Wednesday 26 November 2008

N.T. Wright on The Bible and Tomorrow’s World 1

The text of N.T. Wright’s Lambeth Conference 2008 address, ‘The Bible and Tomorrow’s World’, is available here, and is well worth a read.

It has two main sections:

1. Scripture and the authority of God
2. Scripture and the task of the church

Much of this summarises Wright’s earlier-published material on these topics, but is no less valuable for that.

In the first section, Wright argues that Scripture should be seen as ‘the vehicle of God’s authority’, where the authority of Scripture is the authority of God exercised through Scripture. That authority is not primarily that of a handbook for doctrines or ethics, but is related to the kingdom of God. ‘The God of Scripture’, he says, ‘is with us in the world, his world, the world in which he lived and died and rose again in the person of his Son, in which he breathes new life through the person of his Spirit. Scripture is the vehicle of the kingdom-bringing “authority”, in that sense, of this God.’ And then: ‘Basically, I believe that scripture is the book through which the church is enabled to be the church, to be the people of God anticipating his sovereign rule on earth as in heaven…’

How does the Bible function this way? Answer: by being itself, as story. Not merely a story, but the story, from first creation to new creation, providing something like ‘an unfinished play, in which those who belong to Jesus are now called to be the actors, taking forward the drama towards its intended conclusion’. Only by ‘soaking ourselves’ in the drama will we ‘live with and under Scripture’s authority, not simply by knowing which bits to look up on which topics, but by becoming people of this sort, people formed and shaped in our imaginations and intuitions by the overall narrative…’

Wright points out that this helps us understand why the book of Leviticus (for instance) remains a ‘non-negotiable part of that story’ even while ‘it is not the part where we presently live’, as the writer of Hebrews and Paul in Galatians make clear, even while ‘a good many features of the Mosaic law [such as ‘codes of sexual conduct’] are not only retained but enhanced’.

Moreover, the story of the Bible equips us for mission, offering ‘a framework for developing and taking forward a wholistic mission which refuses to split apart full-on evangelism… and full-on kingdom-of-God work’.

This leads Wright to ask how Scripture can form us for ‘mission in tomorrow’s world’, the focus of the second main section of his lecture…


Anonymous said...

Sounds great so far. I'm worried about how far he'd go in his denials (that the Scripture is not PRIMARILY a handbook for doctrine or ethics... mmm yeah...), but I especially like the "soaking yourselves" in the drama bit (although American I've always used the "steeping yourselves" tea analogy myself).

Anonymous said...

I also wonder just how important the things before the ‘but’ really are... Interestingly (though you’ll be the judge of that), I am happier with this relatively short article from Wright than I am with the little book he published a few years ago on the topic (Scripture and the Authority of God), where it is not clear to me whether he finally confuses the authority Scripture has in and of itself by virtue of it being God’s word and the authority of Scripture exercised as the church performs its mission in the world.