N.T. Wright’s “The Last Word”

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Here’s an experiment: can I blog through a book that I’m reading while in the midst of a term that will be incredibly busy? I hope so.

I bought N.T. Wright’s The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture at a used bookstore in the summer, but then I lent it to my friend Joel who had it as a required text for a theology class last term. I just got it back from him and I should be able to read through it in a relatively short period of time. I hope to read through it and, if my readers are up for it, blog through and discuss some of the issues raised by the book.

Here’s a beginning: Chapters 1 and 2 contextualize the Bible’s authority within Church history and culture, respectively, via concise sketches. Wright encourages readers who are familiar with the rudiments of both Church history and the zeitgeist to skip over these parts. I read them, but will not repeat their content here. Here’s a great quote to start us off:

We now arrive at the central claim of this book: that the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can only make Christian sense if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised through scripture.’…

…The letter to the Hebrews speaks glowingly of God speaking through scripture in time past, but insists that now, at last, God has spoken through his own son (1.1-2). Since these are themselves ‘scriptural’ statements, that means that scripture itself points authoritatively (if it does indeed possess authority!) away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ…

The familiar phrase, ‘the authority of scripture,’ thus turns out to be more complicated than it might at first sight appear. This hidden complication may perhaps be the reason why some current debates remain so sterile.

Can Wright avoid these hidden complications? Obviously he thinks so, and I’ll see what we think as I continue to blog through this book.

9 thoughts on “N.T. Wright’s “The Last Word”

  1. Interesting. I don’t have anything intelligent to say, but maybe my skepticism about words such as inerrant and infallible, or even authoritative, are simply matters of personal convenience and justification – rejection of those notions makes me feel better for never reading the thing :) Furthermore, debates about the Bible make my head hurt. Even furthermore, people who are uber-sticky on doctrines on Bible authority, namely that it is the ultimate authority, etc., to be interpreted literally, binding on all of one’s life, also make my head hurt :)

  2. Cam:

    Read along with me man! That’ll give us both some extra motivation. (PS: Reply to my email some time this century eh? ;) )

    Tony:

    I share your skepticism, especially about the words “inerrant” and “infallible.” This is one of the things that postmodernity has been helpful in: these are more the products of modernist/Enlightenment philosophy than actual necessary theological categories.

    And I hear you on not reading the thing… I’m hoping that if I can clear out enough of the mess around my thinking in this area, then maybe I’ll pick it up again…

  3. Ohhh…. I look forward to reading this blog-along.

    It reminds me of another blog-along of great interest. A practicing Jewish man, generally ignorant about his faith and about scripture, took it upon himself to read the Bible for the first time, _really_ read it, from beginning to end. And so he does, and blogs on it, honestly, openly, seriously (and rather humourously). His blog demonstrates to us what someone coming to the text without any preconceived notions or perceptions, or whatever, or at least as much as any human being can achieve.

    A good look at what this text we claim to be the foundation of our belief system really says and what’s really in it. I think you can find it here: http://www.slate.com/id/2150150/

    I haven’t read it in a while, I should see how far he’s gotten and what he has to say…

  4. I’m reading it with my husband—although I’m tempted to skip over the parts about the Reformation and the Enlightenment, I love being able to understand scripture in the narrative sense. Scripture understood this say is holistic and healing.

  5. Trav: definitely an interesting perspective on Bible reading. Hopefully I can find the time to read some of it.

    Beyond Words: I also find that reading Scripture in a narrative sense is very appealing. Please weigh in when I get around to posting more on this.

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