Tom/NT Wright has a new book due out in March, called 'After You Believe'. The book tackles the problem that many churches see their job as warehousing people for heaven: counting the souls in through the door, and then keeping them safe but otherwise unchanged until the next life.
The book is about Christian character, and how it's formed. Interesting to note that 'character' is a current issue in various places - witness Mondays' Demos event with David Cameron at the start of their enquiry into character and it's place in the good society. Here's an extract from an interview with Wright:
N.T. Wright: The point about the word “virtue” – if we can recapture it in its strong sense – is that it refers, not so much to “doing the right things”, but to the forming of habits and hence of moral character.
I remember Rowan Williams describing the difference between a soldier who has a stiff drink and charges off into battle waving a sword and shouting a battle-cry, and the soldier who calmly makes 1000 small decisions to place someone else’s safety ahead of his or her own and then, on the 1001st time, when it really is a life-or-death situation, “instinctively” making the right decision. That, rather than the first, is the virtue of “courage”.
In the book I use, as a “secular” example, the lifetime forming of habits exemplified by Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot who, last January, brought the US Airbus down safely in the Hudson River after a flock of geese got into the engines after take-off from La Guardia. All his instincts had been trained so that when the moment came he didn’t have to stop to think what to do; it just “came naturally”.
Forming character by deliberate choices goes against the grain of just doing what we feel like, and expressing ourselves - another extract from the same interview on Prodigal Kiwis makes this point. The goal of character formation is that holiness becomes 'what we feel like' and 'what comes naturally', rather than just a random splurge of what we happen to be thinking or feeling.
I'll be interested to see what Wright sees as the path to character formation. My suspicion is that a lot of it will be about getting a correct understanding of life, God, the future and the present. We're currently talking about character and change on our Growing Leaders course with a group of lay leaders, and exploring what helps this process, including spiritual disciplines, accountability, reflection, suffering, overcoming at the points where we're tempted to quit etc.
Making disciples is the great challenge for the modern church, so if Tom Wright is applying his mind to this then so much the better. What I'd really like to see though is not a book, but a curriculum.