Chapter 6: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today

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Continuing the internal dialogue with Wright’s excellent book!

The Challenge of the Enlightenment.

Wright begins by quoting Scott Bailey who recently said,

First, everyone you know including yourself values Enlightenment categories and ways of thinking. Every single person in the western world has been inculcated, socialized, and deeply, deeply ingrained into Enlightenment categories of thinking.

Or maybe Scott was just mimicking Wright who notes that we are all in someway connected to the Enlightenment, using the lessons it taught. I note, before reading this chapter, the doctrine of ‘plain reading’ is akin to Enlightenment thinking, because there simply is no room for mystery. But I jab. Let’s see if I am proved right.

In dealing with the effects of the Enlightenment, Wright is not dismissing it  out of hand, but notes some of the abuses and some of the goals of enlightened thinkers who sought to undermine the Bible, an argument we have heard before, especially from Hume, Kant, and Spinoza. Of course, he is correct in that this trend of trying to be ‘neutral’ about biblical claims continues to today, by often very biased people, one way or the other I might add. He does note, however, that like the Reformation, the Enlightenment brought about a more historical focus on Scripture, instead of just accepting it as being read by developed lexical aids, generally developed through centuries of theological reflection. He calls to the stand John Calvin to attest to the fact that the historical sense needs to be restored, especially when those who are disaffected by historical sense wants to abandon it and simply rely upon Church Tradition. So, here, Wright, has a middle ground. I think that he knows that either way, if taken to the extreme, does grave danger to the Scriptures and to the soul. In this, he takes on ‘rationalism’ and what it does in muting the voice of the New Testament. And yes, he doesn’t care much for deconstruction either.

He also comments on the notion which came from the enlightenment that History is Dead, placing this thought process of the ‘in this day and age’ in to a new eschatology, which as Wright states, became a rival for Scripture. After all, we are modern. Everything is new. The Old has passed a way. Superstition had ceased in some way. I think I know a few bloggers who would be interested in this section, but it might endanger them as well, as seeing that the reaction against the enlightened thinkers was the literalistic fundamentalism we see around us today. Both viewpoints, in my opinion, dismiss mystery and favor and all-or-nothing model of interpretation as well as the sin of denying scholarship.

He starts talking about modern biblical scholarship and really takes us to task. I mean, no one is objective? This is an often repeated line, but I’m not sure, in my opinion, that it is impossible to be objective, or rather, at least that’s how I see it. But this allows him to tackle the issue of authority within the confines of the intellectual elite. And he gets it right – people who dismiss scholarship in favor of ‘believing the bible’ do so foolishly. He is correct to point out the many number of resources which lay ministers and non-critically trained pastors use such as lexicons and the such. Or, even, just the translation. All of these things were provided by scholars. For Wright, then, in this context, the authority of Scripture provides for continued Scholarship to make sure nothing is missed. This I can resonate with because I believe that Scripture is inspired, but our interpretations often aren’t.

And finally, on page 92-93 he gets to the connection between the Enlightenment and Fundamentalism which feeds into a section entitled “Literal” and “Non-Literal.” This section is actually a good scolding to both sides.

He spends a lot of time scolding the church in North America, especially for their use of Scripture. Good stuff, but it comes across a little arrogant, until you realize that he is right. He also doesn’t care much for ‘rationalistic Protestants’ who have helped modern biblical studies remain subjective. He also notes that often times “contradictions” imposed upon the text is actually the result of alien worldviews, such as the modernist. Now, this doesn’t mean that Scripture doesn’t have contradictions, but the modernist no doubt sees Scripture as contradicting science and the modern world. He moves later, 97, to pit Postmodernism against modernism. I’m digging it. He also takes on the variety of hermeneutics out there, which he doesn’t seem to take kindly too. He is correct that these various viewpoints help us to move modernism into a more positive role, instead of relying upon Scripture itself. Thus, postmodernity, while it values the power in the text, allows us to recreate the meaning of the text to fit our own ideologue needs. He concludes this section by saying,

Much criticism, both modern and postmodern, has thus left the church, after years of highly funded research in seminaries and colleges, less able to use the Bible in anything like the way which Jesus and the earliest Christians envisaged. (99)

And cites this as the reason for the downfall of the mainline churches. If you have been following along in this chapter, he doesn’t much care for those in the non-mainline either.

This is where he introduces the term “critical realist,” a term which has caught on.

He also takes on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Not John himself, but later interpretations of Wesley’s writings. More specifically, he takes on the motto of “scripture, reason, tradition and experience.” His analogy here is interesting and must be thought over some more.

So, in this chapter, he takes on the atheists, the Baptists and the Methodists.

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