Mel's Online Book Club: Questions & Discussion Summary Of Simply Christian, By Tom Wright: Chapters 1-2

Posted at 07:49am on 12th May 2013

THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS & DISCUSSION SUMMARY ARE PROVIDED FOR MEL'S ONLINE BOOK CLUB and may be reproduced – see below.  Please leave your comments so that further discussion may be promoted.


More than a dozen of us gathered to discuss Tom Wright's book, Simply Christian. Most of us had read at least half of the content, if not all. However, we agreed, beforehand, that because of its profundity we would limit ourselves, on this occasion, to discussing only a section of the content. Below, are the questions I posed, and the discussion that followed.
1.    Justice, Spirituality, Relationship and Beauty are what the author calls the 'frustrated longings of humanity'; 'the echoes of a voice' that resonates throughout human life. In other words, they are instinctive. They call us to put the world to rights, to seek for these fundamentals. Is this idea a new concept to us?
One member felt that joy should also be listed as one of quests of human beings. However, after discussion the consensus was that this was a Christian concept, and that few, if any unbelievers, would have an expectation of joy - particularly in the church. Rather, it is as C. S. Lewis has indicated, more a question of being surprised by joy.
2.    JUSTICE: It’s been said, citing the Crusaders and Inquisition, that Jesus’ followers haven’t made much progress in justice. Others speak of the global evils of ‘rampant, uncaring, irresponsible materialism / capitalism’ on the one hand, and ‘raging, unthinking religious fundamentalism - Jihad v McWorld’ on the other (p7). Do we see any justification for these extreme views? And how might we be guilty of perpetuating them?
As Tom Wright points out, you have only to go to a school playground to realise that the craving for justice is endemic. 'It's not fair' is on the lips of children, almost from the cradle. Yet, as the author points out, we may - as he does - hold high moral standards because we've been taught them; we may speak of them; write of them; pontificate on them. Yet still we break them! 
The discussion that followed focused on the recent collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh, in which a thousand people lost their lives. Those factory workers in the developing world were fulfilling a demand for cheap clothing in the throw-away society of the Western world. How should we respond?
There is an argument that says that by buying the goods, we help to bring a living to those workers. What seem to us to be low wages might well be a living wage for them. Without our purchase of these goods, the people who make them might well starve.
A similar case may be made for the purchase of cheap food. We provide a living for those who grow it. There are those who would say that our thrift is to be commended.
This might be true were we to put the money we save to good use for others, rather than indulging ourselves. But the fact is that, all too often, our craving for low prices drives the slave market mentality of the factory owners in the emerging economies of the world, and the greedy competitiveness of supermarket chains in the West. 
There are repercussions for us all. Here, in Britain, our own underpaid farmers are driven to despair and suicide. With the easing of planning restrictions and government incentives to turn to 'green' economies, we now see acres of our once 'green and pleasant land' bought up by entrepreneurs. Where once our fields were grazed by cows and sheep, they are now covered with solar panels. And with food production thus reduced, we might well end up eating imported, unregulated, produce, full of pesticides and growth hormones, and have to endure yet another horse meat scandal.
True justice, we agreed, demands that we think these things through and boycott shops and supermarkets that put profit before ethically sourced goods. It also requires that we support charities promoting fairness and a good work ethic at home and abroad. As the growth in Fairtrade products has shown, our active participation in the quest for justice can make a difference. Walking the walk as well as talking the talk can, and does, impact the nations of the world. Our quest for justice can make a difference.
3.    SPIRITUALITY: What do we think of the concept of concreting over the ‘water’ of spirituality only for it to spring up as alternative religions? (P15-17)
The analogy used here was, we agreed, quite brilliant. Was Tom Wright thinking of the Church of England when he wrote this, asked one member? Had it - being the church of the establishment - created a piped, sanitised State religion, we wondered, which had 'concreted over' the natural, bubbling joy of the Christian faith, and robbed people in the process?
The non-conformist church was no better, argued another, in that it had, at times, created its own 'rules of religion'. And while we talk of falling numbers in church attendance today, had it ever, really, been any better, asked another? With much of our law based on the Christian ethic, we call ourselves a Christian country. But did the masters, mistresses and servants of large households a hundred years ago really have faith in a risen Lord Jesus? Or was regular church attendance merely a matter of expediency; a fulfilling of expectation; the 'done thing'?
And what of those of the 'lower orders?' Did they attend church? We thought not. Given that most lived together in unsanctified Common Law marriages, bore children who were unbaptised, and were probably buried in paupers' graves, there would be little in the way of formal interaction with the church.  It was, after all, said one member, for the benefit of the poor that William Booth set up the Salvation Army.
Nevertheless, if the State church is equivalent to concreting over the living water of faith, the human instinct for spirituality cannot so easily be quashed. We see it springing up in many forms: the rise in Islam, the growth in sects and alternative religions; and - if not organised religion - then in worship of capitalism, consumerism, and celebrity status.
The antidote to 'sanitised religion', we thought, must lie in the realms of what our own church is doing: taking the gospel 'out into the streets' by offering help and advice to the unchurched. Job Club, which prepares people for work; The Cottage Cafe, manned by volunteers, selling homemade soup, cakes, and Tradecraft goods; marriage courses; parenting courses; Christians Against Poverty (CAP)
Sometimes going out on the streets is literally just that: holding an outdoor service or putting on a dramatised tableaux - of the nativity, for instance, at Christmas. Onlookers are invited to dress up and take part; have their photographs taken. At other times it involves 'street teams', church members who offer shoppers crowding the high street on a Sunday morning, a listening ear; free hot-chocolate and other goodies; face-painting for children. Thus the joy of real faith bubbles up, like living water, through the concreted, 'piped' religion of our day.
This Book Club Précis, Questions or Discussion Summary may be reproduced in printed format or on any non-commercial website or blog on condition that the following copyright line and bio are prominently displayed beneath it.
© Copyright Mel Menzies: USED BY PERMISSION
Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies runs an Online Book Club and is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. This article, in its original form, can be found at

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