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!