Book Review: Scripture and the Authority of God by N. T. Wright

51KYSRyGB3LNow I know that my “book reports” are more of a recap of what I read, more than a review. I typically read books I know that I will most likely enjoy. So when I do a blog on a book I want to capture the basic idea of the book along with my favorite quotes. I hate when I read a book, like it, and then 3 months latter I can’t remember much about the book. So I like to use blogging as my way to remember my favorite parts of the book. This blog is on one of my favorite authors.

I love reading anything by N.T. Wright. Let me just get that out there right away. He is our modern day C.S. Lewis. He is certainly one of my favorite authors and had contributed a lot to my theology. I enjoyed this book as it explored how we look at Scripture throughout different stages of time all the way up into Post-modernity.

Wright begins by establishing by what authority Scripture ought to speak to us. He states that “When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh.’ . . . scripture itself points – authoritatively, if it does indeed possess authority! – away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ.” (p. 22). Authority is found through the life of Christ of which Scripture points to. Wright continues 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.” (p. 29).

Wright goes on to explain the relationship of Jesus to Scripture. He says that “Jesus was the living embodiment of Israel’s God, the God whose Spirit had inspired the scriptures in the first place. And if he understood his own vocation and identity in terms of scripture, the early church quickly learned to make the equation the other way as well: they read the Old Testament, both its story (including covenant, promise, warning, and so on) and its commands in terms of what they had discovered in Jesus.” (p. 43). So the life of Jesus is the grid in which we go back and interpret all of Scripture. Jesus is the culmination of what all of scripture was leading up to.

Wright then goes into various ways that the church has interpreted scripture throughout history. As he talks about the impact of the Enlightenment, Wright explains that “Much would-be Christian thought (including much would-be ‘biblical’ Christian thought) in the last who hundred years has tacitly conceded these huge claims, turning ‘Kingdom of God’ into ‘the hope for heaven after death’ and treating Jesus’s death, at the most, as the mechanism whereby individual sinners can receive forgiveness and hope for an otherworldly future – leaving the politicians and economists of the Enlightenment to take over the running, and as it turns out the ruining, of the world. (This political agenda, by the way, was of course a vital part of the Enlightenment project: kick ‘God’ upstairs, make religion a matter of private piety, and then you can organize the world to your own advantage.)” (p. 89). We have lost sight of what it means to be kingdom people right here and now in all areas of our lives.

Wright continues in his argument against the effects of the Enlightenment on our interpretation of Scripture by saying that “To affirm ‘the authority of scripture’ is precisely not to say, “We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise any more questions.’ It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions. (p. 92). I fully agree with this in that each generation needs to be responsible in looking at scripture with fresh eyes in how it speaks to us today.

Wright then goes after postmodernity stating that “Postmodernity’s effect on contemporary Western readings of scripture is thus, as with much else in the movement, essentially negative. Postmodernity agrees with modernity in scorning both the eschatological claim of Christianity and its solution to the problem of evil, but without putting any alternative in place. All we can do with the Bible, if postmodernity is left in charge, is to play with such texts as give us pleasure, and issue warnings against those that give pain to ourselves or to others who attract our (usually selective) sympathy. This is where a good deal of the Western church now finds itself.” (p. 98). I would agree also that we need to be aware of how postmodernity affects our thinking for good or ill. We need to be able to look back on how people in the past interpreted scripture in light of the cultural and philosophical influences that would shape how they would think.

After his critiques of how scripture is being interpreted Wright positively says that “Genuine historical scholarship is still the appropriate tool with which to work at discovering more fully what precisely the biblical authors intended to say. We really do have access to the past; granted, we see it through our own eyes, and our eyes are culturally conditioned to notice some things and not others. But they really do notice things, and provided we keep open the conversation with other people who look from other perspectives, we have a real, and not illusory, chance of finding our more or less what really happened. (p. 113). I agree here that it is important to be in dialogue with others that come to the understanding of scripture from different perspectives. This helps to challenge, critique and possibly strengthen our original thoughts on scripture. It is not healthy to be in an echo chamber where everyone agrees with everything you believe Scripture to say. It is through others experiences and other perspectives that we can get a fuller understanding of Scripture and maybe even see things that we did not originally see for ourselves.

Wright points our that “We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be. This means that ‘the authority of scripture’ is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work 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. It is with the Bible in its hand, its head, and its heart – not merely with the newspaper and the latest political fashion or scheme – that the church can go to work in the world, confident that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.” (p. 116). Unfortunately, at this moment in time we as a nation seem to like Caesar over Christ and it is hurting the church in ways we will never fully understand until decades from now. American evangelicalism has gotten infatuated by political power over the mission of the church. My rant is over.

Wright then goes on to explain how we get back on track in that “if we are to be true, at the deepest level, to what scriptural authority really means, we must understand it like this: God is at work, through scripture (in other words, through the Spirit who is at work as people read, study, teach, and preach scripture) to energize, enable, and direct the outgoing mission of the church, genuinely anticipating thereby the time when all things will be made new in Christ. At the same time, God is at work by the same means to order the life of the church, and of individual Christians, to model and embody his project of new creation in their unity and holiness.” (p. 138). I love that Wright sees the project of new creation as our mission right now! It is not our job to just wait until the afterlife. It is our job now to be kingdom people and to live into that right now.

Wright wraps up his book in stating that “The various crises in the Western church of our day – decline in numbers and resources, moral dilemmas, internal division, failure to present the gospel coherently to a new generation – all these and more should drive us to pray for scripture to be given its head once more; for teachers and preachers who can open the Bible in the power of the Spirit, to give the church the energy and direction it needs for its mission and renew it in its love for God; and, above all, for God’s word to do its work in the world.” (p. 141). We must have a high view of scripture and its effect and impact on others when used appropriately.

As I have said before, I love N.T. Wright and I highly encourage everyone to read anything he has written. He is one of the greatest thinkers of our day and age. This book empowered me to see the importance and primacy that scripture should play through my life and through the church. It is important that we wrestle with scripture using our ability to reason, consider what tradition has taught us, and wrestle with other’s experiences to help us better understand it. He wraps up his book by doing two case studies; one on sabbath, and the other on monogamy.



Back to the Future: Youth Ministry Edition

B2TFWhen I was in high school I still remember taking my girlfriend (who is now my wife) to go see a movie at the local mall. All I knew about the movie was that it was a Steven Spielberg movie starring Michael J. Fox. These were two very good reasons to see a movie in 1985. Little did I know what I was in for. It turned out to be one of my favorite ‘80’s movies. The concept of going back in time 30 years to help change the future was a great concept. Of course, Marty McFly was trying to help his parents who were teenagers in 1955. But I often wonder, what would I do if I could go back 20-25 years and find the young version of myself just starting out in ministry. Knowing what I know now, what would I say to the 1990’s Scott just starting out in youth ministry?

First, I would begin by saying, although you have studied youth ministry and biblical studies, and you are super anxious to try out everything you have been studying in college and seminary, learn to appreciate and support your parents of teens! When I first started out in ministry I was slightly resentful towards my parents and adult leaders. I always felt like they thought I was not fully capable of understanding teenagers until I raised my own. I felt slighted by this in that I have spent years studying adolescent development, adolescent psychology, adolescent spirituality, adolescent culture, and a heaping dose of biblical studies. I was proud of the knowledge I had. I believed that I spent more time studying the modern-day teenage experience than most parents have even had teenagers in their own home. A little prideful, I know. But now that I have raised 4 kids of my own, and have had all of them go through their teenage years, I get it now! There is nothing that college can teach you when it comes to parenting your own teens.

Secondly, parents are not your enemies! They can be your greatest allies. Understand that their lives are crazy trying to manage their teenager’s life. Many of them are going through their own issues when it comes to marriage, parenting and work in that any help that they can get would be awesome. Minister to your parents by regularly communicating with them, providing resources to them and using them to help with the ministry. Some of the best youth leaders I have ever had have been parents of teens.

Third, teens’ lives are crazy busy and it is even more crazy as each decade passes. Be careful to put even more pressure on them than they already have. Allow youth group to be a place of rest; an opportunity in their lives where they can take off the masks, let go of their responsibilities and just be themselves for a few hours. In my early years, I was so busy trying to make teenagers even more busy doing church stuff. Now I admit that there is a place and time to get them doing ministry, but they also need downtime just to be themselves. And what better place to do that than in youth group.

Fourth, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE! Do not take things personally and get resentful towards teens or parents if they are not showing up or getting involved in the way you would like them to do. Realize that many times they are trying to figure out life themselves. You may not agree with their decisions or choices but always err on the side of grace and love. Don’t show preferential treatment to your “fan base” and snub the others. Instead, show grace and love to everybody, all the time. Always leave the door open for any and all teenagers to come back and get plugged into the youth group. Go to where the teens are. Go to their games, performances and recitals! Show that you care even if they are not regularly involved in your ministry events.

And finally, BALANCE! Give equal time to all areas of your life. To have the greatest youth ministry of all time is not worth it if your own family is in shambles. Make time for just you and your family. Make time for you personally doing things that you like to do that will recharge you. Make sure you are investing in your marriage. You will see way too many couples divorce when their teenagers go off to college because they stopped making time for themselves and invested all their time into other things. Once the teens left for college then the couple realized they didn’t really have a relationship anymore. If you are in a church that demands 60-90 hours every week then get out. Busy weeks throughout the calendar year are inevitable and always work hard during those times. But it is vital for you to find a church that sees the importance of you and your family development being just as important of a “job” as the ministry you are being hired for. You are going to want your own biological teenagers to love the church. I promise you they will not if they feel like they are ignored because all your time is given to the church and you have no time for them, that is, until they are in your youth group. But by that time, they will be resentful of the church and you have defeated the very thing you would want for your own kids!

Ministry can be tricky. And it can play with your thoughts and emotions. But keep a balanced life and always, always, always be full of grace and love! I wish I could go back in time to convince my young self of these things. Sometimes I wish I could have a do-over. But thankfully God continued to work in me and bring me to this point in my life where I feel proud and honored to be a husband, father and minister to teens!