hope set before them, and be able to discern in a fresh way what habits of mind and heart and body are necessary if they are to grow into the people God intends.”  Let’s work with the phrase, “awakened and alerted to fresh visions of God’s reality.”  What does this phrase mean to you?  Such visions serve to direct the development of our habits of heart, mind, & body.  How have you experienced these visions?

Question 6:  Citing the centrality of prayer in Ephesians, Wright goes on to define the classic structure of virtue: “glimpse the goal, work out the path toward it, and develop the habits which you will need to practice if you are going to tread that path.”  Transformation and renewal of the mind remains the key here.  And I would add, “imagination fueled by the Holy Spirit.”  How are you doing in this aspect of your discipleship?  How might our congregation benefit from a deeper realization and practice of this “structure of virtue?”

Question 7:  In this last section (yes, we finally made it!), Wright emphasizes “hope and character construction.”  He then asks, “But if God’s glory is the goal, what is the route toward it?”  What are the character-forming habits that allow us to reach our goal of being “complete humans?”  The first step, he says, is suffering…which then leads to endurance, character, and hope.  Why is suffering the cornerstone of this progression?  What forms of Christian suffering have you witnessed and why were they such powerful motivators in your life?  Where might we enter into new opportunities of meaningful and productive “suffering” for the sake of the gospel?  And finally, why is the transformation of the mind so critical to such obedient risk-taking?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Four Discussion Questions

Question 1:  Chapter 4 introduces the challenges and difficulties of reading and interpreting scripture.  In this instance, we’re dealing with the gospels and Jesus’ descriptions of the coming kingdom of God…the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  The larger truth, he states, is this: God’s future is arriving in the present, in the person and work of Jesus, and you can practice, right now, the habits of life which will find their goal in that coming future.  What exactly does this statement mean to you?  How does it assist you in shaping your attitude and actions?

Wright draws a clear distinction between happiness and blessedness (p. 104).  How do you understand each and why is this distinction so crucial to us as Christians today?  In the end, the Sermon on the Mount points to the signs of life, the language of life, the life of new creation and new covenant.  How have these “habits of heart” equipped you with strength and hope?

Question 2:  Wright warns against interpreting the Beatitudes as a set of rules.  They are more like virtues. Through them, Jesus invites us to adopt an “eschatological authenticity” (my new favorite expression), whereby we receive a “God-given second nature, a new way of being human.”  Such transformation cannot be imposed from the outside, but rather authentically received from within.  We experience such transformation through faith, hope, and love. 

Thus, perfection points not to specific outward actions, but our inward character…“a character formed by overflowing generous love.”  Jesus understands his vocation as both king and priest, the one who launches this new kingdom into being through his own obedient sacrifice.  In what ways is your character being shaped and “perfected” by Jesus?  Where are you being invited and challenged to grow even deeper in faith, hope, and love?

Question 3:  This section is complicated at first, yet elegant in its final explanation.  Several themes converge to offer a hopeful resolution at our personal attempts to make ourselves right with God.  These combined themes include:  epistles/gospels people; receivers/agents, kingdom/cross; Jesus/Temple; rulers/priests; Aristotle/Jesus; and Jesus as priest/king.”  All of these direct us toward the new creation…established on the cross, “where the true God defeated the false gods and established, with deep and resonating paradox, his kingdom on earth as in heaven.”  As a result, Jesus – through his resurrection – is now King and Priest.  He is the “end,” the goal.  Thus, Christian virtue says, “What you will be is what you already are in Christ.” 

In what aspects of your faith can you directly apply this claim?  How is your life changed as a result?

Question 4:  Wright enters his discussion with the premise that we (our hearts) are unclean and that a cleansing is needed (by Jesus).  Jesus understands this priestly function to be inherently central to his vocation and his work on the cross.  As the disciples discovered, to be changed of heart in this way was to become “heart-changers” themselves as followers of Jesus:  “They were to become kings and priests.”  This will no doubt seem utterly strange to you, but ask yourself, “Now that I am a king and a priest, how does that shape my conduct, my words, my interactions with others and the world?”  What specific opportunities and responsibilities accompany these remarkable vocations in each of us as Christians?

Question 5:  Wright zeroes in on Jesus’ central purpose…not as some mere moral example or religious mascot, but as one who invites us, not to copy him, but to follow him (with our crosses in tow).  In other words, Jesus provides an example not so much of how to do it, as of what to do.  Like Jesus, we are to learn obedience in the ways of virtue…a virtue transformed by the kingdom and the cross.  Where have you experienced this “obedience in virtue” in ways that have recently changed or shaped your life?  What goals do you have for yourself now where such obedience is necessary for newness to be born?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Three Discussion Questions

Question 1:  “And let Human reign.”  Oops!  That hasn’t worked out too well, has it?  Wright offers a tidy description of the intention and goal behind Genesis 1.  We have failed to be the partners in creation that God intended, seeking to glorify our image more than God’s.  “Forget ‘happiness,’ you are called to a throne.  How will you prepare for it?  That is the question of virtue, Christian style.”  Where have we been faithful in allowing others to see/experience God’s image?  Where have we failed to do so?

Question 2:  In this section, Wright makes the connection between Genesis and Revelation, illustrating the Christian hope and expectation of resurrection as the decisive event that shapes our identity and character.  Only by anticipating our new roles as “priests and rulers” will we be able to live and act with the virtue necessary for a full life today.  As always, Wright is marvelously eloquent in his description of the “new heaven and earth” and our roles to come.  What do you imagine this new life to be like for you?  How might your anticipation of this new life dramatically shape your present attitudes and expectations?

Question 3:  Wright makes a direct connection with the Temple of God to our Christian vocation.  The ancient Temple of Israel served as a symbol and a microcosm of God’s reign over all creation.  As a nation, Israel was to function as the Temple to the world.  It didn’t last for long.  Through Jesus, now, such shortcomings are addressed by the cross and his resurrection.  As our final High Priest and Ruler, Jesus completes and transcends the former Temple expression and invites his followers to form the “new Temple,” serving as living stones and becoming a holy priesthood.  How does this magnificent vision of our collective vocation draw you into a deeper relationship with Jesus and his Church?  How might you describe your life, your choices, your action as “holy”…pointing toward the New Temple and its glory?

Question 4:  Wright maps out our role as Christians here: to exercise authority over God’s new world.  Our “reign” flows out of the authority of Jesus, the new Adam…the fully human being.  Through him, we live in “glory”…an active quality which serves as an expression of the world being brought to its intended flourishing state.  Where do you see signs of this glory today?  What is the nature behind these acts of glory?

Such glory is realized through two things: holiness and prayer.  Wright steers us toward Paul’s urging to exercise control over our bodies, lest they interfere with this intended glory.  He also steers us toward holiness, “the learning…of the habits which anticipate the ultimate future.”  This, we anticipate through prayer…a unique language expressive of our relationship with God and Jesus.  As such, prayer reflects our present anticipation of future glory, directed and realized through the Holy Spirit.  How does this understanding of holiness and prayer influence your sense of Christian calling?  How might you make additional room in your life for the further development of each?

Question 5:  Not only is Jesus our Messiah, but we will one day reign with him, sharing in his sovereign rule over his new world.  Again, if we acknowledge our future role with Jesus, how does this shape our thoughts, decisions, and actions today?  Is our present state of living consistent with our future identity and vocation in Christ?  Where is further attention needed to move in this direction?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Chapter Two Discussion Questions

*Your comments are welcome here.  Please begin by referring to a specific question, then offering your comment.  Thanks for joining our ongoing dialogue!

Question 1:  Wright describes character as that part of our personal makeup that runs all the way through us.  Name one or two traits that describe your general character.  (If you’re too modest or shy, have someone do this for you.)  Wright also notes that “Christian character” is a particular variation on general character…one that is developed and worked at continuously in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Again, name one or two traits that describe your Christian character.

Question 2:  Wright notes that character is transformed by three things: the right goal, the right steps, and making those steps habitual.  What, then, is the final goal of the Christian life?  To share in a complete makeover of the whole created order at the end of time…the “eschaton.”  The steps leading to this transformation have already begun at Jesus’ resurrection.  They involve how we choose to believe and then live in the light of this new reality…recognizing that eternal life has already begun and we share in that freedom now.  So…what steps in your life have led to your Christian transformation, and how does this allow you to live and maneuver through this present age with faith and hope?

Question 3:  Part three introduces us to Aristotle’s four principal virtues: courage, justice, prudence, and temperance…acting as “hinges’ on the door to human fulfillment and flourishing.  Our character is developed as we work at these, over time.  Jesus and Paul extended such formation to include love, kindness, forgiveness, and humility.  As you look as your own character formation, what “schools” (formal and informal) played a significant role in your development?  What do Aristotle, Jesus, and Paul have in common, and what are their greatest differences?

Question 4:  Brain behavior is an emerging field of study, providing enormous insight into our individual development.  Can you identify or track your own brain development, based on some particular period or experiences?  What contributes to your successful “learning?”  How has your cerebral growth and activity effected the transformation of your character?

Question 5:  Rules…we all grew up with them.  We all broke them.  We continue to live with the observance and disregard of rules, depending on our attitudes and goals.  Obviously, rules continue to have their good and bad points.  As Lutherans, we apply the distinctions of “Law and Gospel” to elevate grace as the ultimate factor in our lives.  My observation is that our human tendency is to apply the Law (rules) toward others, while claiming Gospel (mercy and grace) for ourselves.  What’s wrong with this skewed approach?  Wright argues that rule-keeping only goes so far…which isn’t very far at all.  What matters ultimately is character…moving from “what to do” to “how to do it.”  The gospel response is that it is done by following Jesus.  As a follower of Jesus, how has your character been shaped beyond mere rule-keeping?  How does the Holy Spirit lead you in discerning certain decisions and actions?

Question 6:  Wright introduces us to the three movements that have most greatly affected the demise of virtue: the romantic, the existentialist, and the emotivist movements (page 50).  To what degree, and where, do you see any or all of these movements alive and active?  What effect do they appear to have in the attitudes and lives of those who bear them?  Wright directs us instead toward the New Testament’s vision of a “life of character formed by God’s promised future…lived within the ongoing story of God’s people and with that, a freshly worked notion of virtue.”  How has this “Christian virtue” provided you with direction, where the other three movements have failed?

Question 7:  In part seven, Wright further discusses the virtues of “virtue,” introducing Martin Luther, Hamlet, Augustine, and Aquinas.  He then settles in by relocating his discussion “within the framework of grace.”  Citing St. Paul’s writing and John 3:16, he demonstrates the purpose of grace: to lead us into new lives and new habits that reflect God’s love and forgiveness.  How has your character been shaped by the power of God’s grace, and what new directions have you traveled in your journey of faith?

Question 8:  What do we “anticipate” as Christians?  What do you anticipate to be and do as a direct result of your following Jesus?  Anticipation is the theme here.  Wright introduces two common sets of anticipation, followed by his own counterproposal (page 67), where he defines Christian behavior and virtue as anticipating the life of the age to come.  “The practice and habit of virtue, in this sense, is all about learning in advance the language of God’s new world” (page 69).  Such virtue places God and God’s kingdom at the center, not us or our ambitions.  As such, our behavior is steered toward “doing things which bring God’s wisdom and glory to birth in the world.”  How does this framework help establish a clearer understanding of your role as a disciple of Jesus and as a Christian neighbor?  How do the Christian community and your involvement in it provide ongoing support both for you and others?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

After You Believe, by N. T. Wright

Chapter One Discussion Questions

*Your comments are welcome here.  Please begin by referring to a specific question, then offering your comment.  Thanks for joining our ongoing dialogue!

Question 1:  Wright begins his book with the example of James, who moves beyond conversion to a couple of deeper questions, “What am I here for?” and “What happens after you believe?”  At what stage in your life did you likewise find yourself going deeper…going beyond the pat answers handed down to you? 

Moving beyond intellectual assent in matters of faith presents a critical personal challenge…transformation!  Wright attaches this process of spiritual growth to the formation of our Christian character.  Consider the formation of your own character.  What aspects of that character allow you to keep growing in faith?

Question 2:  Wright introduces us to Jenny and Philip, representing two distinct approaches to biblical interpretation and faith practices.  Law and Gospel surface as visible themes here.  Wright raises the difficult question, “How do Christians make moral decisions?”  In the end, neither rules nor self-discovery proves fully adequate in directing our lives…we rely on character. 

To what degree is your character – your moral decisions – affected and directed by your interpretation of Law and Gospel…by religious rules and the freedom of God’s grace?  Under what circumstances do you tend to shift direction between the two?

Question 3:  Wright reminds us of the catastrophic effects of the financial collapse of 2008 and the terrorist attacks of 9-11, resulting in the widespread evaporation of public and personal trust.  Yet, returning to stricter rules and regulations doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.  Again, the solution is “character”…an integrity that informs decisions and shapes lives in positive ways. 

Where do we turn to acquire and develop such attitudes and behaviors?  Share an example from your own experience, please.

Question 4:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  As Wright unpacks the circumstances and implications of this gospel story, we’re pointed again in the direction of character…defined further as following Jesus.  Putting God first points us toward our neighbor, as well…specifically, the well-being of our neighbor.  Wright explains, “…it is a call, not to specific acts of behavior, but to a type of character.” 

From this, how would you define Jesus’ understanding of “human” in its fullest sense?  How is “virtue” related and dependent upon following Jesus?

Question 5:  Captain Sullenberger’s heroic acts on 1-15-09 are worthy of illustration in seeking to define character and virtue.  Pause for a minute and consider such persons in your life. 

Can you share a similar example of applied character and virtue?  Why did such an event make a deep impact upon you?  How did you become a changed person in the process?

Question 6:  Miracle #2 – a father heroically rescues his daughter from drowning…the result of character, once again.  Wright sadly admits that virtue is a revolutionary idea in today’s world and in today’s church.  Do you remember a time when this didn’t seem to be the obvious case? 

What we need after we believe is Christian virtue…to go beyond the popular pragmatism and risk-taking of our day to something more basic and fundamental to our being as Christians.  That essential nature is inextricably caught up and reflected in God’s image. 

How does your participation in worship and in mission allow you to “follow Jesus?”  How do these two central responses continue to shape your Christian character?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Welcome to the St. Mark Panera Book Study

We will begin to look at a new book, "After You Believe" by N.T. Wright, Thursday morning (7:30 A.M.) on September 16th.  Hope to see you there!