Chapter 8: 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!

How to Get Back on Track

So far, I’ve enjoyed Wright’s handling of this topic. It is not as narrowly defined as I had hoped, but over all, it is a great entry into this idea of scriptural authority, something that is all too often tossed around and rejected, or tossed around and abused. He takes a traditional stance which automatically stands against both the Right and the Left. Before I read this chapter, I suspect that he’ll tackle a few of the issues of an imposed self-correction, or perhaps, better, a market correction. The fact is, is that given time, there will be a self-correction, but how many will lose faith before that? How many will be destroyed by bad readings of Scripture? Bad readings will lead to bad applications.

He wants an “integrated view” of the “dense and complex” idea which is the authority of Scripture. I think he is already asking too much of us. The idea that the Church is to be humble, listening, and wrestling is beyond the scope of too many Christians. (I mean, we are still struggling with allowing those who worship different than us to be called Christian.) That’s why we have major splits in the Church today, because we often view Scripture as ours, and only by our way (i.e., dogma, doctrines, practice) is it maintained. Thus, everyone else denies Scripture, and are heretics bound for hell.

But, maybe there is something to Wright’s unpacking of the thought which he says of the phrase, “offers 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.” (115-116). Okay, so why don’t we focus on reuniting the many churches into a Scripture-reading community? Do you know why? Because each community will have a different subjective quality, because Wright already admits that trying to be objective is a fallacy. I’m in a mood this morning I guess, because I find Wright being hopeful and not facing the fact that in our rather wonderful humanity, we deem subjectivity as a wonderful goal, although Wright roundly condemns the hermeneutics produced by it. On the other hand, if we were to accept the catholic Church as a place where Scripture could be read differently without doing violence to the Text or, more especially, to each other, Wright might be correct. And we have to learn how to read and to read what for. Huh? I am almost convinced that in reading it to discover deep theological insights or correct dogmas, we are reading it wrongly. Instead, we should note the thematic elements and, as Wright says, ‘refresh’ our memory to the Narrative of God and Humanity.

Wright says Scripture’s authority is only present when it is used correctly, and that would be to fulfill the Church’s mission. Good. I can agree with that. He notes that the authority isn’t in ‘telling people what the Bible says” but in understanding the Scriptures. It is in formation of mind and community. Ahhh… formation. This makes me think again about reading Scripture in community and in theologizing in the same realm. He discusses this idea of formation for several pages. Okay, I’m hopeful again. Here, Rodney, is the answer to dominionism clearly expressed.

And now, “The Place of Tradition: Living in Dialogue with Previous Readings”

Scary stuff. I’ll admit that there are a few doctrines I am uncomfortable with, but I try to muddle through them when they are spoken of in our liturgy or in reading the early Christian writers. So, Tradition…

He cautions us about being humble and critical to and the Saints, of not making them an “alternative source”. Good, good.

In a previously read work, which was written after this one, Wright took on Chalcedon, but in this one, he calls the Creed of 381 a “not entirely adequate model.” Agreed.

He allows that historical exegesis has a proper place – to straighten out the rough spots of Tradition. For Wright, there is a sense of allowing the Scriptures to remain fresh, because in each generation, through proper tools and more, the proper uses of those tools, the Scriptures are brought to a better light, and Tradition examined. Traditon, to sum, looks backward (positively) while Scripture pushes us forward.

Now, Reason. This is going to be a difficult one, because it calls us to give “attention to” scientific discoveries which “shed light” on Scripture. I have no issue with it because all truth is God’s truth.

Oh boy… a multilayered view. Sounds Alexandrian to me. Yuck. But, it’s not. It calls for understanding distinctions within the text and the uses there of. Okay, I get that. It also calls for the end of “the Bible says” mantra. In other words, that causes no engagement, only silliness, and the Scriptures only have authority when they are engaged. He repeats a notion he brought up in a previous work, a five-act hermeneutic. Sounds great, actually, an no, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

“We cannot reduce scripture to a set of “timeless truths” on the one hand , or to mere fuel for devotion on the other, without being deeply disloyal, at a structural level, to scripture itself. (123)

hahahahahhahahahha – Love it. So very true.

This five-act thing… really grips me. I think… I think it might work if we all tried it. I really like this explanation of it. What a wonderful vision. If for nothing else, this portion of the work is well worth buying the whole.

Strategies for Honoring the Authority of Scripture

Argues for a totally contexted view. Agreed. Completely, and context doesn’t end at the lexicon. But, he also wants to understand our own context. Interesting…

“Read the bible like drinking beer, not like sipping wine.” – anon (130)

He wants it read liturgically. I know that this is going to upset some people, but I’m not sure if our focus on private reading hasn’t done some considerable damage to Protestantism. I think that the corporate reading is first and primary and central and essential and present. Plus, as he points out, the lectionary is connecting the various sections of the bible to be read alongside one another, telling a complete story. I also agree that all three portions of the lectionary should be read in service. Cut Children’s Church!

This book, more and more, is Wright’s love letter to Scripture.

Okay, so he likes private reading, but only second to corporate reading. Okay. Fine. Good.

He also wants Scripture to be refreshed by the “appropriate scholarship.” He wants the text to be driven back to the “literal sense” (not in taking everything literal, but in understanding what the word meant.) Yes, I agree. I agree as well that real biblical scholarship must be free to explore and not hampered by the threatened fires of ideological inquisitions, such as what we have recently seen at Calvin College.

He wants an educated ministry. Accredited is the word he uses. Educated in the sense that they know what they are talking about. You can have degrees on the wall and be as dumb as they come. Why? Because we have forgotten what a leader/minister is – an partaker in God’s mission, and not a bureaucratic counselor and that a part of education and accreditation means to continue to educate yourself. Scriptures need to be taught, not guessed at nor used to destroy God’s work. A leader needs authority, more than legal.

A breathtaking chapter, now to be followed by two case studies, which are additions to the previous published work. I’m not sure I’m going to review the case studies, simply because they are what they are. Except a review shortly.

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