Review: Scripture and the Authority of God by N. T. Wright
In N. T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God, Wright argues that God’s authority “offer 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” (pp. 115-116). Wright implies by his definition that Scripture is not merely a rule-book or a devotional manual, but is a dynamic, active, living agent through which God is exercising his rule and administering his power to renew all of creation.
According to Wright, the difficulties in modern discussions of the Bible have come from screening out the way Scripture relates to the new creation. In fact, Wright devotes an entire chapter to listing out the various misreadings of Scripture in the modern church. On the whole, those on the right screen out the role of the new creation in the biblical narrative in favor of dualism. On the left, there is a dismissal of much of Scripture’s power. Wright believes that focusing on the role Scripture plays in the renewing of God’s good creation will lead the modern church to a full and dynamic relationship with the Scriptures.
It is within this framework that Wright offers five guidelines for interpreting Scripture. First, the Scriptures must be read in context, meaning they must be understood in light of the historical and literary setting they come from. Second, any reading of Scripture must first be grounded in a corporate, liturgical reading of the text. Third, following its liturgical use, Scripture is then to be read and digested by all Christians in private study. Fourth, good scholarship must be allowed to illumine the Scriptures by helping the church better understand its original context. Fifth, it must be carefully taught by leaders in the church who take seriously the previous four points.
N. T. Wright adds his welcome voice to a discussion of Scripture that has grown weary of the divides between conservatives and liberals and instead points to an understanding of Scripture that sees it as living and active, playing an almost sacramental role in the life of the church. His particular emphasis on the kingdom of God exercised through Scripture serves as a corrective to both liberal and conservative readings that have reduced its role in the world to either one of many ancient texts or a straightforward manual for living.
Wright effectively makes his case through historical, theological, and biblical arguments along with two case studies. The weakness of his book is that he offers very little practical advice on how the church lives out this understanding of Scripture. How might the common reader of Scripture have access to the often technical discussions of scholarship? How can the liturgical use of Scripture communicate this approach to Scripture? What kind of exegetical and hermeneutical process should teachers use in preparing to present a passage of Scripture? While Wright begins to sketch out answers to these questions, the task of applying his principles to the common study of Scripture is left up to the reader.
Wright sketches a new, viable path forward in biblical discussions, but the long, hard work of traveling that path, mapping it out, and making it traversable for others is a task he leaves for pastors, lectionaries, professors, Sunday School teachers, and the prayer closet of ordinary believers to work out. As someone preparing for the ministry, Wright’s thesis forms a great starting point for preparing to utilize the living Word of God in the lives of the people I am called to serve.