Now 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.