N.T. Wright on Biblical Authority...

My friend Bo pointed me toward a great essay on N.T. Wright's website, regarding Biblical Authority. A beautiful (and exhilarating) piece.

Here's an excerpt...

Evangelicals and Biblical Authority
It seems to be that evangelicalism has flirted with, and frequently held long-running love affairs with all of these different methods of using the Bible, all of these attempts to put into practice what turns out to be quite an inarticulate sense that it is somehow the real locus of authority. And that has produced what one can now see in many so-called scriptural churches around the world—not least in North America. It seems to be the case that the more that you insist that you are based on the Bible, the more fissiparous you become; the church splits up into more and more little groups, each thinking that they have got biblical truth right. And in my experience of teaching theological students I find that very often those from a conservative evangelical background opt for one such view as the safe one, the one with which they will privately stick, from which they will criticize the others. Failing that, they lapse into the regrettable (though sometimes comprehensible) attitude of temporary book-learning followed by regained positivism: we will learn for a while the sort of things that the scholars write about, then we shall get back to using the Bible straight. There may be places and times where that approach is the only possible one, but I am quite sure that the Christian world of 1989 is not among them. There is a time to grow up in reading the Bible as in everything else. There is a time to take the doctrine of inspiration seriously. And my contention here is that evangelicalism has usually done no better than those it sometimes attacks in taking inspiration seriously. Methodologically, evangelical handling of scripture has fallen into the same traps as most other movements, even if we have found ways of appearing to extricate ourselves.

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9 comments:

Existential Punk said...

The problem i find with many Evangelicals and fundies, like my old church and my mom, is that they do not read any scholarship outside their own echo chambers i.e. their own 'Biblical scholars' rather than reading the scholars in majority who are rigorous and balanced in their research, like Wright. Just my personal experience. In my fundie days we were never encouraged to read scholarship outside our 'group' b/c it was deemed 'secular, not of G-D, and Satan deceiving us'!

Adele

James said...

You could say the same thing about the mainline protestant denominations. I have not heard very many mainline scholars say wow you gotta check out the new D.A. Carson, I really learned a lot from it. The non fundamentalist/evangelical stream of the church tends to have there own echo chambers that inform their theology. I would like to know which scholars are in the "majority" or which ones are "balanced and rigorous". These words tend to be largely perspectival and are usually code for "the scholars that I agree with." I am all for reading outside your own echo chamber but the same must be applied to the whole spectrum- evangelical and mainline. Because if it is just the mainline telling the evangelicals to read their books, their books are more balanced after all, that is really no different than the evangelicals telling the mainliners to read their books, their books are more biblically based after all.

Peter said...

James, I agree. And let's throw the Roman Catholics in with us - we need them, and they need us!

At a level of personal experience, I still resonate more with Adele because that's what I've seen firsthand. And I think that conservative Evangelicals tend to have a far-less developed historical and theological perspective. One of Wright's assertions is that evangelicals continue (again and again) to think that Scripture can be approached WITHOUT theology - WITHOUT a bias or agenda or interpretive lens. At least the Mainline is (again, in my experience)generally self-aware.

James said...

I resonate with Adele as well having grown up in the machine called evangelicalism. But you can not really call it a less developed historical theological perspective but I think that you can call it different. Most of the conservative scholars that I encounter at Fuller have a just as developed of a perspective it is just a different perspective.

So conservative scholars are not self aware? In many cases the conservative scholars went to the same educational institutions and went through the same rigorous studies they just arrived at very different conclusions. J.I. Packer and N. T. Wright were both trained at Oxford and they both stem from the Anglican Tradition but their theologies are very different.

I love N.T. Wright and the work that he has done I just think that if he applies the same criteria to those that were theologically close to him, the same complaints could be made. All that I am really trying to say is that our criteria for who we read or don't read need to be applied across the board. Because, often if we take the same criteria that we apply to those scholars that we don't like and then apply that standard to those the we like in many cases there will be no scholars left standing.

Peter said...

No no, I don't thing conservative SCHOLARS have less perspective. Scholars are scholars, and a very particular animal.

What I would vehemently argue - again, from LOTS of firsthand experience - is that the average conservative congregants (and their pastors) tend to have less historical perspective and TEND to attempt a view of Scripture and the church that alleges the possibility of objectivity (no bias, no historical context or development).

As a recent transfer from CE to LM (conservative evang. to liberal main.) I continue to be shocked at how MUCH the average congregant knows about church history.

That doesn't mean I think the historical perspective is superior to others. Or that the theology of my church is superior (I won't argue that) but that the perspective is definitely more informed and self-aware.

I agree with you James - if we talk scholars, we're comparing apples to apples. But comparing congregations - the mainline is a very very different animal. Not without flaws, faults, sins and shortcomings, but they are of a different variety.

This trend seems consistent among many of my classmates in seminary. No reflection of intelligence or faith, but historical and theological perspective/awareness seems to run deeper in mainlines.

James said...

I see what you are saying. My statements were responding to Adele and the statement about reading their own "biblical scholars." I can't really speak to the mainline/conservative divide as my frame of reference is very small. All I really know is the Willamette Valley and Pasadena and of those areas I have really only had meaningful exposure to 8 or 9 mainline churches so I will just have to take your word for it.

Peter said...

Cool. But I think there are lots of theologians with relatively conservative outlooks, who do wonderful, thoughtful work.

Stanley Grenz and Dallas Willard immediately come to mind. I've got a bad taste in my mouth from D.A. Carson's "Conversant" emergent book, but I've heard he's generally a pretty serious scholar. Even Len Sweet thinks so (except for "Becoming Conservant...")

And you're right - ultimately, we can only speak for that which we have seen, touched and tasted...

Mmmm... that tastes nice.

Matthew said...

To add in on this...

It seems like some people categorize ways of approaching theology. Historical, Systematic, Philosophical, etc. And the college I am at right now, strictly professes the systematic theology. (not my view). They claim they only believe what scripture teaches. "Scripture by itself is sufficient!" No historical context, no personal settings that apply in the bible, etc.

While there is truth in that saying, why do we always have to have the either-or mentality?? I love historical theology and how people have seen and encountered God throughout the ages as we emerge and evolve. I love the wisdom approach with logic and reason.

Why can't we use everything God has made to follow God deeper into this story?

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Wright does a great series on the book of Romans where he addresses some of those religious mores. Good paragraph!

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