NT Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God

It seems like all of younger evangelicalism is taken these days with NT Wright and his first century Judaic contextualized approach to the Scripture. He’s even got a Christianity Today cover – with a photo shoot from his home in the UK! Of course, being theologically smitten myself, I recently picked up Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. It was one of a few books that I checked out to be used as a textbook for an examination I am responsible for as a part of our local denomination’s process for young “t0-be” pastors.

If you love NT Wright, you’ll love this book. If he frustrates you, this book will frustrate you. If you have never heard of NT Wright, you are actually like most people. Wright gives a thorough treatment of Scripture, how he feels it has been misread, and how it should be read. He emphasizes a narrative understanding of redemptive history and sees the Bible as contributing to that. As an affront to fundamentalism, he does not give the Scripture any more authority than that deserved of it’s author, namely God. This is of course, a terribly large amount of authority, but many fundamentalists would enjoy giving the Bible authority even over God, which has disastrous consequences.

For the test I give, I am requiring the reading of the first 8 chapters, but the last two are also outstanding. They are cases studies (of Sabbath & Monogamy) examined through Wright’s own biblical understanding. If you like Jesus, and like the Bible, but sometimes wonder what it all means, this could be an incredibly helpful book for you.

Here’s some golden quotes from the book:

  • p.5, “Like all metanarratives, [the story of the Bible] is instantly suspected of being told in order to advance someone’s interest. It is, people suspect, some kind of a power play.”
  • p.21, “…the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.’ “
  • p.43, “The backbone of many traditional arguments for the authority of scripture has been those specific sayings of Jesus which stress that he himself regarded scripture as authoritative and criticized his opponents for not doing so.”
  • p.49, “The Kingdom, we remind ourselves, was always about the creator God acting sovereignly to put the world to rights, judging evil and bringing forgiveness and new life. This was what the ‘word’ accomplished in those who heard it in faith and obedience.”
  • p.101, “The main historical source for this is the interpretation by some subsequent writers of the emphasis on ‘experience’ in the thought of John Wesley. Indeed, some have spoken of a ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral,’ a phrase Wesley himself never used. For Wesley himself, scripture remained the primary authority; the ‘experience’ upon which he insisted was the living experience of God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit, through which what the Bible said was proved true in the life of the believer… [To play experience off as an authority separate from, and opposed to, scripture] is wholly in line with both the modernist and postmodernist agendas, but I regard it as misleading.”
  • p.127, “The music so far, the voices around us, and the ultimate multi-part harmony of God’s new world: these, taken together, form the parameters for appropriate improvisation in the reading of scripture and the announcement and living out of the gospel it contains. All Christians, all churches, are free to improvise their own variations designed to take the music forward. No Christian, no church, is free to play out of tune.”
  • p.128, “How can we be sure that our understandings and ‘improvisations’ of scripture facilitate the Spirit’ working in and through us, as individuals, congregations and the larger church? We do so by a reading of scripture that is (a) totally contextual, (b) liturgically grounded, (c) privately studied, (d) refreshed by appropriate scholarship, and (e) taught by the church’s accredited leaders.”

Just as a side-note, it is interesting to me to see NT Wright, filling the gap that has been left in neo-conservative evangelicalism, since Rob Bell moved to California, announced his position on homosexuality and buddied up with Oprah, at least two of which are pseudo-mortal sins for the evangelical machine. I think it shows how much we evangelicals love our celebrities, love our celebrities with neo-conservative books and are willing to dump said celebrities just as fast as we can when they decide to stop agreeing with everything we think. There’s definitely more to be explored here because I think there are some unintended consequences to allowing (or even demanding) that Christian, for-profit, publishing houses act as our evangelical “pope” and feed the celebrity-hungry masses.