Tuesday, July 12, 2011

N.T. Wright's Scripture and the Authority of God

Problems I have with N.T. Wright's Scripture and the Authority of God

Wright insists that the authority of scripture really means God's authority exercised through Scripture without making the case that this is so. It seems to me that the authority of scripture is also related to the authority of the church.

His insistence that there is an overarching narrative which he imposes on the scriptures. I think he treats that narrative in such a way that it rules scripture rather than the other way around.

He treats the New Testament as different from and better than the Old Testament. Although he claims the Old Testament is not "a lesser revelation" (171), he calls the Torah "a temporary dispensation designed to advance a larger project" (188). The Hebrew Scriptures must always, in his method, be interpreted in light of the Christian Scriptures. This, I believe robs the Hebrew Scriptures of their original context and meaning. I don't see Jesus under every rock in the desert or behind every burning bush. While I believe that Jesus gives new meaning to some passages of the Old Testament, I don't think they were written in reference to Jesus.

His interpretation of scripture leaves out marginalized voices in favor of "authorized" (115) or "accredited leaders" (137), although he does include the caveat that authority is not always structural but spiritual.

He restricts biblical interpretation to discovering "what the writers meant" (135), ignoring other forms of interpretation that he does not consider to be "loyal to the Christian community through time and space." Yet, when he actually engages in interpretation in the two Case Study chapters, he does not really inquire into who the authors were or what their perspective might have been; he actually interprets through his overarching narrative.

He dismisses any postmodern critique of the scriptures as something that only "achieves . . . a nihilism in which the only relief is a kind of hermeneutical narcissism, taking one's pleasure with the text and letting the rest of the world go by unnoticed" (99-100). Any feminist interpretation, he says, risks treating the text as wholly untrustworthy.

What I appreciated about the book

The two chapters in which he actually interprets the scriptures were full of interest tidbits, for instance:

The connection of creation with other ancient stories about gods building temples in which the image of the god is placed casts the universe as God's temple in which humanity in placed after having been created in God's image. The sabbath rest is then seen as the time when God goes about "'taking his ease,' taking up residence and being at peace in his new home" (148).

Being with Jesus is an experience in which the social justice aspects of the Jubilee and sabbath are realized. Jesus reveals time and space, the here and now, to be sacramental, "shot through with both memory and anticipation" and, quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, "charged with the grandeur of God" (165).

After he deals with what he deems the inappropriate notion of Sunday as the Christian sabbath, he does ask, "What are you going to do this Sunday that is creative, that brings justice and mercy, that offers healing and hope?" It's hard to fault this perspective, regardless of how he got there.

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