Posted on: February 11th, 2010 Bishop Wright on Virtue

Followers of Bishop NT Wright (among whom I count myself, since he was a primary reason I left the PCA to become an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Texas) will know that his third (and final?) book in the series which began with Simply Christian which was then followed up with Surprised by Hope is called After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, and is, among other things, the good bishop’s treatment of the Christian tradition of virtue.

This is good news, since (in my opinion) one of the most urgent tasks for the church in terms of its current vocation in our nihilistic culture of consumeristic emotivism is training the people in virtue, closely related to what the ancient church called paideia.

For a briefer taste of what Bishop Tom is up to here, check out this video lecture, given at Fuller Seminary a few months ago.

Here are some of my notes on this lecture:

For Aristotle, happiness (eudaimonia) which is our telos as human beings, is not something that “just happens” naturally. In fact, it is something which must be intentionally chosen, and then repeatedly put into practice, such that they eventually become “second nature.”

Nothing in this is inconsistent with how God graciously saves us and sanctifies us. As Reformed theology has always insisted, sanctification is synergistic.

NTW’s three proposals:

1. Rehabilitate virtue within Christian discourse, as opposed to Enlightenment and Romantic thought.

2. “Rethinking Aristotle into a Christian Key.” The eschatological vision of “new heaven & new earth” allows us to reframe Aristotle’s theory in a new and creative way, which other virtue thinkers have yet to grasp. Reframes “ethics” (as opposed to rules or consequence calculations, that is, deontology and utlitarianism / consequentialism) within the a theology of stewardship of creation. Substitute NH&NE (“new heavens & new earth”) & resurrection for eudaimonia.

a. The telos is the NH&NE, inauged by Jesus, and completed in the future.

b. This telos is achieved thru the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus.

c. Christian living in the present consists in anticipating the NE&NE through the Spirit-led practice of the acquiring of the theological virtues of faith, hope & love wh transcend & strengthen the cardinal virtues. These sustain our present existence which already reflect God’s healing & victory & glory of the future world. A true anticipation.

3. This challenges the church in such a way to sustain the mission to which it is called.

Pelonias in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

Nobody knows the language of virtue as their mother tongue, but we do glimpse that country from afar from time to time, we pick up hints about how its language works, what patterns of brain & body are needed. The more we practice that language, the more easily familiar it will be.

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3 Responses to “Bishop Wright on Virtue”

  1. Richard Says:
    February 11th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Ah, echoes from seminary. After our seminary education, virtue ethics is the only one that seems to be both intelligible and Christian.

  2. matt Says:
    February 14th, 2010 at 8:59 pm


    Good to hear from you. I agree fully of course with what you say here.

    Most of my energy and imagination is going into the _practice_ of virtue along the lines of Pierre Hadot, or just seeing various forms of Christian praxis, which flow in and out of the eucharist, as foundational to the formation of habits such that we begin to participate more deeply in the life of God, for the sake of the world.

    How can the church and we as priests, foster such communities of practice, communities of virtue?


  3. Jason Says:
    February 18th, 2010 at 3:49 am

    Great post broseph.

    I look forward to running into some of the N.T.W that you cited in this post as I work through my commitment to our Sbx group with my wife.

    By the way, I would be very interested to hear your escatological views.

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