Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Set your minds on the Spirit

Trevin Wax interviews N.T. Wright about his new book, After You Believe, including this about "being true to oneself":
N.T. Wright:...[W]e modern westerners — and even more postmodern westerners — are trained by the media and public discourse to think that “letting it all out” and “doing what comes naturally” are the criteria for how to behave. There is a sense in which they are — but only when the character has been trained so that “what comes naturally” is the result of that habit-forming training.

The book’s main target is ... the ideas of “spontaneity” and “authenticity” which have a grain of truth (Christians really should act “from the heart”), but which screen out the reality of moral formation, of chosen and worked-at habit-forming prayer and moral reflection and action, which gradually over time form the Christian character in which “authentic” behavior is also truly Christian behavior, not simply “me living out my prejudices and random desires”.

The point about “virtue”, then, is that it flags up something which is central in the New Testament but marginal in much western Christian reflection, namely the fact that
  1. Behavior is habit-forming,
  2. Christian behavior is supposed to be habit-forming and hence character-forming,
  3. There is a long and wise tradition of reflection on all this which most modern Protestants in particular simply don’t know,
  4. It isn’t, as has often been thought, a danger to the gospel of God’s free grace and love,
  5. It is therefore time for the whole notion of virtue, as the habit-forming strength of character, to be “reborn,”
  6. and that all this is what you need to grasp “after you believe,” to answer the big question of “what now”? [more]
The Rebirth of Virtue: An Interview with N.T. Wright : Kingdom People