Does Your Book Tote a Badge?

What with recent discussions here in the home frame, and with added enthusiasm from places about, we, with the quality of a Wurlitzer, bring aboard the added influence of your choosiness (why yes, I am referring to you). So sit back a spell, or twirl and sway if need be. In any event and after all, it is your nickel. Well, at least until your song has sung.

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N. T. Wright

SAG NT Wright

It is an interesting collection, these many harbored persuasions of a very old book. It has all authority, or does it? Must it find company in the midst of Tradition? It is meant to reveal and provide guidance, or are we downplaying its significance with restricting definitions? Why do we have this book and how are we supposed to read it?

N. T. Wright describes the place where we are now, regarding the Scriptures, as “uncharted waters.” While the past may be of value to draw wisdom from, he cautions against our imagining that our “questions will be identical with those of Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, or Ignatius Loyola. For that matter, Newman or Barth.” These uncharted waters, Wright continues, “are a lot deeper than some contemporary debaters seem to realize.”

Of the Word, this author informs, “Simplistic affirmations (‘The Bible says‘) on the one hand, and counter-affirmations (‘You read the text naively; we read it in context, and that changes everything‘) on the other, only get in the way of serious debate.”

“There are fresh ways out the other side of all that,” makes known Wright, “into creative and intelligent reflection.”

As the discussion goes, Wright revisits the term “Authority of Scripture” by advising it can only make sense in that it is merely shorthand for “God’s authority exercised through Scripture,” noting, John’s gospel introduction did not reach climax with “and the Word was written down,” but “the Word became flesh.” “Scripture,” says Wright, “Points away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who speaks the truth (John 8:39-40) which he has heard from God.”

Thankfully, the author asks the questions here for us, such as, “What might we mean by the authority of God? What role does scripture have within that? How does this authority actually work?”

Before giving us his answers, the author offers the reader some clarification of what the Bible does not claim to be, such as, “A list of rules to live by, even though it contains many commandments. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course it declares great truths about God, the world, and ourselves.”

Scripture is best described instead as a story,” informs Wright, leading to the obvious question, “How will a story have authority?” He rubs this with an image of an officer walking into a barrack-room and beginning, “Once upon a time…,” rather than with instructions for warfare.

This though, leaves the reader with more questions. If Mr. Wright is correct in his defining the Bible as “story” rather than considering if it is a “book of all authority,” what will this have to say as for how it should be read? Is it then sufficient and trustworthy? Can I depend on its instruction? What is my part in this completed story? Completed?

Somewhat, but not in every sense, because as Wright conveys, “…in scripture itself God’s purpose is not just to save human beings, but to renew the whole world. This is the unfinished story in which readers of scripture are invited to become actors in their own right.”

“Scripture is there to be a means of God’s action in and through us — which will include, but go far beyond, the mere conveying of information.”

Needing to bring things to a close for now, this author cites three things of central importance with regard to authority in God’s Kingdom and the Word (written) by which it was delivered. First, the Bible tells us that “our God is a God who speaks. Reading the Bible to hear and know God is not far-fetched, but cognate with the nature of God himself.” Second, “the idea of reading a book to have one’s life reordered by the wisdom of God is not counter-intuitive, but cognate with the nature of Christian holiness itself (Romans 12:1-2).” Third, it reminds us “that the God we worship is the God whose world-conquering power, seen in action in the resurrection of Jesus, is on offer to all those who ask for it in order thereby to work for the gospel in the world (Ephesians 1:15-23). The idea of reading a book in order to be energized for the task of mission is not a distraction, but flows directly from the fact that we humans are made in God’s image, and that, as we hear his word and obey his call, we are able to live out our calling to reflect the creator into his world.”

Your nickel is nearly spent, and N. T. has barely been introduced (my Kindle tells me 18%). Along with more from him, Lord willing, Iain Provan (another nickel please) slates a new forty-five in the juke for future offerings.

To cinch what’s been covered, I consider a series of questions centering on, “How do I read the Bible?” Do I pluck a verse from one of Paul’s letters or Jeremiah’s heeding to firm up my own presuppositions? Do I take the time to evaluate how each verse is meant to find its place in the story? Do I recognize the value of this ancient story of God’s Kingdom making its way into the world and finding its climax in Jesus? My song has been sung. Yours though is very welcome.

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About mtsweat

Seeking the rest that is only promised and found in Christ Jesus, along with my treasured wife of more than twenty-five years, we seek to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, walk with the Holy Spirit as He moves our hearts, loving others always as Jesus loves us, and carry the news of His glory, the wonderful gospel, that gives light and life where there once was only darkness.
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2 Responses to Does Your Book Tote a Badge?

  1. Jim says:

    Nice post MT!

    “the author offers the reader some clarification of what the Bible does not claim to be, such as, “A list of rules to live by, even though it contains many commandments. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course it declares great truths about God, the world, and ourselves.””

    Those of us in the Western Church like to have things all tidied up for us. Don’t we? The evidence of this is our vast number of Systematic Theology books. I have 12 on my library shelf as I write this! TWELVE! But God is not a theologian, and the Bible really isn’t a “compendium of true doctrines.”

    When I began to read the writings of the Eastern Church, the first thing I noticed is that they understand the Bible in this way. They don’t tidy everything up into slightly messy systo books like we do. They allow for the mystery of God to remain just that.

    • mtsweat says:

      That’s a large library of ST to digest! Admittedly, I too house more than a few. That is interesting you pick up on Wright’s introductory thoughts as seemingly Eastern-ish, with his Anglican background and all. I also was surprised by many of the Pre-Reformed stances on the Word of God. I’m a mere chapter into the book, so it would be speculative to say where Wright takes this, but there are a growing number of influential writers taking a second glance at how we read our Bibles. The book has wrongly, according to this author and others, become one that we flippantly open and read a snipped text with no consideration of how that snippet is meant to be a part of a told story. This might explain, as you have noted in recent posts, the misinterpretations leading to another faction putting up a church building on another corner right regularly. Thanks Jim.

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