This book came recommended to me by one of our members at Ashworth Road. Jason had finished the first edition, published under the title, The Last Word, and encouraged me to pick it up. Scripture and the Authority of God is the 2nd edition of that original title by N.T. Wright.
Scripture and the Authority of God is not a book about hermeneutics, but rather Wright’s suggestion as to how we should approach reading the Bible in our modern culture. Certainly the Bible is a hot button among evangelicals today, who often resort to using the Bible for the purpose of proof texting their own traditions and values. While many concur that the Bible is an authoritative document, opinions vary as to what kind of authority that conveys. What are the limits or extents of that authority? And what role does the Holy Spirit play in relationship to this authority? With those concerns in hand, Wright presents a balanced approach to the challenge.
Wright devotes the first chapters of the book to a historical survey of how the Scriptures have been handled since the Old Testament. The author reminds the reader that not all generations through history have treated the Scriptures the way we presently treat them. Does the manner in which the Bible has been read in history inform us in any way as to how we should read the Bible today? That, in part, is Wright’s point.
So what purpose does the Bible serve in history and our present day? According to Wright, to understand the purpose of the Scripture we have to think macro and not micro. The Bible was written to bear the gospel of Jesus and to serve as the missional document of the Church. The story of the Bible is chiefly the account of God’s involvement in human history and His redemptive plan that is unveiled through Jesus Christ. As the church emerges in the first century, she becomes the standard bearer, proclaiming the gospel to the farthest reaches of the world. We live to day as a continuance of the plot that was inaugurated through the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost.
How then shall we read the Bible? Wright proposes five ways that will assist and empower us to read the Bible in today’s culture. The list is provided as follows:
1. A totally contextual reading of Scripture.
Meaning, we must renew our commitment to understanding the words of Scripture in their proper contexts, including the verses, chapters, and books of the Bible, and past that into the historical and cultural settings. The words of the Bible meant something then as well as now.
2. A liturgical grounded reading of Scripture.
In other words, Scripture must be read in community. In the first century, public reading of Scripture may have been the only way that people heard the Scripture. Bible reading was not primarily an individual exercise. First and foremost came community. With this being said, Wright presents a powerful argument for the systematic reading of the Bible in corporate worship today.
3. A privately studied reading of Scripture.
While the primary hearing of Scripture may be conducted through the worship of the people, private reading and study is to be encouraged. Private Bible reading is both the privilege and responsibility of each Christian.
4. A reading of Scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship.
Wright views scholarship as “a great gift of God to the church, aiding it in its task of going ever deeper into the meaning of Scripture and so being refreshed and energized for the tasks to which we are called in and for the world (134-135).”
5. A reading of Scripture taught by the church’s accredited leaders.
Years ago the pastoral leaders of congregations had “studies,” whereas today they have “offices.” This significant shift over the past four decades has impacted the church. Wright recognizes that pastoral leaders have to deal with the management and operation of congregational ministry, however, the preaching and teaching of Scripture remains the heart of ministry.
Scripture and the Authority of God is a simple, yet helpful treatment of how to read the Bible in the 21st century. I recommend this book to you, especially if you’re weary of petty arguments about biblical interpretation over things that, by and large, just don’t matter.