I'm delighted to bring you a brief review of Christopher Wright's recent book, The God I Don't Understand by IWU's own Steve Lennox, former Dean of the Chapel and all around good guy!
Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 224 pages. ISBN: 978-0-310-27546-6. $19.99 (cloth).
There is always room for one more good book that addresses perplexing theological issues like suffering. Having had to wrestle with these questions personally and professionally, I’ll take all the compassionately presented and biblically consistent counsel I can get. Which is why I feel so positive about Christopher J. H. Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith.
In Part One, Wright deals with suffering. He points out that since God refused to reveal the ultimate origin of evil, “we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not, ‘make sense’ of evil. For the final truth is that evil does not make sense” (42). He then turns to “The Offence of Evil” in which he acknowledges the believer’s right to react against suffering, as do the psalmists in their laments. God has given those who suffer—whether from illness, sin, enemy, or even God—a vocabulary to express their true feelings; but “the language of lament is seriously neglected in the church” (52). Wright counsels more than complaint, he offers hope. “The Defeat of Evil” is guaranteed by the cross of Christ, where God uses evil to defeat itself.
The subject of Part Two, God’s treatment of the Canaanites, might not be on the top of everyone’s list of things they don’t understand. Those of us who teach the Old Testament cannot avoid it and Wright’s treatment is one of the best I’ve seen. He begins by eliminating three proposed answers that are not helpful, then suggests we read these events in the context of the whole Bible.
At the heart of the book is what is at the heart of Wright’s biblical theology, the cross. He begins by affirming that the “Why” of the cross was simply the love of God; what actually happened as a result of the cross is more complex. Among the variety of ways the Bible describes what the cross accomplished, Wright mentions reconciliation, forgiveness, cleansing, justification, and new life, though he singles out substitution as something essential to them all.
With chapters seven and eight we come to Wright’s main purpose in this section, a defense of penal substitution. For a fair and balanced treatment by someone who sees the cross accomplishing more, but not less than penal substation, Wright’s treatment is a good one. He seems, however, to jump from defending the substitutionary nature of the atonement to defending a particular version of it, that of penal substitution.
The last part of this book deals with Eschatology. He first dispenses with “Cranks and Controversies” that come about when people get their view of eschatology from novels and books rather than “careful study of the Bible itself and of the solid tradition of Christian faith through the ages of the church” (170). Then Wright describes what the Bible has to say about the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the day of judgment. Unlike many treatments, Wright addresses this from a whole-Bible perspective, allowing us to see the Day of the Lord as the time when God puts all things right and judges humanity based on the light we’ve received and the lives we’ve lived. Wright’s understanding of heaven sounds very much like that of N. T. Wright, whose work he recommends.
For those seeking wise, biblical counsel on important and perplexing issues, I highly recommend the Wright stuff.
For a fuller version of this review, see a forthcoming issue of Evangelical Journal.