Takeaway: I do not know any book that takes the reading, study and importance of scripture more seriously than this book.
I am a fan of NT Wright. Primarily because I so strongly appreciate his pastoral heart for the church and his desire to serve the church. He can be a controversial figure, in part because of that pastoral heart. He created another dust up last week because of an editorial about the US and Osama bin Laden. And I have heard more than a few people complain that Wright needs to focus on scripture, where he has few peers and leave all other areas of social involvement alone. However, the entire point of much of Wright’s writing and speaking is to help people put into practice the living of their lives as Christians. You may disagree with him over politics or theology, but it is clear that his positions are based on his understanding of scripture and he thinks and acts deeply based not on political maneuvers, but on his understanding of scripture.
The basic thesis of this book is that the authority of scripture is completely dependent on the authority of God. So there is no separate authority of scripture apart from God. This seems fairly uncontroversial, but it is important. The book opens with a fairly long discussion about how we currently understand scripture. This necessarily involves a discussion of the enlightenment, modernism, post-modernism and a variety of other subjects. It is not a wasted discussion and while it may be a little repetitive for people that are fairly conversent with Wright and with his line of thinking, it really cannot be skipped.
The next section is a long discussion of what it means for scripture to have authority and then how we should and should not read scripture. This center section is really the meat of the book. This is the section where I was most impressed and most convicted that the Evangelical world in general, and I in specific, do not spend enough time or effort in scripture itself. Evangelicals like to talk about scripture and we often read it, but we do not often really study and allow scripture to change us. Wright believes that while personal reading of scripture is very important, scripture needs to be the center of our corporate worship. I know my church, and many Evangelical churches, no longer have focused scripture reading. The sermons attempt to be scripture explication, but extended readings of scripture (more than 90 seconds) are just not a part of the average worship service.
The last section is entirely new to this edition of the book. Wright takes Sabbath and the idea of monogamy within marriage as models to help the reader learn how to appropriately read scripture and submit to its authority. He is not asking you to come to complete agreement with his results, but rather to give you a model. This is fairly similar to the final section of Scot McKnight‘s book the Blue Parakeet, but I think this was done better.
Overall, this is a book that I think that many should read. It moves far beyond the discussion of ‘literal reading’ of scripture or how we should talk about inspiration. And it does it in a way that is patient and graceful to all sides.
I want to address NT Wright to those that may not have read him before and have been warned away from him. The central dispute between NT Wright and the vast majority of his critics is that NT Wright believes the primary purpose of God’s role in the world is to ‘make the world aright.’ God, through the work of Jesus Christ, and the further work of the church since Christ, is redeeming the world to its original purpose. Christ brought about the ability for individual salvation, but individual salvation was not the entire purpose, but the means to bring the whole of creation back to its original purpose. Most of NT Wright’s critics think that that order should be reversed. The purpose of Jesus Christ death and resurection was the redemption of individuals and any restoration of creation is a byproduct of a group of redeemed people. These two different ways of looking at the meta-narrative of the salvation story have widely different implications to how you read scripture and how the church as a whole acts in the world.
Personally, I think both sides are right (and honestly, I think Wright does as well, but he is trying to counter an individualistic and heaven focused Christianity). It is the separation of the parts of Christianity that is the problem and that we need to work in the tension of focusing on individuals that need to be saved, while understanding that all of our work is but a small part in the redemption of the entire world.