(HarperCollins Publishers, 2013)
Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright defines Scripture’s authority as “God at work powerfully through Scripture to bring about the Kingdom, by calling and shaping a new covenant people and equipping its leaders to be teachers and preachers” (65-66). Such a definition allows for one to better understand and read Scripture as a powerful narrative in which God brings about his redemptive purposes for the world.
According to Wright, Scripture should neither be understood as a court appeal or that which is read purely for the purposes of devotional/spiritual experience. Although it is true that the Bible does carry with it ethical teachings and devotion, it would be a great injustice to end there. Scripture is “powerful”, says Wright. The power of the “Word” manifests itself in Jesus, who inaugurated the coming of God’s Kingdom and brought “forgiveness and new life” to “those who heard it in faith and obedience” (49-51).
Wright also sketches out how the early church treated Scripture. Any texts seen as irrelevant within the canon were not merely to be ignored, but rather to be viewed as that which “belonged with earlier parts of the story which had now reached its climax” in Jesus Christ. The understanding of the Old Testament’s relation to the New Testament was that the Old Testament provided the earlier stages of the story that was by no means to be repeated, but built upon.
Wright also gives attention to the ideological developments from the second and third centuries to the Enlightenment. These ideals, no doubt, play a significant role in our reading and understanding of Scripture. It is these modes of thinking that have developed into the modern and postmodern reading of the Bible, neither of which fully represent the correct interpretative method or approach to Scripture. Wright believes that “a narratival and ‘critical realist’ reading of Scripture offers a way forward through the postmodern morass and out the other side” (100).
Here, Wright exposes some of the differences between the liberal and conservative understandings of the Bible. With this dichotomy, alongside the various culturally conditioned readings of Scripture, Wright provides his insight on how to get back to reading and understanding Scripture appropriately.
Finally, Wright provides a five-act, multilayered model for Scripture that proves helpful: “creation, ‘fall’, Israel, Jesus, and the church” (122). We are living in Act five, the church, in which our task is to be in celebration for the New Creation that is here but not yet complete. It is by understanding the Bible with this narratival framework in mind that the authority of Scripture becomes manifest.
In an age where postmodernity has muddied the waters, so to speak, knowing how to approach Scripture faithfully and accurately has become more challenging. However, Wright’s book addresses this issue in a brilliant fashion. Wright effectively articulates the history, culture, and philosophies that influence our reading of Scripture. His outline provides the reader with a firm understanding of the Western background of which the Bible is a product. I see this as an essential aspect for our understanding of Scripture, not that we are able to do away with these influences completely, but that by realizing these presuppositions, we may become more adequate and effective readers of the Bible.
Wright demonstrates that the narrative of Scripture is authoritative, especially in our current day, for it reveals the anticipation for the completion of New Creation—when God makes right the world. God redeems and is still in the process of redeeming this world, and we are called to be a part of it.
As always, Wright outdoes himself in providing the Church with yet another wonderful work. I highly recommend Wright’s book to anyone who wants to better read and interpret the Bible. This book is also beneficial for any Bible study, whether it be with a group at church, or an individual reading. I fully believe that Scripture and the Authority of God is worth anyone’s time.
Tylor Conway is a student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a blogger at https://theologystudio.wordpress.com.