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.


2 Days with Rob Bell Part 2

This is part two of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

The day that I was to fly down to Orange County my road was snowed in by an epic winter storm, unlike any seen in the Willamette Valley as long as anyone remembered. Churches all over had cancelled services and I had a 4 wheel drive truck with chains on and I was still spinning out. Thankfully Russell, who is the best Oregon winter driver I know, came to my rescue. I actually had to walk down to the main road with my luggage and meet him as he came down the ruts and drove me down to Eugene. The main roads were totally fine, but getting to them was basically impossible. Then when I was at the airport, all sorts of flights were being cancelled because of thick fog! When our plane landed it was awesome and people were clapping and stuff – this is what it is like to fly out of Eugene. When I got into PDX, we were so late I had to run to catch my connector so I didn’t get to enjoy the most beautiful carpet in the world.

The coolest part of my trip was after I landed in Orange County, I used a company called Lyft to get a ride from the airport to my hotel. The company is set up as an app on my phone that you use to call for a ride and a guy shows up with his car and drives you. It’s terrible for cab companies, but a riot for people who think technology can bring us together! It was cool to be able to try out because I don’t live in a big enough city to have Lyft. Considering the safety factor, I imagine it’s easier for a larger man to try it out, but the company has done a good job ensuring safety and professionalism. To get back to the airport on Wednesday, I left before Lyft was open (they went 24-7 only recently), so I used a different app called Uber. Had another great experience and got to know another stranger!

I also got to go for a run Monday morning that was simply amazing – up to the top of the hills in Laguna Beach. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles! It was so rough I had to walk a bit, but the views from the park at the top of the hill were superboss.

the $12 million view

This is all preamble to an awesome two days, but it’s so much fun to be alive at such an incredible time of transition in our world. Everything we thought we knew about how to function in society is up for grabs – which is so terrifyingly awesome. There’s a lot of opposition from the structure that built the culture we live in, but to hold on to it is to deny the very spirit that built it. It’s not about staying at some kind of pinnacle, it’s all about taking the next step, going to the next level. Really, this is why I went to 2Days with Rob Bell, so, in a way, I got started before I got started.

2 Days with Rob Bell

This is part one of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014.

The second week of February I was able to get down to Laguna Beach to attend a 2-day event with Rob Bell. It was an amazing chance to back up from the week-to-week grind and get some perspective on where we are going and what my role is in all that God is doing with The Grove. I’m going to blog about it just to process some things for myself, and put this out there for anyone who is googling the event in the future and wondering if it’s something that would be helpful for them. I’m not sure he’ll do anymore because of new Oprah-tunities that are coming Bell’s way, so this may be more for me than for the internet, but having it on my searchable blog will be helpful.

If you don’t know of him already, Rob Bell seems to be every former baptist’s favorite heretic. He was a regular, ordinary, run-of-the-mill conservative evangelical who planted a church in Michigan that took off and created all sorts of hype around him. From there he started making videos called Nooma, that became Zondervan’s hottest products. Finally, Bell started writing books that got him in increasing amounts of trouble with the conservative evangelical machine. The final bridge burner was Love Wins, where Bell (through a whole series of non-committal questioning) basically proposes a protestant universalist purgatory. I first listened to Rob Bell at a Youth Specialties conference way back in 2003 and it was so amazingly helpful to me that I have been listening and reading almost everything that comes out over the past decade. It’s interesting to me to see the transition in him (just like you can see in other pastor/leader/authors, i.e. Brian McLaren and Don Miller) away from the church and towards an individualistic expression of what it is to be a Christian. A lot of the noise around these leaders is about their liberal transitions in their positions on the bible, salvation, politics and, (the noisiest) homosexuality and Christianity. The deeper issue, I think, is the transition in their thinking from a Christianity that is rooted in a tradition that you join and it helps define you, to a Christianity that is rooted in traditions that are self chosen and self defined.

So, it wasn’t especially for theological orthodoxy training that I went down to Laguna Beach – which Bell announced anyways when he talked about how it is not his desire to be more orthodox-er. Rather, I appreciated Rob Bell for his ability to express in words the inclinations I tend to have about God, Jesus, what it is to follow Jesus, what Christian leadership looks and feels like and how preaching sermons is a beautiful art form. I learned an incredible amount in a short period and have many threads that I need to follow and work through that will take all year. So, it will take a whole series of blogs, but it should at least be interesting!

Hatmaker, Barefoot Church

I picked up this book on missional church ministry after hearing about it from a new church planter in my town. He’s planting a church that is a lot different from The Grove, in a style from which we have got to continue learning from in order to be the gospel in our post-(modern, church, God, etc.) and help people come to know Jesus in a saving way and become a disciple of Jesus.

Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture is written by Brandon Hatmaker, who is a pastor at Austin New Church down in Texas. He works in missional organizations and helps the church move into efective ministry in our day.

I liked the book because of his stories and the authentic voice through which the book is written, but I can’t help but think of the many other church leaders and church planters who’ve had similar dreams and haven’t experienced the success that Hatmaker has. It’s a complicated little thing, Christian ministry and success…

Anyways, if you are a church leader and would love to help your church move in an authentic missional direction, this little book could be a great help to you. I know that we are going to be walking through some of these ideas at The Grove, with the hope of restoring people (and all creation) to relationship with God.

Just for a spot of humor, here’s a little quote about arriving in heaven that had me just rolling because it’s so true and so beautiful:

p.164, “And I cannot imagine the thoughts that will be going through our minds as God speaks his first words to us. However, somehow I feel as if I can identify a few of the things that he won’t say.

  • ‘I was really disappointed with your attendance last Sunday.’
  • ‘The problem was that your lobby wasn’t big enough.’
  • ‘I’m glad you never took a Sabbath. I invented those for the lazy.’
  • ‘Wow, you gave waaaaaaay too much to missions.’
  • ‘I wish you would have put more effort into your website. Seriously lame.’
  • ‘Yup, you were right all along…poor was totally a metaphor.’



Why Emergers Won’t Quit on Bell

This blog is from Tall Skinny Kiwi about the relational nature of younger generations and their willingness to stick with Rob Bell.  You can read it here: Rob Bell and the new generation.

Of interest to me was this quote:

Rob Bell will not become irrelevant simply because his book was a lemon and his theology found wanting. He is loved by many people and they will be committed to see him mature and move forward. Young people are a relational bunch: they stick to their friends and they believe people can change, especially when those people are open to conversation. They are NOT consumers who shop around for the most-correct theologian they can find in the yellow pages and then commmit to follow them and their groupies until someone points to a better show. I think the critics of Rob Bell will suffer more than Rob Bell. Many were too quick to wash their hands of him and host inquisitions for his book.

TallSkinnyKiwi recognizes that Bell’s theology is being found to be incomplete, yet this does not mean that a whole generation of young leaders are going to give up on them.  Instead, they are going to leave the leaders who quit on Bell and criticized him publicly before the book was even released.

For new generations, people are more important than dogmas.  Change is always possible and even welcomed.  This is what it really means to live in a way where acting right is more important than being right.  Younger generations would rather stick with a friend than shop for the theologian who is going to best represent them.  Young people would rather stick with a group, than shop for a group with a better hang out.  They’d rather stick with a community of believers (on mission) than bail for flashier programs.

That’s why, at the end of the day, I am not angry or scared at the ideas and theologies in Love Wins, I’m instead disappointed in the holes in the ideas.  Like others, I’ll stick with Bell and see where it takes us.  I don’t have to agree with all the doctrinal points to chose authors to appreciate – but I do have to appreciate their contribution – both to the kingdom of God, and (of course, thus,) to the world.

Postmodern and Wesleyan

I have been having a bunch of conversations with fellow pastors about holiness theology and its interaction in a postmodern world, so when I saw this book on Amazon, I picked it up. I had pretty high expectations, but perhaps too high. It has editors from the Nazarenes and chapters written by various authors.  Then, Leonard Sweet writes up conclusions to each section.  These are good, but no new themes emerge.

What I really didn’t like was that there was no indication as to who these various authors were.  They just gave titles for their chapter and a name – no frame of reference or anything.  Do they think I’m going to google each one of these people?  It felt like the Nazarenes had written an in house book and I had stumbled into a private conversation by reading it.

I wouldn’t suggest anyone outside of that conversation spend time with this book. And if you really want to read it, let me know, you can have my copy.

McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That

It’s been a long time that I have wanted to read the third installment of McLaren’s New Kind of Christian which is about hell and works through the issue in the narrative of a church’s struggle to remain faithful to the gospel, despite extreme pressures to go the fundamentalist route or the extreme liberal route.  It seems that, in the western world, this is a tension that churches and church leaders have to deal with all the time and manage the practices of the church with the theology of the church.

So, in this context, McLaren decides to put some thoughts into the theology of hell.  Who goes to hell and where is hell and why have hell are questions that have to have decent answers for any thinking Christian.  After reading this book I jokingly told a friend of mine that I don’t think I can believe in hell any more!  Of course, that’s not even remotely true, but I do not want to be guilty of just accepting what the traditional views on hell are, without examining the Scriptures and the relevant doctrines and historical theologies (for McLaren, that means a focus on the writings of C.S. Lewis).

So, while I’m still down with the existence of hell, this book can be appreciated by a wide range of different viewpoints and asks amazing questions that will push your thinking futher and your devotion to God further at the same time.

Here’s some fun quotes:

  • p.15, “faith must engage with the culture in which it finds itself but how it can become so excessively enmeshed with that culture that its power is neutralized… If a faith becomes enmeshed, not just engaged, with a culture…people hardly notice – until a wave of cultural change hits. Then, when people want to move on from that fading culture, when they want to be part of the new wave, they feel they must leave behind their faith as well. Their only alternative is to try to disengage their faith fro the fading culture, but this is one of the most painful things a person can do”
  • p. 63, “For the Pharisees, good meant disdaining, stigmatizing, excluding, and avoiding sinners. For Jesus, good meant forgiving sinners and reconciling them to the community… So for Jesus, good is always compassionate”
  • p.129, “I’ve found I can only know so much until I find a community that shares my knowing. If I begin growing very far beyond what my community allows me to know, I need to persuade my community to think with me or else find or form a new community.”