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Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today Paperback – March 19, 2013
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In Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, Widely respected Bible and Jesus scholar, N. T. Wright gives new life to the old, tattered doctrine of the authority of scripture, delivering a fresh, helpful, and concise statement on the current “battles for the Bible,” and restoring scripture as the primary place to find God’s voice.
In this revised and expanded version of The Last Word, leading biblical scholar N. T. Wright shows how both evangelicals and liberals are guilty of misreading Scripture and reveals a new model for understanding God’s authority and the Bible.
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“The best book of its kind available.” — The Christian Century
“N. T. Wright opens for us a path beyond of the paralyzing polarization of “liberal” and “conservative.” — Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian
“In a fashion that is both old fashioned and new fangled at the same time Bishop Wright takes us through a sane and helpful study of what it means to treat the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Highly Recommended!” — Ben Witherington, author of The Brother of Jesus
“Written by one of the leading Christian thinkers in the world today, this book is a refreshing and accessible resource concerning the perennial question of biblical authority that moves the discussion beyond the liberal-conservative impasse of our times. Highly Recommended.” — John R. Franke, Professor of Theology, Biblical Theological Seminary
“[P]robing, provocative, insightful…This is a book of uncommon wisdom for all who read and love the Bible.” — Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and Executive Editor of Christianity Today
“This wide-ranging whirlwind-tour account of Scripture channeling God’s authority, with its tweaking of distortions back into shape and its first-class approach to Bible study, is masterly throughout.” — J. I Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College
“Wright offers sensible insights on the transforming power of God, very necessary in these times of skepticism and confusion.” — Publishers Weekly
“Scripture and the Authority of God is a fabulous book. With characteristic verve and occasionally pungent grace… Scripture and the Authority of God could be the beginning of a more faithful listening, as well as sustaining more fruitful conversation about the nature of biblical interpretation.” — Books&Culture
“Wright appeals to the reader to take another look at the Bible, not as an isolated phenomenon―a veritable rule book similarly applicable at all times and in all places―but rather as a book better placed within both the contemporary cultural context and as part of a larger tradition of interpretation.” — Explorefaith.org
“Wright is a provocative theologian... there is so much here that you will wish that it were longer-- but its brevity makes for easy reading and it certainly deserves to be read.” — Church of England Newspaper
“The whole book gives further cause for gratitude for God’s gift of Wright to his Church.” — ANVIL
From the Back Cover
"But what does scripture say?”
That question has echoed through a thousand debates in the life of the worldwide church. All churches have officially endorsed strong statements about the centrality of scripture and its authority in their mission, life, doctrine, and discipline. But there is no agreement on what this might mean or how it might work in practice. Individuals and churches struggle with how to respond to issues such as war, homosexuality, and abortion, and especially how to interpret biblical passages that discuss these topics. These disagreements often serve to undermine our confidence in the authority of the Bible.
Bishop and Bible scholar N. T. Wright delivers a new model for how to understand the place of scripture and God’s authority in the midst of religious confusion. Wright gives new life to the old, tattered doctrine of the authority of scripture, delivering a fresh, helpful, and concise statement on how to read the Bible today, restoring scripture as a place to find God’s voice.
In this revised and expanded edition of the previously titled book The Last Word, Wright provides two case studies that delve into what it means to keep Sabbath and how Christians can defend marital monogamy. These studies offer not only bold biblical insights but also showcase Wright’s new model for how to interpret scripture and restore its role as the church’s main resource for teaching and guidance. Removing the baggage that the last 100 years of controversy and confusion have placed on this doctrine, Wright renews our confidence in the Bible and shows how it can once again serve as the living Word of God for our lives.
- Publisher : HarperOne; Revised, Expanded, Reprint edition (March 19, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062212648
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062212641
- Item Weight : 5.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 0.7 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #176,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on October 30, 2016
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Author: N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright other works: N.T. Wright Page
[Disclaimer: I paid for this book with a gift card I received at Christmas 2013. It was a very happy time in my life when I could freely spend at amazon.com. It also prevented me from having to humbly admit that I got the book free in exchange for a fair review. I can be as nasty as I wanna be in this review. :-) ]
No one will ever accuse N.T. Wright of cutting corners when it comes to Scripture. What he does in Scripture and the Authority of God is take his readers on a whirlwind tour of the complex cultural cancers that have affected and distorted the way we read the Scripture. And if I have read this book correctly, Wright is saying that it is far less about the external forces and far more about internal pressures that have, in a sense, ruined the Scripture. To wit: "This strongly suggests that for the Bible to have the effect it seems to be designed to have it will be necessary for the church to hear it as it is, not to chop it up in an effort to make it into something else" (25). To repeat myself, this is akin to saying: it is less the cultured despisers we have to worry about when it comes to Scripture and far much more the prophets, priests, and preachers in the church. And isn't this, if we are honest, the truth?
Throughout the book Wright maintains a singular thought, which he repeats in earnest as often as he can: "...the phrase 'authority of Scripture' can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for 'the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture" (20). The main problem we have in the church is that we tend to ignore context when it comes to Scripture. Preachers are so bent on a particular theological or political system that the entire corpus of Scripture gets forgotten, the story from beginning to end is either ignored or forgotten. In my opinion, N.T.Wright is absolutely prophetic in this regard because he always, I mean always, keeps this overarching metanarrative in mind when spelling out some of the more microcosmic ideas found in Scripture. And no one is safe from his pen: conservative, liberal, right, left, high-church or country-bumpkin. His solution? There is a profound need for 'fresh, Kingdom-oriented, historically rooted exegesis' (112). I have read many of Dr. Wright's books and if anything can be said of his work, perhaps the best thing that can be said is that he is undeniable consistent: the metanarrative never leaves his focus regardless of the topic he is discussing.
This is like telling people who have been doing the same thing for 100 years that they are doing it wrong and need to change to which they would respond, "We have always done it this way." I hear such sentiments in churches, in schools, in business. And again it is hard to argue when the current methods have resulted in the modern phenomenon of the mega-rich, mega-churches. It's a lot easier to use Scripture to make some politically expedient point or some culturally relevant pop-psychological jabberwocky than it is to do the hard work of actually reading Scripture from front to back, and back to front, seeing what it says and then thinking about what it means. I remember sitting in my office one Sunday morning and listening to the women's Sunday school class on the other side of the wall. We had just started a Bible reading campaign designed to take the entire church the entire Bible in 90 days. I distinctly remember hearing one of the women say, "I don't know why we have to do this."
Wright takes his time explaining to his readers the insidious nature of the various cultural developments and church reactions that have so distorted and warped our reading of Scripture. He covers sixteen centuries of warped exegesis in about 20 pages before he moves on to discuss the enlightenment period in a little more than 20 pages. He then demonstrates for us how those on the 'left' and 'right' have used the flawed methods of those previous generations to distort the Scripture for their own purposes. Then, finally, he moves on give us thoughts on how to get back on track. (Yes, there was much more at the beginning of the book, and I'm not overlooking it. It's there and lays an important foundation.) It is here that I find most agreement with Wright based on my own experience as a local church preacher and a well read Christian. This newer version of the book I read also features two 'test cases' at the end of the book--one on the Sabbath and the other on monogamy.
One wonders what the world would look like if preaching was not always a reaction to the goings on in the world or a mere 'how to feel better about life' medicinal word? I'm sure there is a place to address such things, but the best way to do so is found by consistently preaching how God has brought about his grace in the fullness of time in Jesus--his Kingdom where broken people find hope, peace, and love. We cannot ignore the world and what is happening--indeed, it is the world we are to redeem through our witness to Jesus and the preaching of the Gospel! When we keep the metanarrative in mind, not merely as a backdrop, or for illustrative material, or as I saw in a book I recently read, a place for good quotes, but as the sure historical foundation through which God was bringing about his redemptive purposes and preparing the world for Jesus, we can see how God's word is authoritative in the midst of our own cultural upheaval and turmoil and political intrigue. This is precisely the reason Paul writes that God gave us preachers, teachers, apostles--to equip us...then we will no longer be tossed about by the waves of this world (Ephesians 4:1-16).
Whatever else we take away from this book, it is imperative that we read chapter 8 carefully and thoughtfully. This might mean, gasp, that we are going to be confronted individually or collectively with ideas that challenge us, change us, or choke us: "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" (126). It is especially when he talks about five strategies for honoring the authority of Scripture that we ought to pay attention. I say yes to all of them! Contextual reading? Yes! Liturgically grounded reading of Scripture? Yes! I pause here because my own tradition has a nagging history of neglecting the liturgical, contextual, public reading of Scripture. That is, we prefer a bit before communion or a bit before the sermon or a bit before the plate is passed but we have failed greatly when it comes to the type of reading that reminds us of who we are, of the greater story being told, and our place within that narrative. This will not do. I weep for my tradition precisely at this point because we who have prided ourselves for so long as being a 'people of the book' have utterly neglected our historical roots and the reading Scripture in a liturgical fashion: "It also means that in our public worship, in whatever tradition, we need to make sure the reading of Scripture takes a central place" (131). Amen.
I highly recommend Scripture and the Authority of God and it is my hope that when people read this they will begin to hold their leaders accountable. So I have some suggestions myself of how churches can hold leaders accountable.
First, change your worship. That is, drop a song or two or three in order to create space for the unfiltered reading of the Scripture. This is what Ezra did (Nehemiah 8); this is what Jesus did (Luke 4); and this is what Paul told Timothy he was to do (1 Timothy 4:13). There is just as much worship in hearing the Scripture simply read as there is in singing and dancing (Revelation 1:3).
Second, insist that your preacher have ample time and resources to study the Scripture. Demand less of him in areas where others can serve competently (Acts 6:1-7) so that his/her time in the Scripture is undiluted and undisturbed (2 Timothy 2:14-15). You want the church to grow? Count on the one thing in Scripture that God said would provide growth: Isaiah 55:10-12.
Third, engage your congregation in consistent reading of the entire Bible. Interesting that one of the commands the king was to obey was that he was to write for himself a copy of the law (Deuteronomy 17:18-19) and have it with him all the days of his life. The congregation should do the same, always reading and studying and learning because when we are in Scripture we are bound to see Jesus (Luke 24:25-27, 44). Keep this metanarrative in mind at all times when reading, studying, and preaching.
Surely there are things I could add to this list, but for now it will do. If churches could get motivated again to take the Scripture seriously, as Wright is ultimately suggesting, we might see the sort of revival take place in our churches. I say this especially to those among my own tradition who have, for far too long, neglected Scripture in favor of methodology.
Put simply, this book will revolutionize the way you read the Bible! Most of us actually misread the Bible in a number of ways, to the impoverishment of our souls and of God's Kingdom. "Scripture and Authority" is a wonderful antidote to poor readings of Scripture and moves well beyond the typical, tired debates over the authority of Scripture. Read meditatively, it will assist the Bible in changing your life and the way you see God and His divine purposes.
Wright's thesis, though hard to summarize, is best captured in this most important sentence in the entire work: "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 Christ himself, and now to be implemented by the Spirit-led life of the Church precisely as the Scripture-reading community." The rest of the book may be seen as an explanation of this definition which, unfortunately, doesn't show up until Chapter 8.
If you care about reading the Bible more carefully and faithfully, then I highly encourage you to read this book and digest it!
In the Prologue, Wright situates the Bible within 5 contexts, demonstrating the difficulty of any naked appeal to the Bible without any context. While often such an approach is a disguise for denigrating the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, it's good to know that Wright is solidly orthodox and makes use of such contexts because he believes them necessary in order to read the Bible well today. These contexts are: Scripture and Culture, Scripture and Politics, Scripture and Philosophy, Scripture and Theology, and Scripture and Ethics. In the Prologue Wright also draw attention to 3 key underlying questions in discussions of Scripture today:
1. In what sense is the Bible authoritative in the first place?
2. How can the Bible be appropriately understood and interpreted?
3. How can its authority, assuming such appropriate interpretation, be brought to bear on the church itself, let alone on the world?
Throughout the book, Wright is asking us to put aside simplistic understandings of Scripture, either on the liberal or fundamentalist side of things, and to address these 3 crucial questions with faith, intelligence, and integrity.
One of the most important things that Wright says (it would be worth the price of the book if everyone reading it understood this one thing) is that "Authority of Scripture" is a shorthand for "God's Authority Exercised through Scripture." Scripture's authority is a derivative or delegated authority, for all authority truly belongs to God. This mediated authority is different than we often assume. How, for example, can "story," which comprises large parts of the Bible, be authoritative? Ultimately, Wright sees Scripture as God's unfinished story in which we are to act out the final scene, which requires an active participation and not a passive reception of the Word of God, which is all too common among Christians. Wright goes further and says that the Bible is more than just revelation or repository of truths and more than just a devotional aid.
In Chapter 2, Wright relates the Scriptures to God's Kingdom-People, the Church. This is a much needed concept since modern Christians so often read the Scriptures apart from the Church and out of the context of God's people in which the Scriptures were written, interpreted, and lived out. The Scriptures are nothing less, therefore, than the place where and the means by which the people of God discover again and again who God is and how His Kingdom-purposes are being taken forward. Israel and the Church are, therefore, fundamentally a "Scripture-hearing people."
So how does Jesus relate to Scripture? He accomplishes that to which Scripture pointed. Likewise, the Apostolic preaching of the Word in the New Testament is told as "The Jesus-Story Fulfilling the Old Testament Scripture Story." The Word of God in the New Testament becomes the vehicle by which the Holy Spirit exerts His authority over God' people.
Over the centuries, however, God's people began to believe in a distorted view of the Scriptures, which was originally to be seen as "God at work powerfully through Scripture to bring about the Kingdom, by calling and shaping a new covenant people and equipping its leaders to be teachers and preachers." This devolved into the understanding of Scripture as a divine rule book to be referred to or as a resource for private devotions, both useful but very inadequate and distorted views of Scripture.
In Chapter 6, Wright addresses a series of misreadings of the Bible, beginning with the allegorical method of Origen and the medieval Church. But even the Reformers lost sight of the grand narrative of the Scriptures at times and the revelation of God's Kingdom and purposes. He is most forceful when he deals with Enlightenment rationalistic readings of the Scripture. He's right to point out that Enlightenment thinkers had an alternative eschatology, a new view of evil, and of man - views which undermined the authority of Scripture. Wright continues by showing the impotence of the deconstructionist readings of postmodernism.
In Chapter 7, Wright spends an entire chapter continuing the theme of "misreadings" of the Scriptures. In Chapter 8, Wright offers what may be the most important sentence in the entire 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 Christ himself, and now to be implemented by the Spirit-led life of the Church precisely as the Scripture-reading community." That's a mouthful, but in this careful definition Wright preserves an equal emphasis on the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the cosmos. It's a definition meditating on, which is exactly what Wright's book does. Most understandings of the Scripture do not get this balance right and have a much more impoverished view of the authority of Scripture, and for this reason alone "Scripture and Authority" is worth reading. For Wright, the Scriptures ultimately only have authority as they are lived out by God's people in God's Kingdom.
In the end, Wright calls us to a fully contextual reading of the Scripture, including the proper use of tradition and reason. He likens our reading of Scripture as the fifth and final act in a play. Act I is Genesis 1-2; Act II is Genesis 3-11; Act III is the remainder of the Old Testament; Act IV is the decisive and climactic act, which is the story of Jesus; and Act V is the Creator's redemptive drama being lived out in us through the Scriptures and the Church by the Spirit in the midst of a cosmos God is redeeming.
Wright's strategies for honoring the authority of the Scriptures are also wonderful and worth the price of the book. They are:
1. A total contextual reading of the Scripture
2. A liturgically grounded reading of Scripture
3. A privately studied reading of Scripture
5. A reading of Scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship
6. A reading of Scripture taught by the Church's accredited leaders
If only Christians would heed all that Wright says, we would honor the authority of Scripture more and act as more faithful ministers in God's Kingdom and players in His cosmic drama!
Wright concludes by applying his understanding of the authority of Scripture to 2 test cases: the Sabbath and monogamy.
Wright tackles his material in 9 chapters and a Prologue:
1. By Whose Authority?
2. Israel and God's Kingdom-People
3. Scripture and Jesus
4. The "Word of God" in the Apostolic Church
5. The First Sixteen Centuries
6. The Challenge of The Englightenment
7. Misreadings of Scripture
8. Case Study: The Sabbath
9. Case Study: Monogamy
Top reviews from other countries
It is one of those 'get you started' volumes that addresses the arguments over a Christian viewpoint - in this case, that scriptural authority is in reality God's authority, so we must see scripture as God's viewpoint and neither the views of ancient nor modern theologians can be treated as conclusive. Tom Wright has the happy knack of explaining his argument succinctly and clearly, backing it up with scriptural and authoritative quotes, with references to larger works for the compulsive skeptic and ending with study suggestions for the compulsive student. What often pleases and surprises me is the sudden re-interpretations of familiar passages (which his own bible translation clarifies) in the light both of ancient and forgotten practice, and of modern scholarship and research of the texts and the ancient world and languages; all backed up by solid scholarship. The language is Wright's best layman's 'Tom' style rather than the deep 'N.T.' of his larger studies; nevertheless, you will need to learn a few new words ('eschatology', 'Sabbatarian' and so on) if you have no grounding in religious studies - a worthwhile investment of your time.
If you are looking for a brief exposition on why scripture must be taken seriously but not dogmatically, with the strength of the very finest scholarship and copious help to look further if you wish - then this is just the book to leave you satisfied. If you plan to delve more deeply, then this will get you started and show you where to go next. The two monologues of the second edition's case studies deeply but briefly explain his views on the Christian Sabbath and on monogamy for all of society, and leave you wishing for more like them. That has now been provided, though, in his publication last year of "Surprised By Scripture", containing a dozen more such little studies.
Following in some famous (and infamous) footsteps, Tom Wright has spent seven years away from academia as Bishop of Durham; this book was his first major publication in that post (used for prominent academics or those destined for higher office, like his successor Justin Welby) and led both to lecture tours and local work like his series of Lenten Readings. Now back in his studies, and with his two major series on the New Testament completed, we look forward to his wider experiences bringing us more exquisite little books like this one, explaining and resolving problems in scriptural interpretation and in the Church and its denominational controversies. As this book shows, he does it so well, striking a balance between exposition and explanation and drawing together the disparate readings of scriptural authority over the last few centuries and the movements that they generated.
Thoroughly recommended, so why only 4 stars? It's a little dry compared to most of Wright's and others' popular books, and I do miss the humour he often uses to entertain us. Then, I suppose, it's a serious topic.
The book is full of trenchant yet gracious criticisms of many traditional views of scripture; and these are so wide-ranging that they include the literalism of modern fundamentalism, the prescriptive tendencies of the Reformation, medieval scholasticism, Gnostic inclinations and heresies, and many more. But Wright is never scornful in tone or substance, for he sees these flaws as originating in the church's continual desire to apply the truth of the Gospel during specific periods, and along the way, its desire to refute error.
For this reader, the most revelatory sections were those which showed how the early church viewed the Old Testament, and how the Protestant tendency to polarise the distinction between Law (OT) and Grace (NT) diminishes the fact that the Apostles and the early church were animated by the conviction that Jesus was the culmination of all that the OT Scriptures had promised and towards which they had been pointing. So the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the culminating events, and He is in person the culmination, of all that had gone before. But this is not a boundary that closes off -- the church as a community is intended to continue that work forward to the ultimate reconciliation that the Kingdom of God will bring about, even as the church continually remembers the events of its Lord's life, death and resurrection.
Ultimately, this is profoundly practical book, which helps one understand why passages that modern readers might find difficult (such as some of the most demanding or harsh requirements of the Law) fulfilled a function much larger and more transcendent than the modern mind can readily grasp. It therefore applies its ideas to two case studies of equivalent, modern "difficulties" -- the Sabbath and monogamy. The resulting discussion is full of compassion, yet firm in its deep orthodoxy. There is never any question of where Wright stands in these areas; but his practical conclusions are those of someone well aware of human frailty, of the challenges facing Christians in the 21st-century, and of ways in which we might continue proclaiming the restorative power and purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.