N.T. Wright recently visited Pasadena, CA and spoke on the topic of Learning the Language of Life – meaning Virtue. He compared virtue to language learning, a language that none of us speaks as a mother tongue. Here are a few excerpts from my rather incomplete notes, partly because he speaks very fast and partly because my recording was not very good. So they are not quotes in a strict sense:
“Heaven is important but it’s not the end of the world.” The new heaven and the new earth are what matter. – The standard vision [of a heaven of disembodied souls] does not do much to stimulate virtue.
Thinking about what to do not just when you are faced with tricky ethical dilemmas, but also what to do in our vocations, in the many choices we make, the practices and habits of virtue is all about learning in advance the language of God’s new world. The language of life, and in particularly, this vision of virtue enables us to shift attention quite drastically away from the idea that Christian behavior in the world is basically about good works, in the sense of good moral living, keeping the rules, and towards the idea that the Christian behavior is basically about good works, in the sense of doing things which bring God’s wisdom and glory to the world.
To concentrate on the good moral works themselves is to put the cart before the horse. Putting the human self, even the Christian self, the redeemed self, at the center of the picture, and the glory of virtue in the Christian sense is precisely not in the center; God and God’s kingdom are in the center. Virtue is about learning now about the habit of mind and heart and soul and strength, which will form us to take whatever role we may have in God’s ultimate kingdom.
Virtue is not just about morals, it is about a fully human existence. Those who put rules and consequences first, sometimes think of vocational choices as a sort of sub-branch of ethics. We are called to be genuine image-bearing God-reflecting human beings and that works out in a million ways, not least in a passion for justice, … appropriators of beauty, and a thirst after truth.
All these were part of his second point which he summarized:
When we substitute the biblical eschatology for Aristotle’s notion of happiness goal, we discover deeply Christian framing of ethical questions within the larger question of what it means to be genuine flourishing human beings.
If you want to read more about what he has to say about this, the book “Surprised by hope” is probably a good starting point. I now own a signed copy and learned from him that there are people with my name in Norway. And he learned from me that they also exist in Austria an Germany. 😉 I really enjoyed hearing him in person, after having appreciated his writing and thorough exesis. I already blogged about that here in English and here in German.