N.T. Wright is Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world's leading Bible scholars. He has taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities. He is the author of many books and co-author with Marcus Borg of The Meaning of Jesus.
Wright states that for far too long Christian believers have emphasized their faith in Jesus Christ and their yearning for a reward of eternal life. He maintains that what must take precedence in these tough times is what we do, not what we believe. Although many of the faithful are convinced that obeying a simple list of do's and don'ts is the essence of morality, they are mistaken. So are those who claim that following the heart is all that matters. Wright states that the Bible teaches another richer and fuller path which he calls "a transformation of character" the one modeled by Jesus. He also explores the process of looking at Christian behavior in terms of virtue, a quality that was very important in the past but which is not talked about much today.
Wright makes sure that he doesn't fall into the trap of works righteousness whereby people do good things so that can win admittance to heaven. Instead, he sees "good works" as "doing things which bring God's wisdom and glory to birth in the world." Wright also wants to be crystal clear that whereas Aristotle's virtuous man was to take credit for his own character creation, the Christian gives the glory to God's own spirit.
The challenge is to become a royal priesthood, genuinely human, through the habits and practices of heart and life. For St. Paul love is a primal virtue: "It is a language to be learned, a musical instrument to be practiced, a mountain to be climbed via some steep and tricky cliff paths but with the most amazing view from the top." In I Corinthians 5: 22-23, the nine fruits of the Spirit are listed: "love, joy, peace, great-heartedness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." How do these fruits grow and flourish? Wright answers with a metaphor that has great resonance:
"To get the fruit you have to learn to be a gardener. You have to discover how to tend and prune, how to irrigate the field, how to keep birds and squirrels away. You have to watch for blight and mold."
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright offers yet another clarion call for believers and their communities to see that their actions in everyday life are evidence of the faith within. The author wants Christians to work on their "moral muscles" and to envision the formation of character as learning a second language. Both demand a disciplined and rigorous practice to make things happen.