N.T. Wright: What is Christianity?

The following quote is from N.T. Wright and it is his summary of what Christianity is.

First Christian Theology tells a story, and seeks to tell it coherently.  We have already summarized this story, and can do so again briefly.  The story is about a creator and his creation, about humans made in this creator’s image and given tasks to perform, about the rebellion of humans and the dissonance of creation at every level, and particularly about the creator’s acting through Israel and climactically through Jesus, to rescue his creation from its ensuing plight.  The story continues with the creator acting by his own spirit within the world to bring it towards the restoration which is his intended goal for it.  A good deal of Christian theology consists of the attempt to tell this story as clearly as possible, and to allow it to subvert other way of telling the story of the world, including those which offer themselves as would-be Christian telling but which, upon closer examinations, fall short in some way or other.

Second this story, as the fundamental articulation of the worldview, offers a set of answers to the four world view questions.  We may set these out as follows, noting as we do some of the alternative views that are thereby ruled out.  These, it should be noted, are at the present state of my argument simply descriptive of what goes to make up the Christian worldview, not yet an argument that this worldview should be adopted. 

  1. Who are we? We are humans, made in the image of the creator.  We have responsibilities that come with this status.  We are not fundamentally determined by race, gender, social class, geographical locations; nor are we simply pawns in a determinist game.
  2. Where are we?  We are in a good and beautiful, though transient, world, the creation of the god in whose image we are made.  We are not in an alien world, as the Gnostic imagines; nor in a cosmos to which we owe allegiances, as to a god, as the pantheist would suggest.
  3. What is wrong?  Humanity has rebelled against the creator.  The rebellion reflects a cosmic dislocation between the creator and the creation, and the world is consequently out of tune with its created intention.  A Christian worldview rejects dualisms which associate evil with createdness or physicality; equally, it rejects monoisms that analyze evil simply in terms of some humans not being fully in tune with their environment.  Its analysis of evil in more subtle and far-reaching.  It likewise rejects as the whole truth all partial analysis such as those of Marx or Freud, which elevate half-truths to the status of the whole truth.
  4. What is the solution?  The creator has acted, is acting, and will act within his creation to deal with the weight of evil set up by human rebellion, and to bring his world to the end for which it was made, namely that it should resonate fully with his own presence and glory.  This action, of course is the focused upon Jesus and the spirit of the creator.  We reject, that is, solutions to the human plight which only address one part of the problem. 

These four answers constitute an articulated ground-plan of the mainline or traditional Christian worldview.  Many branches of Christianity, we should note, have not adopted precisely this ground-plan.  In much post-Enlightenment thinking, for instance, many ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ Christians have shared the belief that the answers to three and four had to do with the problem of physicality and the means of escaping into a pure spiritual sphere.  But a good case can be made out, I think, for this pattern as an overall account.

Third, the worldview has been given expression in a variety of socio-cultural symbols, both artifacts and cultural events.  Churches and their furniture have articulated the worldview in soaring stone and decorated glass, expressing the majesty attributed to the creator and his transcendent presence within his world.  Liturgy and para-liturgy (from processions to prayer meetings) have celebrated and enacted the worldview, becoming variously normative in different groups.  A large variety of activities, from icon-paintings to street evangelism, from the study of scripture to the setting up of sanctuaries and refuge homes for society’s causalities, have attained the status of symbols.  Sometimes as in any worldview and its symbolic expression, the symbols can be challenged.  It is now widely recognized that the Crusades, though they were undertaken as a symbol of the victory of the gospel, in fact symbolized a message rather different from, and actually incompatible with, that of Jesus of Nazareth.  But in principle the Christian worldview, like all others, has its symbols which enable its adherents to order and direct their lives appropriately, and to view the world and their tasks in it with some degree of coherence. 

Finally, the Christian worldview gives rise to a particular type of praxis, a particular mode of being-in-the-world.  Actually, this might be better expressed, in the Christian case, as being-for-the world, since in the fundamental Christian worldview humans in general are part of the creators designed means of looking after his world, and Christians in particular are part of his means of bringing healing to the world.  As with all other worldviews, of course, its adherents are not noticeably successful in attainting a complete correlation between their statements about their own being-in-the-world and their actual practice.  This is in no way fatal to the theory; it merely means that the Christians, like everybody else, are often muddled, mistaken, foolish, and wayward , and are probably trying to ride at least one other horse at the same time as the Christian one.  But in principle the Christian worldview supplies the adherents with a sense of direction, namely, the vocation to work in whatever way may be appropriate for the glory of the creator and his healing of the world. 

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