I've been renting N. T. Wright's The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (HarperCollins, 2005) from my local library for the last few days. [It starts out as borrowing, but when the book starts collecting fines but you choose to keep it and finish it anyway, then it's a rental.] Wright's discussion is a lot more interesting in light of a post I did last week, "Bible, Church, and Mystic: for those in cells 4 and 5 (Bible-type churches that ascribe transcendent or rational authority to the Bible), explaining how texts actually confer authority is a critical discussion.
I have no long discussion to offer, just a few notes on nice points made by Wright, a conservative scholar and the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England.
- He quickly notes that "authority of scripture" is just Christian shorthand for "the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture" (p. 23). He is very clear about that concept throughout the book.
- His discussion of the problematics of the authority/text nexus is refreshing, but reminds me that the alternative conduits for divine authority — appointed divine spokespersons like priest or prophets, or the experiential and personal divine mystical enlightenment that some individuals feel — likewise have their problematic issues. In other words, the LDS response that authority flows via human priesthood chains rather than being somehow exercised or derived via the biblical text is not as simple as it sounds.
- The author's discussion of Bible, reason, and tradition, the three traditional sources of authority and orthodoxy in the Christian Church, was helpful. Wright reminds the reader that tradition is largely the record of how prior readers and leaders interpreted scripture, and that reason is largely applied to how we should interpret scripture, so in fact all three sources of orthodoxy are actually about how we should read and apply scripture.
- As always, prescription is tricker than analysis and criticism. Wright affirms liturgical reading (in congregations) as well as personal Bible study. Yeah, I wish there was more scripture and less travelogue or personal narrative in LDS sacrament meetings. In the last chapter, he endorses a narrative, contextual reading of scripture, and one that places both church and reader into the grand narrative of past, present, and future conveyed in the Bible as a whole. The LDS term for that context would be what was once called the Plan of Salvation and what is now generally referred to as the Plan of Happiness. Or sometimes the Great Plan of Happiness.
I enjoyed the book. I've got his book on Paul on order through interlibrary loan. I'm hoping to keep that one in borrowing rather than rental status.