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on 20 April 2017
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on 21 June 2017
Tom Wright's book 'Scripture and the Authority of God' is the fun-size version of his much larger 'The New Testament and the People of God.' But most of us won't eat that rich meal, and provided you can put up with its cut-down, written on a Saturday afternoon, would-love-to-linger-but-must-dash breathlessness, there's a fully working framework for thinking about the Bible in these sparse pages.
Evangelicals believe the scripture is authoritative. But how? At one point Moses asks God about what to with someone gathering sticks on the Sabbath. 'Stone him to death' comes the answer. Okay...
Wright points out, first, that Scripture is a story. If you don't think 'authority' can be located within 'story,' look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. It teaches 'Love your neighbour' better than any number of laws, bye-laws, special exceptions and precedents. So scripture exercises its authority largely by setting out a grand narrative and getting us to work out how we fit in it.
Second, it's a story in several phases. Wright suggests five. His five stages are:
Creation (Genesis 1-2);
Fall (Genesis 3-11)
Preparation for Christ (all the Old Testament from Genesis 12 onwards);
Jesus' incarnation and what he did next (the gospels)
The working out of New Creation through the life of the Church (Acts onward.)
It assumes a sixth act, the end/beginning of all things, of which the fifth act, our current age, is just a foreshadowing and catalyst.
Third, it's a story we are in. And we work out our part of the story by engaging with the earlier chapters.
So, roughly Wright's framework for understanding and being shaped by the authority of God through scripture is:
1. Read earlier phases in the light of the final phase
2. Draw on the whole story as we play our part in progressing the story.
This framework explains a lot: the unity of scripture; and the reason for discarding lots of its commands and emphases, such as the ones about stoning sabbath breakers. We discard them because we understand them to have had, and have now finished having, their role in their story. Once you've dug the foundations, you can stop digging foundations and do the next things. You stop digging not because foundations were a bad idea, but because they have done their proper job of providing the necessary base for the next layer. The total-war mindset to preserve tribal identity in the late bronze age is different from the mindset of living out the good of Christ's kingdom today, and you can't simply cut-and-paste from one era to another.
So it isn't that the Old Testament is somehow 'about legal stuff' and the New is somehow 'about mercy stuff', but we read and consider different parts depending on where they fit in the overall story.
As Wright puts it himself at one point: 'one cannot see the Bible 'in the flat,' with something being validated or somehow even ennobled just because it is in the Bible ...
'... But when we approach the question of scripture's authority ... in the light of the whole story and intention of the creator God, dealing with his world step-by-step and eventually dealing decisively with it in and through Jesus Christ, then we discover that the authority of God, as mediated through and in the whole scripture, points to the renewal of creation through Jesus Christ as the key theme of the whole story.' (p 194)
'our task is to discover, through the Spirit and prayer, the appropriate ways of improvising the script between the foundation events and charter [the first phases] ... and the complete coming of the Kingdom [the final future phase] ...once we grasp this framework, other things begin to fall into place.' (p127)
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on 13 September 2015
This popular little book, ten years old this year, is now reissued with minor revisions to reflect recent issues and two useful case studies ("neither is currently a 'buzzing' issue") on the Sabbath and Monogamy, to exemplify how the critical methods explained in the book can be applied in practice.

It is one of those 'get you started' volumes that addresses the arguments over a Christian viewpoint - in this case, that scriptural authority is in reality God's authority, so we must see scripture as God's viewpoint and neither the views of ancient nor modern theologians can be treated as conclusive. Tom Wright has the happy knack of explaining his argument succinctly and clearly, backing it up with scriptural and authoritative quotes, with references to larger works for the compulsive skeptic and ending with study suggestions for the compulsive student. What often pleases and surprises me is the sudden re-interpretations of familiar passages (which his own bible translation clarifies) in the light both of ancient and forgotten practice, and of modern scholarship and research of the texts and the ancient world and languages; all backed up by solid scholarship. The language is Wright's best layman's 'Tom' style rather than the deep 'N.T.' of his larger studies; nevertheless, you will need to learn a few new words ('eschatology', 'Sabbatarian' and so on) if you have no grounding in religious studies - a worthwhile investment of your time.

If you are looking for a brief exposition on why scripture must be taken seriously but not dogmatically, with the strength of the very finest scholarship and copious help to look further if you wish - then this is just the book to leave you satisfied. If you plan to delve more deeply, then this will get you started and show you where to go next. The two monologues of the second edition's case studies deeply but briefly explain his views on the Christian Sabbath and on monogamy for all of society, and leave you wishing for more like them. That has now been provided, though, in his publication last year of "Surprised By Scripture", containing a dozen more such little studies.

Following in some famous (and infamous) footsteps, Tom Wright has spent seven years away from academia as Bishop of Durham; this book was his first major publication in that post (used for prominent academics or those destined for higher office, like his successor Justin Welby) and led both to lecture tours and local work like his series of Lenten Readings. Now back in his studies, and with his two major series on the New Testament completed, we look forward to his wider experiences bringing us more exquisite little books like this one, explaining and resolving problems in scriptural interpretation and in the Church and its denominational controversies. As this book shows, he does it so well, striking a balance between exposition and explanation and drawing together the disparate readings of scriptural authority over the last few centuries and the movements that they generated.

Thoroughly recommended, so why only 4 stars? It's a little dry compared to most of Wright's and others' popular books, and I do miss the humour he often uses to entertain us. Then, I suppose, it's a serious topic.
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on 9 October 2008
This book is a mixed bag as far as I'm concerned. I was helped by much of what was said, puzzled about what was left unsaid.

It an attempt to get `beyond the Bible wars' (from the subtitle of the American edition), Wright (deliberately?) omits any meaningful affirmation and explication of Scripture as the inspired word of God.

Wright defines `inspiration' in the following terms:-

"By his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have."

Well, yes. But in the providence of God something similar could be said of any collection of books. For Wright, divine inspiration seems to imply divine providence, but the real question is whether inspiration implies divine endorsement.

It's OK to list some of the more troublesome misreadings of the `Right' and of the `Left' (78-81). It's helpful to be urged to see our role within the "five acts" of the narrative (creation, fall, Israel, Christ, the church). It's fine to be reminded that our reading of Scripture should be "totally contextual," "liturgically guided, "privately studied," "refreshed by appropriate scholarship," and "taught by the church's accredited leaders" (84-104).

But Wright simply does not discuss the most pressing question about the authority of Scripture. In Scripture, `the Word of God' implies, among other things, divine speech. We need to know, then, in what sense and to what extent the words of the Bible can be regarded as the words of God. On this point, he is unhelpfully silent.
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on 20 September 2016
An outstanding combination of scholarly discipline, showing an attitude to scripture that's full of faith and deep knowledge, and a style of writing that wears deep learning lightly and is easy to read. The ideas are profound, and shed light on the ways in which scripture has served the community of believers across the millennia. Perhaps the most striking aspect of these ideas is the way in which Wright shows how, in successive ages, that community has viewed the relationship with scripture in a dynamic way -- that it has always functioned as a light and a guide to those who desire to live as believing people.

The book is full of trenchant yet gracious criticisms of many traditional views of scripture; and these are so wide-ranging that they include the literalism of modern fundamentalism, the prescriptive tendencies of the Reformation, medieval scholasticism, Gnostic inclinations and heresies, and many more. But Wright is never scornful in tone or substance, for he sees these flaws as originating in the church's continual desire to apply the truth of the Gospel during specific periods, and along the way, its desire to refute error.

For this reader, the most revelatory sections were those which showed how the early church viewed the Old Testament, and how the Protestant tendency to polarise the distinction between Law (OT) and Grace (NT) diminishes the fact that the Apostles and the early church were animated by the conviction that Jesus was the culmination of all that the OT Scriptures had promised and towards which they had been pointing. So the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the culminating events, and He is in person the culmination, of all that had gone before. But this is not a boundary that closes off -- the church as a community is intended to continue that work forward to the ultimate reconciliation that the Kingdom of God will bring about, even as the church continually remembers the events of its Lord's life, death and resurrection.

Ultimately, this is profoundly practical book, which helps one understand why passages that modern readers might find difficult (such as some of the most demanding or harsh requirements of the Law) fulfilled a function much larger and more transcendent than the modern mind can readily grasp. It therefore applies its ideas to two case studies of equivalent, modern "difficulties" -- the Sabbath and monogamy. The resulting discussion is full of compassion, yet firm in its deep orthodoxy. There is never any question of where Wright stands in these areas; but his practical conclusions are those of someone well aware of human frailty, of the challenges facing Christians in the 21st-century, and of ways in which we might continue proclaiming the restorative power and purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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on 5 February 2007
Wright has written at great length about his views on the authority of Scripture, especially in NTPG. You get the impression that when he dedicates the book to Stephen Sykes and Robin Eames, the chairs of two boards Wright sits on, it is more than just a polite nod in their direction. This book seems to be a rapid response to a particular set of issues facing him in his ministry.

As such, it is a brilliant little book. In 100 pages it is never going to resolve the labyrinthine issues that face anyone asking the question "How can the Bible be authoritative" but Wright posts up a few signs in the right direction.

Superb illustrations and turns of phrase abound leaving you very clear as to what the author intends as he steps into a morass of contested terms. It is a superb little book to get one thinking anew on this crucial topic. Accessible to any interested reader. I cannot lay any major faults at its door.
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on 22 October 2014
I endorse the quote on the front cover, 'the best book of its kind available.' For a lay person like myself, Tom Wright gives clear and valuable insight into how to approach the reading of Scripture. There is a very useful section on the misreading of Scripture. The book highlights the importance of Scripture and the need for teachers and preachers to open the Bible to people in the power of the Spirit.
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on 22 March 2014
Tom Wright writes clearly and authoritatively. To quote one of the reviwers,' probing, provacative, insightful, ever reframing old questions and old debates, always inviting holy scripture as a living,dynamic reality'
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on 11 November 2015
Just started to read and seems a helpful book
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on 14 December 2014
Deals with the selected topics in a clear and accessible way. Not for the fainthearted. It's worth reading at a slow pace and reflecting on what you are reading. Worth a second read.
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