This is the question that prolific scholar N.T. Wright addresses in After You Believe. According to Wright, the goal of human existence is to
“become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we’re made, and doing so in worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and that we do this not least by following Jesus.” [Page 26]
After You Believe is the conclusion to the trilogy of Simply Christian and Surprised By Hope. In the preceding works Wright expounded on the subjects of why Christianity made sense, and subsequently on proper Christian hope for the future and afterlife. After You Believe represents the culmination of that series, dealing directly with the issue of putting into proper praxis orthodox Christian faith.
For Wright, the goal is virtue, which comes through a transformation of character. This transformation must be understood in terms of proper understanding of the eschatological nature of the promise and work of God. Through Jesus God has enacted a worldwide redemption plan, which transcends the simplistic, and dualistic understanding of salvation as merely heaven when you die. Wright persistently draws the readers’ attention back to the idea that the work of God is transforming the entire cosmos. This transformation does not lie in the distant future, but rather is has been inaugurated in the life and death of Jesus.
Christians long for the day of glorification, when we shall be released from our bondage to sin and decay, however, it is important to recognize that the transformation process from depravity to glorification has already been enacted. This is the eschatological dimension of Wright’s work. The Christian life is meant to be lived in anticipation of this future event, and evidence of that event is to be manifested in the here and now.
Wright contrasts the Aristotelian goal of virtue, with the Christian goal of virtue. One is accomplished in a Pelagian sort of manner, and leads to active service in ones polis, while the other results in the manifestation of Christian virtues in the life of the Christian results in being formed to more closely reflect the image of God.
The transformation of character, which leads to virtue, is not an instantaneous experience. Rather, it is the long drawn out process of making many small, important decisions about reflecting the image of God which leads those engaged with this process to make the right decision when faced with a crisis.
We are called to be rulers and priests. Wright surveys the vast, but often times overlooked Biblical passages that speak of the human race one-day ruling with Christ. Our calling is one of great privilege and responsibility, to be rulers and priests is a high calling, and one that we should be working out in the present in anticipation of that future vocation.
One of the most brilliant chapters of the book is the section on 1 Corinthians 13. Because of familiarity some passages require a fresh reading with new eyes. We have so often heard the passage read and expounded upon, that we miss the intensity of what love really is. For Wright, love is the chief of all the virtues. Love is not something that can be gained overnight, or that can be exercised without much learning. To obtain the true virtue of love is to partake in the long arduous process of transformation of the mind.
In this book Wright characteristically exegetes Biblical passages, his style is both readable and challenging. Fans of his work will enjoy his characteristic interpretation of the Scriptures. However, what sets this work apart from his voluminous other works is the tying of that exegesis to attainment of virtue, and right Christian action. In this book Wright closes out the circle of his trilogy by taking proper orthodox Christian belief and hope and connecting it with proper Christian praxis.