N.T. Wright, Christian Virtue, and the Missing Person of God


 N.T. Wright -  'After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters'You can’t run in certain “intellectual” circles of modern Evangelicalism without hearing the name N.T. Wright. To some, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England is the modern day C.S. Lewis, only with more degrees in theology.

I’ve never read Wright, so when his After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters showed up in my local library recently (though the book came out in 2010), I availed myself of the opportunity to finally become hip and cool by claiming, “Oh yes, I’ve read Wright.”

The central idea of this Wright book is that a return to instinctual practice of Christian virtues is the only way to save Christianity. Too many Christians today don’t function like genuine Christians because a true Christian ethic eludes them. Most of this, Wright claims, is due to a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian postconversion. Too few people grasp how the basic truths of Christianity should inform our practice of the Kingdom of God on earth, and how the Kingdom should undergird our beliefs.

Wright’s solution to the problem is to instill Christian ethics in people the same way a drill sergeant teaches his military charges how to rebuild a gun while blindfolded. Everything about the Christian life needs to be so instinctual and second nature that we no longer think about what we’re doing, but it instead comes naturally. Wright claims this occurs through a synergistic practice and methodical incorporation of five elements: Scripture, Stories, Examples, Community, and Practices.

Quite a few leaders in Evangelicalism would certainly add a hearty Amen to Wright’s plan, especially those who love to talk about the Desert Fathers and Ancient Faith. Practice makes perfect in their regard, and building a new Christian army of those who do without thinking sounds like the cure for what ails us.

While I can certainly see that drilling people in the core truths of Christianity, both truths in fact and truths in practice, is a good thing, Wright’s book has a glaring omission. As someone who has not read Wright before, I see this lack as so enormous, it makes me wonder just how wise Wright truly is and how he ever ascended to gathering such a herd of fanboys.

To me, what cripples modern Christians more than anything else, even when they embody those worthy virtues Wright espouses, is a complete lack of understanding as to what it means to live by the Spirit. The key differentiator between the righteous people of the OT and the righteous people of the NT is that the NT folks now have the Spirit of God living in them always. Say what you will about the Church, but its defining characteristic is that God now resides in men. No other reality trumps this.

That Wright writes almost nothing in his 307-page tome about how to live by the Spirit pretty much renders his entire book useless. Christian virtues are critical, but Wright’s advocacy of a drilled Christian ethic resembles building a Lamborghini and then leaving out the engine. Unless Christians learn to live by the Spirit, all that drilling, worldview, and ethic will lead to just another failed attempt to turn Christianity into a set of rules, with Wright’s entire plan condensed to making those rules reflexes that require no thinking—and no Spirit, either.

What is particularly galling is that Wright goes so far as to downgrade the idea of fully realized Spirit-led living as “romantic.” This smacks of rushing to the polar extreme in an effort to make his point about the need for a practiced, down-to-earth Christian ethic. He makes the mistake of denigrating the key element of the Christian life in his effort to amplify a smaller component he feels has been neglected. In the end, though, he commits the ultimate “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” error that someone of his stature in Evangelicalism should NEVER make.

When Evangelicalism persists in reducing Christianity to a Spirit-less ethic, it substitutes the zombie religionist for the fully alive believer. And we need more “Christian” zombies like we need…well, more zombies. Which is to say, not at all.

How Evangelicalism can continue to mangle life in the Spirit and push out this pale imitation of Christian maturity is beyond me, yet this is what passes for the Christian life in most churches: Here are the rules of the Faith; now live by them. How no one can see that this is no different from any other failed religious system is startling to me, yet this is what I perpetually see in most Evangelical churches. We simply do not know how to live by the Spirit.

Words cannot adequately express my utter disappointment with After You Believe. To me, it’s little more than an intellectual exercise that represents the half-answer now working against restoring the Church in the West to its former glory, despite Wright’s contention that it is the balm for what ails us. A partial balm maybe, but until more reputable Christian authors start writing on how to live by the Spirit, we’ll keep instituting partial balms that ultimately prevent us from becoming all that God intends us to be.

Spiritual Lust and Infatuation


A couple weeks back, I posted that one of the Enemy’s tricks is to stoke the fires of wanting more (“Tangleknot on Leading the Opponent’s Subjects Astray“). In that desire for more, Christians may even make the mistake of overdesiring to grow deeper in the Faith.

“But, Dan,” you say, “how can that ever be a bad thing?”

Well, it’s a bad thing when it leads to spiritual lust.

Lust happens when all the boundaries that normally hold good gifts in check fall away, leaving a naked core of desire that knows no limitations. It’s playing the piano—by dropping bricks on the strings. Performing that way may make a sound, but it’s noise, not beautiful music. It’s a misguided approach. Should one want to play the piano correctly, one should play it as its design demands it be played. And as any skilled pianist can attest, one does not go from “Chopsticks” to Carnegie Hall overnight.

Spiritual lust occurs when Christians in their desire to know God violate the design He created by which we can know Him, grow in Him, and develop intimacy with Him. In the desire to know God, people inflamed by spiritual lust can instead find themselves drawn away from God because they violated His means of approaching Him. They become moths drawn to a flame, plunging down the pathway toward strange fire.

Spiritual lust is a kind of addictive behavior because it will drink whatever it can find to feed the thirst.  A little or a lot, it doesn’t matter. Nor does the quality of the spiritual experience or its rightness in the eyes of God. Spiritual lust makes demands that must be filled, no matter the expense.

Adoring fans...That addiction often leads Christians into pointless searches for truth in places where no truth (or precious little) can be found. A prospector looking for gold nuggets would not likely find them examining the contents of a septic tank. Yet this is what some Christians do when they go on quests to find the truth of God in other religions. Or it’s what too many charismatics do when they hop a jet bound for the far side of the world to bask in some new “revival” rather than finding God right where He has always been. Some Christians will tolerate all manner of skubalon in hopes of finding some tiny morsel to feed their spiritual rapaciousness.

The sad truth is no path to deeper intimacy with God exists than the old-fashioned ways found through the classic spiritual disciplines of the faith. We can’t help but grow in the Lord if we pray, study, meditate, fast, embrace solitude, practice submission, live simply, serve others, worship, confess our sins, seek guidance from the Lord, and celebrate.

Too many Christians want faster methods than those. Or they want whatever’s “new.” But both of those are simply spiritual lust. And God will never be honored through lust of any kind.

Spiritual infatuation tangentially connects with spiritual lust, but in a different way. It’s what happens to Christians who begin to veer into spiritual lust, but who sidetrack quickly because they find what they believe to be the perfect object of their theological affection.

Just as we old fogies get a whimsically nostalgic smile on our faces when we see a young teen utterly smitten with another, so it is that we recognize the signs when a young Christian has discovered a truth for the first time. How many times have we seen others find a tiny nugget of truth they then use as the sole basis for constructing elaborate theologies? How often do we run into other Christians, even older ones who should know better, who are infatuated with one truth to the point that all other godly truths become irrelevant?

I have many friends who are involved in the International House of Prayer (IHOP). IHOP has built much of its teaching foundation around Mike Bickle’s concept of Bridal Theology, connecting the Song of Solomon to Revelation’s depiction of the Bride of Christ.

Though I have grave concerns regarding Bickle and the Kansas City Prophets movement he came out of, I think that the Bible does show that God has a profound love for us akin to that of a groom for his bride. We Christians can be encouraged by this understanding.

But a problem swiftly rises: Building an entire theology off bridal imagery leaves out a big chunk of the rest of the Bible. Doing so avoids other perfectly legitimate explanations of the Gospel. It also forces proponents to keep expanding the morsel, blowing it out of proportion to its basic reality. Think how easily infatuated kids gush about their objects of affection, inevitably magnifying the character of that person to superhuman—and clearly mistaken—levels. After awhile, the voice of reason no longer penetrates the gauzy dreams erected by the infatuated. The infatuated filter their entire experience of reality through their infatuation. And we all know where that leads.

But before some of you high-five each other and yell, “Dude, Edelen totally dissed IHOP,” let me offer a different subject: atonement. A gnarly subject, yes?

Many reading this will defend a penal substitutionary view of atonement to the death. I, myself, believe in a penal substitutionary atonement. That said, I will also claim that some of the other views on the atonement (such as the ransom, governmental, Christus Victor, and satisfaction views ) all have some very good points going for them. In fact, it may even be possible—at least as I see it—that all those views work together in synergy much the same way that the four Gospels reinforce each other and give us a more complete understanding of Jesus.

Yeah, I know, heresy.

When you get to the heart of this problem, though, too often the pitchfork and torches crowd are the ones suffering from a spiritual infatuation. Remember, if Martin Luther hadn’t called the Roman Catholic Church on its spiritual infatuations….

Spiritual lust and spiritual infatuation lead to one unavoidable reality: a defective understanding of the revealed truths of God. And that defective understanding leads to all sorts of blindness and error when taken to extremes.

Trust me, too many of us take them to their extremes.

All of us suffer from some amount of spiritual lust and spiritual infatuation; it’s part of the human condition. That said, we don’t have to be complacent about this tendency. True growth in Christ comes when we seek Him rightly, discern truth from error, and allow Him to show us how our infatuations may be keeping us from knowing Him by His design and in His time.


How to Improve Your Body, Mind, Soul, and Spirit


Living the life God intended...Ever feel out of whack?

Beginning at the Fall, mankind has been mangled as a being. A dead spirit, chaotic soul, dumbed-down mind, and a body that wastes away—not too promising, eh?

All of us struggle with the integration and integrity of body, mind, soul, and spirit. So here are a few suggestion for Christians for improving ourselves for the King and His Kingdom. If practiced regularly, these things will keep us sharp for the Lord.


Sleep no less than seven hours a night. Too few of us get proper sleep, never making up the sleep deficit we accumulate. This make us dull and easily swayed by ungodly voices.

Get up at dawn and go to sleep before midnight. God made the day and night for a reason. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that so many people suffer from depression today is that they don’t get enough sleep or they stay up too late. I know that my own mood brightens when I go to bed before midnight and get proper sleep.

Stop overeating. Almost two-thirds of American are overweight. From what I’ve seen in the pews, I’d say that three-quarters of Christians over the age of 30 are. Gluttony is a sin. Being fat makes us sluggish and slow. Plus, it incurs a litany of health problems. (Charles Spurgeon may have been a godly man and a great preacher, but his issues with eating shortened his life.) God doesn’t want his people to live that way.

Stop eating bad food. Junk food makes us fat—don’t eat it. Buy organic. Cut out the sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Stay away from artificial ingredients, especially man-made sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda). Keep the carbohydrates down (see this and this). The closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for you, so stay away from the heavily processed stuff. God knew what He was doing with the basic foods He gave us. Why then do we have to mess them up?

Get out of the chair and exercise. Walking is one of the best ways to stay fit—do it. And with someone else!


Read a book! Though the study numbers don’t always agree on the exact numbers, the truth remains that the majority of Americans don’t read books, with some never picking up another book after they graduate from high school or college. That’s horrifying! An uneducated populace only makes Satan’s job easier, as ignorance is one of his chief weapons against us. (Remember that Adam’s intellect was perfect before the Fall.)

Learn the basics of logic. Don’t know a genetic fallacy from a tu quoque? Though our culture no longer values right thinking, Christians must. Learn more here.

Get out of the Christian ghetto and find out more about an opposing viewpoint. Narrowmindedness begins when we fail to grasp all sides of a belief system. None of us should spend time wallowing in filth, but if we fail to recognize those worldviews that set themselves up against Christ, we do the Kingdom a disservice.

Kill two birds with one stone and engage another face-to-face concerning a difficult topic. Wrestling with tough issue is fine. But doing so with another person or a group of people fulfills the “iron sharpens iron” idea in Proverbs. If we isolate ourselves, we fail to learn from our neighbors—and they may have great wisdom to share with us. And let’s not be selfish with what we learn; share it with someone else. Who knows how that wisdom may help another! Too many Christians bury their intellectual talents and they never grow to bless others. If that great book we’re reading isn’t used by us to challenge others, then perhaps we’re wasting our time.


Learn empathy. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice. We must make our lives available to others and share in their ups and downs. We’ll never learn what it means to be godly people if we don’t connect with others.

Listen to classical music. Yes, Mozart and guys like him. It’s good for us.

Write music, also. Even if it’s just a simple tune, we can reflect the heart of the God who sings over us.

Write letters. Write them to God. Write them to friends. Write them to strangers. But write! Our letter may be the only one someone gets in a month. Make the most of it.

Cultivate beauty. We need to make beautiful things. God is an artist, and we are made in His image, so we should create. Also, we must find beautiful places filled with beautiful items and spend time amid that beauty.

Get in touch with the land. God intends that we till the land and take care of it. Are we doing so? Why not? Find time for the natural world. Learn the names of plants, trees, birds, and such.

Get out of the house! If we’re spending all our time shut up within our personal fortresses, we’ll never make an impact for the Kingdom out there where the lost people and our fellow Christians live.


Pray more than an hour a day. We simply cannot know God if we toss off a prayer or two. Remember: knowing God IS eternal life. And this is not “practicing the presence” or journaling, either, but concentrated prayer on our knees.

Read the Bible intently. I recommend this plan. We should be reading for deeper discipleship and understanding, not just to tick “Read the Bible” off our checklists!

Cultivate godly horizontal relationships with others. With Christians: fellowship, service, and discipleship. With unbelievers: friendship, service, and evangelism.

Ruthlessly eliminate those things that interfere with our spiritual lives. If we don’t have enough time to pray an hour a day, read the Bible thoroughly, and cultivate horizontal relationships with others, then we need to eliminate all interferences. Turn the TV off, put down the newspaper, and log off the Internet. And if materialism and idolatry are keeping us from God, then we eliminate those items that keep us from growing in grace.

Practice the spiritual disciplines. We can’t help but grow in the Lord if we pray, study, meditate, fast, embrace solitude, practice submission, live simply, serve others, worship, confess our sins, seek guidance, and celebrate.

If we do these things, we will most certainly be better for the doing.

Now, how do you nourish your body, mind, soul, and spirit?