Tag Archives | virtue

After Virtue | Alasdair MacIntyre

The cover of MacIntyre's After VirtueIs there anything left to be said about After Virtue? With this book, Alasdair MacIntyre brought Aristotelian-style virtue ethics back into the modern conversation. It is a true classic, still quoted and built upon today, almost forty years after its original publication date.

After Virtue falls into two parts. The first half of the book is deconstructive. MacIntyre carefully explains how the ethical problems of our time cannot be answered from within our post-Enlightenment framework. The ethical landscape today resembles the ruins of a once great culture. We have bits and pieces of ethical material from the past, but no historical context with which to apply them. Without context there can be no ethical progress beyond the emotivism of the day.

[M]oral judgments are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by these practices. (60)

The second half of After Virtue is constructive. Now that the problem is diagnosed, MacIntyre prescribes Aristotelian medicine. Humans are social creatures, narrative construed toward a telos or goal. It is through the practice of virtues within a community that humans mature and become the sort of people who are able to encounter the moral quandaries of the day.

It is difficult to overstate the value of this book. After Virtue is one carefully argued perspective in which each of the 286 pages adds value. It is multidisciplinary, combining philosophical argument with sociological and historical context. Despite its age, I found myself continually reflecting on current political and social events through MacIntyre’s lens.

This is not a Christian book per se, but it has serious implications for the church. This is the foundation on which Stanley Hauerwas has based his ethical perspective. Pastors who wish to understand the moral makeup of the world and the church would do well to revisit this venerable volume.


MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 3rd Edition. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

A People’s History of Christianity | Diana Bulter Bass

The cover of Bass' A People's History of ChristianityHaving just finished Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, I can attest to the frustration Diana Bulter Bass expresses. The history of Christianity can feel like a tale of arguments, violence, crusades, inquisitions, and capitulation to power. It looks diametrically opposed to the actual life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

In A People’s History of Christianity, Diana Bulter Bass attempts to tell (as the subtitle suggests), the other side of the story. In her words:

I sidestep issues of orthodoxy and instead focus on the moments when Christian people really acted like Christians, when they took seriously the call of Jesus to love God and love their neighbors as themselves. (15)

The author accomplishes this by surveying (in wildly broad strokes) all eras of church history with special attention to how Christians exercised their devotion to God, their ethics to others.

Sounds good, right?

The truth is, despite the promise of the thesis, this book frustrated me. In the selection and interpretation of the stories, Diana Bulter Bass selectively expounded a version of Christianity that looks like her. Now, this is not a bad picture—I think it’s fair to call her a progressive, inclusive, emergent-minded Christ-follower. That said, mining the history of Christianity for anecdotes and lives that confirm your view, only to call it a “People’s History” implies that those who don’t conform to your image are somehow in a category other than “people”. Ironically, this is precisely what this history attempts to correct.

What the Jesus Seminar did with Jesus, Diana Bulter Bass has done with his followers. The great cloud of witnesses deserves to be taken on their own terms—warts and all.

—Diana Bulter Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

After You Believe | N. T. Wright

Good things happen when you mash different subjects together (just search for “mashup” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean). In Wright’s latest book for the public audience, he’s mashed up three topics:

  1. New Testament ethics
  2. Christian virtue
  3. Non-Christian ethics

Here’s the book in a nutshell: We are called to habitually practice the virtues of the Kingdom of God here in the present, so when difficult situations arise we will act according to our second nature (Christian habits) rather than our old nature. Wright develops this theme in quite a bit of detail.

My only criticism of the book is its length. While I love his 800 page works of theology, this could have been trimmed down for the popular audience.

Wright has an uncanny ability to pierce through the quagmire of mushy modern theology and deliver substance that will help the believer live life to the fullest. This is worthwhile reading for anyone who has ever wondered what to do after becoming a believer.

The Guinea Pig Diaries | A. J. Jacobs

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you always told the truth (“Does this dress make me look fat”)? What if you outsourced your entire life—including arguments with your wife—to a call centre in India? Well, wonder no more. A. J. Jacobs has vicariously performed the sort of experiments on himself that we would never have the courage to try!

Jacobs has made a career out of experimenting on himself. His first book was the fruit of reading an entire encyclopedia. His second book recounted his year of Biblical fidelity. His current book, The Guinea Pig Diaries, collects a variety of different shorter experiments into one volume.

This is a funny book: not the sort of “funny” you’d pick up off the humour shelf at Chapters, but genuine intelligent laugh-out-loud funny. Jacobs doesn’t pull out of character when life gets awkward—he follows his experiments through to the end (and makes appropriate apologies after).

If you’ve read his earlier works, you’ll know the punishment his wife has had to endure. Jacobs listened to the emails of sympathy for his wife, and concluded this book with a month of doing absolutely everything she asked him to. That final essay alone is worth the price of admission.

Heart-Work (A Series of Sermons)

Throughout the last few months of 2010, I felt the need to speak about Christian Character, or (as it’s traditionally been called) Virtue. Thus this series entitled, Heart-Work.
What does it mean to grow up as believers? If we are saved by faith alone, why bother renovating our character? How does my life now relate to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth God has planned? Where do I being? How do we work on our character without lapsing into legalism and blind rule-following (or worse, rule-making)? These are the sort of questions we looked at during January and February, 2011.

The major inspiration for this teaching came from an N. T. Wright book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. If this topic interests you, I would encourage you to pick it up. You can find individual write-ups along with the resources I used in each message over at wspc.ca. As always, you can find the download links right here on the sermons page.

  1. Ta-Da (Matthew 19:16-30)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/010911.mp3]
  2. Our Job Description (Genesis 1:26-28; 1 Peter 2:9)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/011611.mp3]
  3. But That’s Impossible! (Matthew 5:1-11)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/012311.mp3]
  4. Where Do We Begin? (Colossians 3:5-17; Romans 12:1-2)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/013011.mp3]
  5. 3 Virtues, 1 Body (1 Corinthians 13)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/020611.mp3]
  6. 9 Virtues, 1 Body (Galatians 5:16-23)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/021311.mp3]
  7. How to be Royalty (John 1:1-13)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/022011.mp3]
  8. It’s Getting Better all the Time (Genesis 39)
    [audio:http://stephenbarkley.com/media/messages/022711.mp3]

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