TRANSFORMATION OF CHARACTER
Human character is expressed through
consistent virtue that is engrained in a person and demonstrates tenacity in
the face of testing. In Wright’s, After
You Believe, Wright
describes human character as a pattern of thinking and acting which runs right
through a person.1
If a person fails to demonstrate consistency of virtue in the presence of
pressure, the person’s true nature becomes apparent and his or her character is
jeopardized. A person may be outwardly humble, yet in the face of demotion or
false accusation, he may harbor offense and pride.
In order to express genuine
character, a person must undergo character transformation. Transformation
solidifies a person’s values in their way of thinking and behaving. According
to Wright, this transformation is a three-step process. These steps include
aiming at the right goal, discovering the steps one needs to take to get to
that goal, and creating a habit of those steps.2 The key is
daily discipline by developing lifestyle habits, which lead to transformation
THE MORAL FRAMEWORKS OF BIBLICAL
AND GREEK THOUGHTS
Wright expounds on the correlation
between biblical and Greek moral thought on character transformation.
Aristotle’s three-fold pattern of transformation includes telos or the goal, the strengths of
character necessary to reach those goals, and the moral training process in
which strengths turn into habits.3
Similar to Wright’s argument of forming daily habits to achieve a goal,
Aristotle emphasized practicing the strengths of character until they become
According to Aristotle, the attainment of cardinal virtues such as courage,
justice, prudence, and temperance enables a person to achieve eudaimonia, or “the ideal of a fully
flourishing human being.”5
While paralleling the biblical vision of human flourishing with Aristotle’s
philosophy of virtue attainment, Wright further develops human flourishing
beyond gaining moral status, but becoming citizens of God’s coming kingdom.6
Wright also draws a line between the biblical and Greek understanding of
desirable virtues and the means of attaining them. Unlike the Greek, Jesus and
Paul emphasized virtues of love, kindness, forgiveness, and humility, which
were inferior qualities in Greek thought.7
While Wright’s emphasis on
self-discipline through the formation of daily habits to reach a goal are
valid, transformation ultimately requires a change in heart by the divine
working of the Holy Spirit. Earlier in the book, Wright declares that the transformation
of character is the ultimate goal of a believer after salvation.8
If character were the goal and its attainment is through self-discipline, what
would differentiate Christianity from other religious thoughts? World religions
that emphasize discipline, self-denial, and virtue are ubiquitous and
essentially founded on the ideal of man’s effort to attain the Divine. This,
however, does not undermine the essential role of self-discipline in Christian
living. The apostle Paul describes his lifestyle of subjecting his flesh to his
lifelong pursuit of the eternal prize, “No, I strike a blow to my body and make
it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be
disqualified for the prize.”9
However, it is by beholding Christ that we become conformed into His image and
manifest His character by His transforming power. “We all, who with unveiled
faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with
ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”10
FIVE PRACTICES OF EXEMPLARY
If the transformation process of
self-discipline and the work of the Holy Spirit produces genuine character,
Kouzes and Posner’s five practices of exemplary leadership can also be
expressed through this transformation process. The five practices include
modeling the way for others through personalized values, inspiring a shared
vision, challenging the process by pioneering vision, enabling others to act by
building trust and involving others in the vision, and encouraging the heart
through recognizing the contributions of others. John C. Maxwell expounds on
the leadership practice of modeling the way by emphasizing the principle of
working on oneself before working on others.11 Rather
than changing people in order to lead them towards a vision, a leader must
first change themselves and learn to lead themselves. To pioneer a vision, a
person’s life must align with his or her message.12 Jesus is
the perfect model of how leaders should lead with their lives. After Jesus
washed the feet of his disciples, He said to them, “Now that I, your Lord and
Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have
set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”13
Jesus humbled Himself and modeled servanthood for His disciples so that they
may lead others by His example.
MORAL FLEXIBILITY VS. INTEGRITY OF
Badaracco introduces the concept of
moral flexibility in his observations of the legendary Okonkwo from African
literature. As the chief tribal leader of Umuofia, Okonkwo’s upbringing causes
him to develop the character traits of strength, courage, and perseverance. He
holds firmly to his personal convictions and the traditions of Umuofia.
However, Okonkwo’s failures reveal his true moral code after he beats one of
his wives and lies about it during the Week of Peace. Rather than adapting his
convictions to the concerns and values of his community, Okonkwo clung to his
traditional values at the cost of his relationships. Towards the end of his
life, Okonkwo went into exile while Umuofia embraced the change and influence
of Westerners. Finally, Okonkwo commits the greatest act of cowardice as a
leader and kills himself.
Moral flexibility is characterized
by moral codes that adapt to each varying situation and embrace a wider set of
human values by understanding them at a personal and emotional level.14
As Badaracco describes, a moral code must supersede personal convictions and
adapt to the convictions and needs of the community.15 The dichotomy
between Badaracco’s moral flexibility and Kouzes and Posner’s integrity of
values is the primary determinant of moral values. The idea of moral
flexibility is based on the external environment. In this situation, the
determinant of a person’s values is the environment and community a person
finds him or herself in. The source of a moral code, according to moral
flexibility, is not a set of unchanging principles, but harmony with the
ever-changing environment and the universal values of human dignity, love, and
goodwill. On the other hand, the integrity of values is based on an
internalized foundation of values. The determinant of these values is the
individual’s personal convictions based on unchanging principles.
Rather than having one
way or the other in developing a moral code, there must be a delicate balance
between abiding strictly by the moral code and having flexibility. By strictly
adhering to the moral code, Jesus could have stoned the adulterous woman, who
was condemned by the Pharisees. On the other hand, by having flexibility in the
moral code, God could have relented from judging the Israelites when they
worshiped the golden calf in the desert and allowed them to perpetuate
idolatry. As Christians, we must develop a moral code that is aligned with the
unchanging, inerrant Scriptures. At the same time, we must understand the heart
of God and the spirit behind the law in order to apply it His Word to our
1 N.T. Wright, After You Believe (New York: HarperOne 2010), 27
2 Wright, 27.
3 Ibid, 33.
4 Wright, 33.
6 Ibid., 36.
8 Ibid., 26.
9 1 Corinthians 9:27 (NIV)
10 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)
11 Kouzes and Posner, 42.
12 James M. Kouzes and Barry Z.
Posner, et. al. Christian
Reflections on the Leadership Challenge (San
Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2004.), 51.
13 John 13:14-15, NIV
14 Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. Questions of Character:
Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through
Harvard Business School Press 2006), 33.
15 Badaracco, Jr., 50.