Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review of The Last Word

I'll share my thoughts on The Last Word by N.T. Wright.

A few years back I read a few chapters of another book that attempted to make a case for inspiration and authority of scripture. I found this previous book didn't really look honestly at the real questions. So I was pleased to see N.T. Wright weigh in on this topic. He goes as deep into the question of the authority of scripture as I could hope for. I may have even understood 20% of what N.T. Wright was talking about. :)

(Disclaimer: Since I only claim to understood a fraction of what N.T. Wright is talking about... some of this summary may be more how my mind is sorting out the pieces, and not an accurate reflection of what N.T. Wright was trying to communicate.)

It is a very important topic. As Christians we tend to place a lot of trust in the Bible. If the Bible says something, we usually try to shape our faith and practice to fit.

However the Bible doesn't claim to be the final authority. In fact, as N.T. Wright points out, the Bible seems to claim that God is the final authority (Rom 13:1, John 19:11, Matt 28:18, Phil 2:9-11). And what kind of authority is in God's Kingdom:

When we say or hear the word "authority," we by no means always think of the sort of thing that the Bible has in mind when speaking of the way in which the one true God exercises "authority" over the world. Scripture's own preferred way of referring to such matters, and indeed to the saving rule of Jesus himself, is within the more dynamic concept of God's sovereignty, or Kingdom. It is not, that is, the kind of "authority" which consists solely in a final court of appeal, or a commanding officer giving orders for the day, or a list of rules pinned up on the wall of the cycling club. This emerges clearly in the gospels, where Jesus' "authority" consists both in healing power and in a different kind of teaching, all of which the gospel writers - and Jesus himself - understood as part of the breaking-in of God's Kingdom. "
... (from pages 28 & 29) ...
"The biblical writers live with the tension of believing both that in one sense God has always been sovereign over the world and that in another sense this sovereignty, this saving rule, is something which must break afresh into the world of corruption, decay and death, and the human rebellion, idolatry and sin which are so closely linked with it. "In that day", says the prophet, "YHWH will be king over all the world; he will be one and his name one" (Zechariah 14:9)
OK... point taken. The bible has much to say about God's authority. God is referred to as King, Lord, Father, ...

So what about our scriptures. Should we view them as authoritative? N.T. Wright suggests we need to also understand Jesus role within scripture.

He makes the point that Jesus fulfills the scriptures that were written before him. It is this scripture fulfilling quality that gives meaning to calling him the Word of God. God spoke through scripture to the nation of Israel, and those words of God were fulfilled and came to life in Jesus. He becomes the Word made flesh.
"The work which God had done through scripture in the Old Testament is done by Jesus in his public career, his death and resurrection, and his sending of the Spirit."
The early church continued spreading the message of Jesus, this Word of God.

OK, so where does the Bible fit in?

Well we know the early church recognized that God exercised His authority through the Old Testament writings, as well as the message of Jesus that were being recorded in those days.

So here is where I think it gets a bit complicated for those from a protestant tradition....

A few centuries of early church goes by, and then a group of church leaders form consensus on which early christian writings are to be considered scripture, and which ones are not. We can not ignore the role tradition has played in the forming of what we view as scripture. We can not pretend that God wrote the Bible, and Jesus delivered it in person to the church. Well, you can if you want, but I don't think that is how the early church viewed it.

So to trust that the Bible has authority, we are placing a lot of trust in church tradition. The leaders of the early church are the ones that wrote it. The leaders a few hundred years later put them in a canon. The church leaders since have told us it is God's words to us.

OK, enough with some of the questions.

How should we view Scripture?

There is enough evidence to agree with this:

God's authority is exercised through scripture.

We can see evidence of God exercising His authority through scripture in the stories of the Bible, throughout church history, in the people around us, and in our personal lives.

I also think N.T. Wright makes a valid point that we can't assume we can do justice to understanding scripture on our own:
"The authority of scripture" refers not least to God's work through scripture to reveal Jesus, to speak in life-changing power to the hearts and minds of individuals, and to transform them by the Spirit's healing love. Though this can happen in the supposed "desert island" situation, where an individual reads the Bible all alone, it normally comes about through the work of God's people, from those who translated and published the Bible itself (even on a desert island, one is dependent on others!) to those who, like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, helped others to understand it and apply it to their own lives.

"The authority of scripture" thus makes the sense it does within the work of God's Kingdom, at every level from the cosmic and political through to the personal.
... (p.116)
We can't escape the role others play as we read scripture. We all read scripture through lenses given to us by those in our traditions, and others that have influenced our beliefs.

OK, hopefully some of that made sense to you. If you understood 20% of the 20% of what I understood... sorry. If you want to understand more, I'd encourage you to get a copy to read yourself. It was good for me to try to put together more of my thoughts on this topic. Thanks for reading. :)

What do you think? Is it enough to believe "God's authority is exercised through scripture."?

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Like a Mustard Seed said...

I suppose it would depend greatly on what was meant by the phrase, "God's authority is exercised through scripture"...

In one sense, such a phrase could be used to describe the distinction between elevating the Bible to the place of God Himself, effectively turning God's own words into an impersonal idol... Instead of seeking to have a personal relationship with a living God, it becomes about dissecting the bible as though it were just another static, dead piece of writing. (an error that seems to be not all that uncommon, especially in Christian "academic" circles...)

But then again...

That phrase could be used quite effectively to undermine the truths of the Gospel itself...

If calling the Bible "authoritative" is tantamount to reducing the gospel to nothing more than "a list of rules", then I would stop right there and ask why the word "authoritative" was being pigeon-holed in such a way.

It is quite possible (not just possible, but Biblical!) to define the GOSPEL as "authoritative", even though the gospel of Christ is anything but a list of rules! The "Law" was a massive list of rules, and it's purpose was solely to convict us of sin, to show the need for a sacrifice. The Law, without the cross, is an incomplete gospel (and thus a false one)

But of course, to demonstrate that, you'd have to appeal to the scriptures, wouldn't you...?


Anonymous said...

I think that is a fine summary of how the Bible is authoritative. It matches what the Bible says about itself, and also the Bible's narrative of how God exercises authority through his Word. I believe the Church made a mistake when it adopted the Enlightenment's idea of "truth" as "statements which are un-doubtable." Enlightenment science saw this kind of "truth" in observable phenomena, so the Church said it saw even "better truth" in the sentences of the Bible. But the Bible's own sense of truth is much richer, more personal, more communitarian, more transformative. Great post!

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comments.

I don't claim to have this one figured out. There may be something for just accepting the Bible's authority with simple or even blind faith. I'm not sure.

Like a Mustard Seed, when you say "It is quite possible (not just possible, but Biblical!) to define the GOSPEL as "authoritative".."

Can I ask what you mean by 'GOSPEL'? Are you refering to all of scripture? The person of Jesus? An atonement theory? Good news of Kingdom of God?