Tom Wright’s newest book, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture, arrived on my desk at just the right time. I posted last week on the authority of Scripture, and asked whether or not “authority” is the best term for our relationship to Scripture. If we love God, is our relationship to God’s Word one of submission to his authority or is it more like an identity-formation? I suggested the latter; not all of you agreed.
Tom’s book is along similar lines, for his purpose is to define what it means to speak of the “authority of Scripture.” Let me briefly summarize what he does in this book.
He begins by defining what “authority of Scripture” means, and then he works this out in various ways: by looking at Kingdom, by seeing how Jesus related to Scripture (as the one who brought it to fulfillment by reliving it), and by examining what “word of God” meant in the apostolic church (the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel). At this point Tom Wright moves into chapters on how the Bible was understood from the 1st to the 16th Centuries, and then one on the Enlightenment, and one on modern-day misreadings of the Bible (well worth the price of the book, but in need of being fleshed out), and then how to get back on track — again, good ideas.
Let’s get back to his understanding of the meaning of the “authority of Scripture” for what he says here is what I was working at in the “identity” post. The expression is shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, excercised somehow through Scripture” (23). There is something important here, for Wright acknowledges that authority is God’s — and derivatively of Scripture. Any time someone equates the two, idolatry occurs.
Furthermore, Wright is keen on showing that this authority of God is God’s authority in working out the Kingdom mission for his people and creation. Scripture, then, is a sub-branch of mission, the Spirit, eschatology, and the Church itself (30). Again, very important.
When Wright comes to sum up his entire argument, on p. 114, he says this:
The authority of Scripture is “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.” Thus, the “authority of Scripture” is put into action in the Church’s missional operations.
Scripture, he says, is more than a record of revelation and was never simply about imparting information — it is God’s word to redeem his people as God works out his plan for the entire created order.
There is lots to say about this fine little book (including constructive proposals on how the Bible is to become authoritative in the Church and the role of Scripture, tradition, and reason and experience), but I thought I’d bring us back to the issue of authority by sketching some of Tom’s ideas.