Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright

In this volume Wright attempts to address three themes:  the problem of evil in our contemporary culture in the light of Jewish and Christian traditions; a Christian perspective on the problem of evil, especially as it touches the global empire, criminal justice and punishment, and war; the corporate as well as the individual response, especially in relationship to forgiveness (see p. 18).  Wright states the central point of his book as:  “The ultimate answer to this aspect at least of the problem of evil—is not only that in the new world God himself will be beyond the reach of the moral blackmail of unresolved evil, but that we shall be as well” (p. 143).

Wright takes to task those in our culture who naively hope that human progress will ultimately abolish evil, or at least greatly diminish human wickedness.   He sees the need to take the wind out of the sails of those invested in a belief in this type of progress (pp. 16, 22-23, 135ff).

Evil offers a good overview of how different worldviews understand evil (pp. 34-41) as well as helpful insights into the Gospels’ accounts of how God deals with evil (see p. 93).  However Wright is a strong believer in Christus Victor (the theory that the atonement was primarily a victory over the forces of evil) and this skews his understanding of how Christians are to address evil in our world today.  In essence, he believes that because Christ has now come to His kingdom (p. 85) there is no need to wait for the second coming for we can implement Christ’s victory over evil now (pp. 102, 128, 139).  He writes, “The call of the gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world through suffering love” (emphasis his) (p. 98).  Wright offers five general ways to implement Christ’s victory:  prayer, holiness, politics and empire, penal codes and international disputes (pp. 118-125).  Specifically, he calls for forgiveness of the debt of poor countries (p. 147), transformation of criminal justice (p. 149), and new ways of handling international disputes (pp. 124-125).  Paving the way toward these initiatives are individuals such as Desmond Tutu (pp. 103, 134-135), Miroslave Volf, professor at Yale Divinity School (pp. 132-133), and L. Gregory Jones, dean of Duke Divinity School (pp. 133-134).  As can be readily seen, these three men, while perhaps insightful, are hardly leaders in an understanding of biblical Christianity. 

Wright apparently rejects a personal devil, seeing Satan primarily as an evil force (pp. 71-72, 81, 108-112).  Nevertheless, this volume offers us help in understanding Wright’s view of evil—and much of it is beneficial, but the book disappoints because it never really wrestles with the issues nor does it lay out specifically, to any satisfying degree, what the church or individual believers are expected to do with evil in our world.  More importantly Wright’s understanding of Christus Victor frames the results of the atonement as Christ’s victory over political, cosmic, and evil forces which in turn defines the Christian’s mission as a confrontation with these same forces (pp. 81-83, 102, 109).

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