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Scripture and the Authority of God

In Scripture and the Authority of God, N. T. Wright argues for the authority of Scripture which “is really a shorthand for ‘the authority of God exercised through scripture’; and God’s authority is not merely his right to control and order the church, but his sovereign power, exercised in and through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to his judging and healing rule.”

Scripture and the Authority of God is a timely read for anyone seeking to understand the authority of Scripture as it relates to culture, history, tradition, reason and experience. To spike your curiosity, here are some quotable gems:

Reading and studying scripture has been seen as central to how we are to grow in the love of God; how we come to understand God and his truth more fully; and how we can develop the moral muscle to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus even when everything seems to be pulling the other way.

The authority of scripture … can only have any Christian meaning if we are referring to scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses, and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and Son of God, the Emmanuel.

It is enormously important that we see the role of scripture not simply as being to provide true information about, or even an accurate running commentary upon, the work of God in salvation and new creation, but as taking an active part within that ongoing purpose.

Scripture is there to be a means of God’s action in and through us – which will include, but go far beyond, the mere conveying of information.

I cannot conceive of daily communion with God without scripture at its centre.

Authority, particularly when we locate it within the notion of God’s kingdom … is the sovereign rule of God sweeping through creation to judge and to heal. It is the powerful love of God in Jesus Christ, putting sin to death and launching new creation. It is the fresh, bracing and energizing wind of the Spirit.

Because all human beings including devout Christians are prey to serious and multi-layered self-deception, including in their traditions and their reasoning, that ‘authority’ is needed in the first place.

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, where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.

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.

‘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.

The Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the overall drama and what is appropriate within each act.

It is vital that we understand scripture, and our relation to it, in terms of some kind of overarching narrative which makes sense of the texts. We cannot reduce scripture to a set of ‘timeless truths’ on the one hand, or to being merely the fuel for devotions on the other, without being deeply disloyal, at a structural level, to scripture itself.

We must be committed to a totally contextual reading of scripture. Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its own chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural and indeed canonical setting.

It is not simply the Bible’s context that we must understand … it is equally important that we understand and appreciate our own, and the way it predisposes us to highlight some things in the Bible and quietly ignore others.

A contextual reading is in fact an incarnational reading of scripture, paying attention to the full humanity both of the text and of its reader.

The various crises in the Western church of our day – decline in numbers and resources, moral dilemmas, internal division, failure to present the gospel coherently to a new generation – all these and more should drive us to pray for scripture to be given its head once more, for teachers and preachers who can open the Bible in the power of the Spirit, to give the church the energy and direction it needs for its mission and renew it in its love for God; and above all, for God’s word to do its work in the world.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5