N.T. Wright’s book, The Last Word, reminds me of a fireworks show. Through the course of the show, particular bursts evoke “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” from the crowd. But the show usually ends with a crescendo that moves the audience to cheers and applause.
I felt that way as I read the last chapter of The Last Word. I think Wright paves the way for a solid understanding of Scripture’s authority. Following are the opening paragraphs from that chapter:
“We urgently need an integrated view of the dense and complex phrase ‘the authority of scripture.’ Such an integrated view needs to highlight the role of the Spirit as the powerful, transformative agent. It needs to keep as its central focus the goal of God’s Kingdom, inaugurated by Jesus on earth as in heaven and one day to be completed under that same rubric. It must envisage the church as characterized, at the very heart of its life, by prayerful listening to, strenuous wrestling with, humble obedience before, and powerful proclamation of scripture, particularly, in the ministries of its authorized leaders. The following sections constitute suggestions on this theme.
“The whole of my argument so far leads to the following major conclusion: that the shorthand phrase ‘the authority of scripture,’ when unpacked, 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. ‘Reading’ in that last phrase is itself a shorthand for a whole complex of tasks to which we shall return. But the emphasis I want to insist on is that we discover what the shape and the inner life of the church ought to be only when we look first at the church’s mission, and that we discover what the church’s mission is only when we look first at God’s purpose for the entire world, as indicated in, for instance Genesis 1-2, Genesis 12, Isaiah 40-55, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1 and Revelation 21-22. We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.
“This means that ‘the authority of scripture’ is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work in the world on behalf of the gospel, the good news that in Jesus Christ the living God has defeated the powers of evil and begun the work of new creation. It is with the Bible in hand, its head and its heart — not merely with the newspaper and the latest political fashion or scheme — that the church can go to work in the world, confident that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. The wisdom commended in scripture itself (e.g., Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15) suggests that we will not go about this work simply by telling people what the Bible says. In the power and wisdom of the Spirit, we must so understand the priorities of the gospel and the way in which they work to pull down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-6) that we can articulate for ourselves, addressing particular contexts and settings, the challenge of God who loves the world so much that he longs to rescue it from folly, oppression and wickedness. Scripture’s authority is thus seen to best advantage in its formation of the mind of the church, and its stiffening of our resolve, as we work to implement the resurrection of Jesus, and so to anticipate the day when God will make all things new, and justice, joy and peace will triumph (Ephesians 1:3-23).
“Within this, scripture has a more particular role in relation to the gospel’s challenge to individual human beings. The gospel by which individuals come to personal faith, and so to that radical transformation of life spoken of so often in the New Testament, is the personalizing of the larger challenge just mentioned: the call to every child, woman and man to submit in faith to the lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus and so to become, through baptism and membership in the body of Christ, a living, breathing anticipation of the final new creation itself (see Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17).”
N.T. Wright, The Last Word