How can the Bible, which is predominantly narrative be authoritative? I mean, there are definitely lists of commandments, rules and exhortations but for the most part the Bible is telling stories making up one major story (overarching narrative). And even the commandments, like “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” appear to be broken by Jesus, who was to follow the Law perfectly. So how can that make sense and how can a story be authoritative in your life or my life?
That’s what N.T. Wright sets out to discuss in his book “Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today” (HarperOne TM, ©2011). You can buy it online or the local B&N has one left. It’s quite profound.
There are ton of books on the market today to instruct you in how to read the Bible. They differ greatly depending on model of interpretation. Yet, even with the plethora of books available I’m convinced one of the American Church’s biggest problems is it’s vast bible illiteracy. There really isn’t an excuse why we don’t know how to read the Bible. This is a subject I am quite passionate about. It’s not because I have totally nailed Bible Interpretation. I believe we will be on a quest to understand the God of the Scriptures our whole lives but, we should still be pursuing an accurate knowledge of him as he has revealed himself through his word.
“‘The authority of Scripture’ is really shorthand for ‘the authority of God exercised through Scripture.” – Wright
Wright’s view of Scripture is stated early in the book.
A fully Christian view of the Bible includes the idea of God’s self-revelation but, by setting it in a larger context, transforms it. Precisely because the God who reveals himself is the world’s lover and judge, rather than it’s absentee landlord, that self-revelation is always to be understood within the category of God’s mission to the world, God’s saving sovereignty let loose through Jesus and the Spirit and aimed at the healing and renewal of all creation.
God’s purpose in revealing himself to us is the healing and renewal of all creation. He is setting things right through Jesus and the Spirit. His mission to the world is accomplished through his people. Wright would say later in the book “the shorthand phrase ‘the authority of scripture,’ when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community” (emphasis his). It’s really quite beautiful how he weaves all of this together.
Wright really has done his homework to help the reader understand what type of frameworks we are reading the Bible through, even when we probably don’t realize it. He works the reader through how Scripture was used in Israel’s history, how Jesus related to Scripture, how the Apostles and early Church viewed Scripture, and how the Reformation and Enlightenment periods have impacted the way a 21st century person may approach Scripture in our western civilizations. No matter what you may think, we all read scripture through some sort of filter. The question is are we reading it through an interpretation model that is actually faithful to Scripture and doesn’t abuse the text?
The Story of Scripture: “We who call ourselves Christians 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.”-Wright
For much of my life I looked at the Old Testament as either God’s laws or stories of courage and faith, or of the failure of God’s people. Wright’s model makes the transition from Old to New Testaments illuminating and exciting!! He traces, while briefly (the book is only 197 pages), the story of Scripture like a 5-act play: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus; (5) the Church (an act that is still playing out). It makes a lot of sense. You will just have to read it for yourself. Even if you come away disagreeing with his model of reading Wright makes one plea with you:
Whether or not one adopts this particular scheme of interpretation, it is vital that we understand scripture, and our relation to it, in terms of some kind of overarching narrative which makes sense of the texts. We cannot reduce scripture to a set of ‘timeless truths’ on the one hand, or to mere fuel for devotion on the other, without being deeply disloyal, at a structural level, to scripture itself.
There is so much more I could say about this helpful book. I highly recommend it to any Christian out there. Wright doesn’t just offer his view of interpretation without giving you examples of how this works. At the end of the book he provides two case studies for his model of Bible interpretation: one on Sabbath and one on Monogamy. Both are extremely helpful.
Finally, let me take one last second to give you word of encouragement regarding N.T. Wright. He is renowned as New Testament Scholar but can get a bad wrap from some in the evangelical world. It’s really a shame. Many evangelicals who don’t like him have never read him. Most that have read him have utmost respect for him even if they don’t agree with everything he says. Wright is respected by many including Tim Keller, John Piper, and others.
Read this book. It’s refreshing. Challenge yourself to understand how others view Scripture. Even if you walk away disagreeing with Wright you will have been sharpened for reading it. Because, like Wright states in his book:
The ‘authority of scripture’ is really a shorthand for ‘the authority of God exercised through Scripture’; and God’s authority is not merely his right to control and order the church, but his sovereign power, exercised in and through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to his judging and healing rule.
That means Scripture is really important. And so is how we read and interpret it. Here’s to more Bible Literacy in our culture.