How N. T. Wright Changed My Faith
Despite what many people think, within the Christian family and outside it, the point of Christianity isn’t "to go to heaven when you die." N. T. Wright, Simply Christian
I did not grow up going to church on a regular basis, but went often enough to catch the same glimpses of faith many people see with only a cursory glance at Christianity. Like many people, I was taught Jesus served two primary purposes. First, Jesus was my personal helper in time of need. Second, Jesus was the gate keeper into heaven. So, when I prayed for something like my dad not to leave for months on end for work, or for our family not to move over and over again, and God didn’t deliver, I questioned his power and existence.
Also (whether intentionally taught or passively caught), I believed the Christian faith was ultimately about going to some ethereal heaven someday. Based on depictions of heaven in newspaper comics, cartoons, movies, and conversations over coffee, for many people, heaven is about being with loved ones, usually dressed in white robes and surrounded by blindingly bright lights.
I struggled with the purpose of Christianity, even as I felt a call into vocational ministry. What is the point of belief in God if he seems to be a failed helper? Is the only purpose of Christ to get us into heaven so I don’t burn in hell?
That seemed like a very unfulfilling and vindictive God.
Over the years, I have had many great conversations with mentors, friends, and teachers who have helped me understand a bigger and more fulfilling God. A God who cares about all of creation, not just our souls. These conversations have introduced me to many great authors, the most influential being N.T. Wright.
Wright, a theologian and the author of more than thirty books, has served as the Bishop of Durham for the Church of England, and as professor of New Testament Studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford. More than any other books, N. T. Wright's four book series, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, After You Believe, and Scripture and the Authority of God, have influenced my understanding of God, the Church, and the purpose of Christianity. These books helped move me from a small faith, to one that has no boundaries.
Simply Christian lays out the importance of the grand narrative of God's involvement with his Creation. The Kingdom of God is here now, and it is our task to be participants in it. God’s great goal is renewal and restoration through Jesus, who interacts with all of humanity.
Surprised by Hope works through the difficult concept of what actually happens when you die, and the ultimate purpose of a new heaven and new earth.
After You Believe walks the new believer through the basics of Christian character and why it matters.
Scripture and the Authority of God changed the way I read scripture, challenging me to move beyond enlightenment thinking, and back toward a fuller understanding and purpose of scripture.
The most important contribution N.T. Wright makes is his emphasis that our goal is not heaven. Instead, participation in the Kingdom of God as taught and demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth, right here, right now. We can pray and believe and act into the Lord’s Prayer for God’s Kingdom to come, God's will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. These concepts and others helped me move away from a selfish mindset of personal salvation that focused on admission to a very boring heaven, toward a fuller and more biblical understanding of God's mission to restore, renew, and draw all of Creation toward a dramatic conclusion.
We are called to be participants in that Kingdom of God; on earth as it is in heaven.
Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He speaks, writes, leads training events, preaches, and participates in conversations regarding the missional church and church health. You can read more by Greg at his blog: Shaped By The Story.