Wright begins his latest work with the injustice that is evident in the world, and questions why we cannot or have not made any more progress than we have over the centuries. Further, why do we even have the feeling that the word isn’t “right” as it stands? From the Turkish slaughter of millions of Armenians, to Adolph Hitler, to the conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, we have been far to privy to injustice even within the last century. Why are things the way they are, and why do we expect or hope for something better?
Wright gives three basic explanations: 1.) “It is a dream, a projection of childish fantasies, and we have to get used to living in the world the way it is (p. 9).” 2.) “…the dream is of a different world altogether…a world where everything is indeed put to rights…but a world that has little purchase on the present world except that people who live in this one sometimes find themselves dreaming of that one (p. 9).” 3.) “…ther is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear – someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves, and who has made us and the world for a purpose which will indeed involve justices, things being put to rights, ourselves being put to rights, the world being rescued at last (p. 9).”
Although he doesn’t explore more possible explanations that I imagine there to be, he continues by pointing out that three major religious traditions go with option #3:
Judaism – God made the world and built into it a passion for justice out of his own passion.
Christianity – God brought his passion for justice into play in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
Islam – God’s will is fully revealed in the Koran a work containing the ideal that will put the world to rights as it is obeyed.
Wright suggests this book is to explain and commend the Christian tradition: a tradition that is grouded in the real world by the incarnation of Jesus, a tradition that is about justice (inherited from Judaism and embodied in Jesus’ passion), and a tradition that is about us and our integral involvement. In other words being concerned about a world put to rights is to be deeply human.
Of course all of this is questioned by those who immediately point to the crusades and Spanish inquisition. “Haven’t Christians been a part of the problem rather than part of the solution (p. 12)?” Wright says yes and no. Yes, there are those who do horrible things in the name of Christ, and there are those who do horrible things knowing them to be wrong without claiming Jesus supported them. Yet no in the fact that the wicked things Christians have done have been in part because of a muddled and mistaken belief about what Christianity actually is. Wright states, “It is no part of Christian belief to say that the followers of Jesus have always got everything right.” For Wright, the best witness to the truth of the Christian faith are those who have got it right at least in many respects: John Woolman and William Wilberforce in their rebuke of slavery, Martin Luther King, Jr. in his passion for African-American rights, Desmond Tutu in his engagement with apartheid.
“…this longing for things to be put right, remains one of the great human goals and dreams. Christians believe this is so because all humans have heard, deep within themselves, the echo of a voice which calls us to live like that. And they believe that in Jesus that voice became human and did what had to be done to bring it about.”
Although this is an important place to start because of the ubiquity of injustice in the world, this seems to be a pretty foundationalist way of thinking. Is injustice and longing for justice a foundation on which to build a theology? Can we truly ground so much on a sense that things aren’t like they should be? Wright seems to be working from a foundationalist perspective, and I’m not sure where that might lead.