The church’s hold on the Jewish sense of the scriptural story was hard to maintain. N.T. Wright
In an effort to make the purpose of these words personal, allow me the privilege of a couple questions.
“When is the last time you read the Bible, as every book is meant to be read, from cover to cover?” “Have you ever read it in its entirety?” “When you share the gospel, how much of the Old Story do you tell?”
These questions aren’t meant to be convicting or accusatory, merely revealing. In his book, Scripture and the Authority of God, N.T. Wright suggests that much of mainstream Christianity has adopted a notion of scriptural authority that detaches the Bible from its narrative context. The result?
Authority is now isolated from both the gift and the goal of the Kingdom.
The suggestion is that the lack of a completed story, including beginning, middle, and climax, has led to a gradual misunderstanding of biblical authority, deducing the Bible to (1) a mere ‘court of appeal,’ and (2) a ‘lectio divina,’ an effort to disconnect texts from their context and natural meaning, favoring “the practice in which individual readers hear God speaking to them personally, nourishing their own spirituality and devotion.”
In a nutshell (and a very small one I might add; for this is a read many ought partake of, as this small review hardly does justice), the completed story and its authority move us to realize God’s supreme intent and purpose; all that He is doing in and for His creation. “The ‘authority of scripture’ is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work (mission) in the world on behalf of the gospel, the good news that in Jesus Christ the living God has defeated the powers of evil and begun the work of new creation… (remaining) confident that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.”
The significance of keeping scripture intact is massaged out in the author’s description of ‘acts’ (as in a play, but not to be confused with dispensations) that create chapters in the story. We live and work in the fifth act that was inaugurated at Pentecost, preceded by (1) Act 1: Genesis 1-2; (2) Act 2: Genesis 3 – 11; (3) Act 3: Genesis 12 through the coming of the Messiah; (4) Act 4 (The Climax): The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
We who are characters in the fifth act, says Wright, “must be totally committed to telling the story of Jesus both as the climax of Israel’s story and as the foundation of our own.”
From a personal note I can confess to experiencing a less than interested effort in the mission of God (which is the mission the church is called in to) by reading the complete story bit-pieced, labeling it ‘studies for maturing in the faith.’ Personalizing a text may not be the worst thing in the world, but if it distracts from my responsibility as a citizen of the Kingdom, then I need to reconsider if I am misappropriating the Bible’s authority.
If the Bible will be authoritative, which is only shorthand for the authority of God, according to Wright, then its story, which tells us of how God is renewing His creation through His Son, then, I think to where the author is leading us, we seek to learn to once again tell the story in full.
If you care to see how predominant was this method of sharing the gospel for the first Christians, examine how the authors of the New Testament were consistently presenting the good news by beginning with Israel’s story and concluding with Jesus as its climactic apex. It seems hardly fair then to jump straight from a fall in a garden to a crucifixion on a hill, for that story is incomplete, at best reminiscent of “Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after.” Yes, but what about the story in between?