In an interview NT Wright talks of character as a result of habit-forming training:
... we modern westerners – and even more postmodern westerners – are trained by the media and public discourse to think that “letting it all out” and “doing what comes naturally” are the criteria for how to behave. There is a sense in which they are – but only when the character has been trained so that “what comes naturally” is the result of that habit-forming training.
The book’s main target is not the other major moral theories of deontology and consequentialism, but the ideas of “spontaneity” and “authenticity” which have a grain of truth (Christians really should act “from the heart”), but which screen out the reality of moral formation, of chosen and worked-at habit-forming prayer and moral reflection and action, which gradually over time form the Christian character in which “authentic” behavior is also truly Christian behavior, not simply “me living out my prejudices and random desires”.
The point about “virtue”, then, is that it flags up something which is central in the New Testament but marginal in much western Christian reflection, namely the fact that
... like learning a new language
When you learn a language, your brain literally changes: new connections are made, new possibilities emerge, new habits of mind, tongue, and even sometimes body language emerge and are formed. The result is not, though, that you can speak it for the fun of it, but that you can communicate with people in that language, and perhaps even be able to go and live in the country where that language is spoken, and feel at home there.
This illustration helps to explain one part at least of the well known problem about how “what we do here and now” is umbilically connected to “who we will be in God’s new world”.
The point is that in the new heavens and new earth there is an entire way of life awaiting us, and we have the chance to learn, here and now, the character-skills we shall need for that new way of life – particularly the great three which Paul says will “abide” into God’s future, namely faith, hope and especially love. (All this depends of course on the Spirit, and on the transformative renewal of the mind which Paul speaks about in Romans 12:1-2.)NT Wright expounds on the merits of virtue and becoming fully human:
... two other things to be said.
First, the point about “vice”, the opposite of “virtue”, is that, whereas virtue requires moral effort, all that has to happen for vice to take hold is for people to coast along in neutral: moral laziness leads directly to moral deformation (hence the insidious power of TV which constantly encourages effortless going-with-the-flow). The thing about virtue is that it requires Thought and Effort . . .
Second, the point about Christian virtue is that it claims, all the way back to the Adam-and-Abraham nexus in Genesis 12 and elsewhere and on to 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22, that to become part of God’s people is to become a genuinely human being. So many Christians suppose that “normal humanness” is one thing and that “Christian living” is a rather odd and perhaps distorted form of being human, whereas part of the point of being Christian is to be genuinely human.
I come back to the point: for many in the West, all that matters is “doing what comes naturally”. That is an attempt to acquire instantly, without thought or effort, what Christian virtue offers as the fruit of the thought-out, Spirit-led, moral effort of putting to death one kind of behavior and painstakingly learning a different one. When the Spirit is at work, we become more human, not less – which means we have to think more, not less, have to make more moral effort, not less – and there has been a collusion between certain types of Christian teaching and certain types of post-Enlightenment moral teaching as a result of which many Christians are simply unaware of this challenge.See the full interview HERE.
I hope the book will alert a new generation to the exciting and bracing prospect of a fully human and fully Christian life ‘after you believe’…