Chapter 5: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today

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The First Sixteen Centuries… you know, before the Protestants took to reading the bible. Well, that’s my first thought anyway. I don’t, however, think that Wright has an anti-Catholic strain but we’ll see.

He makes a good point at the start that Scripture was present, in sermons and the such, as served as the refugee against heretical attacks. Further, it allowed the Church, according to Wright, to remain renewed-Jewish devoted to Christ even if the majority of Jews refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. This is a quandary, no doubt, bore out in other studies on the Parting of the Ways. I mean, this is no doubt why the New Testament books were held on too so closely, becuase they validated their faith in the Old Testament. And better, why some were held on to while others were discarded. In these early pages of this chapter, Wright is battling neo-Protestants (those aghast that the early Church knew what it was doing with the canon) as well as those who see the Church as the source of the Canon. At least he pulls no punches. For Wright, it seems, there is the sense that the Canon is still a Jewish concept because the canon set(tle)s the narrative. Thomas, not a narrative and thus not political to the Romans. The Gospels? Meta-narrative and thus political to the Romans.

It was after this early time, Wright notes, when the “Israel dimension” was lost, that the narrative authority, which is where the authority of Scripture seems to actually lie, was flattened into a “rule book” and a devotional series. We often see that today, in which Scripture is turned to only for dogma and to make us feel good. Seems Wright didn’t take too kindly to this, and indeed, history shows us that when we made Scripture a flat document, it left us with lasting problems. He points to allegory, Origen and others, as a symptom of the flatness sickness. He notes that this constant reinterpretation of Scripture (here, my mind goes to the eschatological claims often made on Revelation) defeats the idea of Scriptural authority. He takes to task, again, those who, like the allegorists, take the Bible as a revelation bank, where things are stored, to be pieced out at a later date. This idea of ‘special revelation.’ (Admittedly, different than how others use that word.) He says that Scripture is to be read in the “rule of faith.” Umm… But, he is correct that throughout our history, theologians and others have sought to prove from Scripture rather than to have Scripture transform. Pish posh with allegory.

Wright arrives at Tradition on page 71, examining Aquinas first and others later. I think that everyone can just about agree with Aquinas on Tradition, but not so much with the others. By that, I mean Wright’s paraphrasing of Aquinas in that Tradition is what has been said by the Church. He moves on to examine the Reformation motto, sola scriptura, giving a different nuance, and one of the idea that Scripture contained what was sufficient for salvation. I am reminded through this section of the current evangelical focus on Justification as the saving doctrine one must hold too, which parallels the Protestant fight against enforced dogmas. He credits the Reformers for rescuing the literal sense of Scripture, which he cautions readers is not the plain sense, something he is against (see 79-80). I think that this literal sense was needed to combat a few of the more allegorical moves in doctrine at that time. They sought, according to Wright, to get to the actual meaning of the words. Granted, what they actual meant has moved from a mere lexical-graphical notion to context and the such, but the idea is the same. He again turns to the idea of ‘authority’ noting that both the Reformers and the Catholics that stayed loyal to Rome saw authority in their medieval mindset, as a legal issue. This, no doubt, contributed to the need for the literal sense. But, as Wright is often chided for, he notes that the Reformers weren’t perfect and didn’t quite get everything right. Aghast! They missed the narrative of Scripture is trying to pick and choose doctrines out of it. It’s like they had a lot of pieces but never saw the puzzle. They still views the Scriptures as something to be parsed. He critiques their conclusions, but not their methods.

He ends this compressed history on Christian usage of Scripture with a short work on Richard Hooker. Hooker believed in human reason as a way to anchor the Church to Scripture. This is not about arguing for or with Hooker, but I can see in Hooker some Wesleyan notions of Reason. Or rather, in Wright’s views on Hooker. The idea of Reason in Scripture is important, I think, but we’ll get to that later.

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