Review: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today @harperone

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In what is Tom Wright’s epistolary love letter to the Scriptures, the scholar and Bishop entreats us to handle Scripture more authoritatively, and challenges us in his usual commanding way to remove Scripture from our subjective, modern (i.e., Western) uses and put it back to the position in which it belongs. The thesis of the book deals with the authority of Scripture, a phrase bandied about in a loose fashion today, from the left and the right. His goal is to set Scripture and the perceived authority into the right place, that of the authority of God. Wright masterfully walks the middle road, and rather than being overly polemic casually takes each side to task, revealing where the too-literalists have left the Reformation-era understanding of being ‘literal’ and the too-liberal have left Scripture to be taken as a buffet. It is a new edition of a previous work, The Last Word, with two case studies added on to further explain, in methodological detail how to use Scripture today to handle dogmatic issues.

In eight chapters, 196 pages, Wright is able to succinctly develop a sufficient method of treating Scripture properly, which allows in Tradition but focuses on what Scripture actually says. The idea of authority is an interesting one, as it has developed on the political-laced philosophy of the West. To take, then, modern concepts of authority and power, and apply it to Scripture and what role it should play creates a divide between us and Scripture. This is Wright’s focus, then, to help repair that breach by carefully examining the history of the position of Scripture. He does so first by repairing causing distrust in the rampant modern notion of distrusting authority. One can almost hear him bellowing from the pulpit as he upholds the ancient canon, urging to stop seeing Church History, and the canon(s) of the Church, through the eyes of the cynic. Following that, he takes us through 1600 years of the use of Scripture, from the pre-Apostolic age to the Reformation. In this, he briefly examines (Wright’s brevity holds more information than other’s volumes) the role of Scripture in ancient Israel and more especially, by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. This is of the utmost important to what Wright is trying to do over all, and of course, as one might expect, it revolves around Wright’s theology and biblical studies (i.e., narratives and themes). But as he moves into the use of Scripture in the Apostolic Church and then into the long stretch, until the Enlightenment, one gets the sense that Wright is still and will always be a preacher of the Word of God. His care and his love here for that ancient artifact erupts off the page, and with his story-telling style, one can almost see the Apostles themselves, without the New Testament in hand, preaching authoritatively. And then, finally, in Church History, he moves the restoration of the literal sense by the Reformers, something which many of their children have forgotten or corrupted. In this section, chapter 5, Wright begins to explore what Calvin and others did by seeking to understand Scripture first, by exegeting before theologizing, to the ancient sense, and only then allowing Tradition to assert itself, tamely. There is much more to be explored here, especially given the recent concentration on ‘plain reading’ and Genesis 1, which he barely touches on in one of his case studies.

The final three chapters are going to meet with severe resistance, but they are needed. When he gets to the Enlightenment, is doesn’t spare the rod, but pulls us back from the abyss of what that particular age may lead to. He notes, rightly, that we are all touched by the Enlightenment, and operate daily under those principles. He goes on, then, to note the actually more Enlightenment-minded Fundamentalists, which I am sure will be to their detriment, but the fact is, is that those who regularly hold to a woodenly literal, or plain reading, etc… sense of Scripture operate more fully under Enlightenment principles then they perceive.  This section serves as a way to remind us that there has been a mental break with Christian Tradition and that we can continue to abuse Scripture, or use it. He ends the original work with a chapter directing us back to the ancient precepts. This section on getting back on track will be helpful for this present generation and offers a way to stave off the eventual harsh course correction Christianity as seen several times, when it has drifted one way or another. Wright also shows, in chapter seven, how both sides of the spectrum has abused Scripture, giving a very detailed list, as if the Bishop has been watching us, perhaps checking it twice.

Added to the previous work are two case studies, one on the Sabbath and another on Monogamy. He has specifically chosen these because they aren’t controversial, although he notes that there are fringe elements debating the two topics. The latter is the most informative, but I have to wonder if he has not chosen it in some way to demonstrate a more superior answer, and perhaps get and edge in their rivalry. Regardless, Wright shows how to act out what he has written about in the previous nine chapters, and that is how to use the grand narrative of Scripture to take an issue which is ‘in the bible’ and come to a Scriptural answer. It is not about proof-texting (something he is against), but about finding out where, using Scripture, Reason, and Tradition to reach into the biblical text, the answer belongs in the continuing narrative of Scripture. Both conclusions are settling and satisfying.

Wright’s work is brief, and in a few areas, I wish that there had been more to it, but this was not a catechism on using Scripture, but an entry-level call to stop abusing our narrative. It is a needed study, and would serve well for small groups and for those interested in getting a more biblical grasp on the authority of Scripture.

(You can find the review posted on Amazon as well).

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