Wednesday, August 29, 2012

N. T. Wright on "The Whole Sweep of Scripture"

No single scholar has influenced my thinking over the past two decades more than N. T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham and presently Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews.  This morning my friend and erstwhile student Sam Spatola brought this video of professor Wright to my attention, which is filled with godly, mature wisdom direly needed by today's church.

Beyond reasonable doubt we are living in an age of biblical illiteracy in the West unparalleled since scholars like Martin Luther and William Tyndale translated the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments into the vernacular European tongues in the 16th century.  Prior to that time, of course, the reason for such illiteracy was the captivity of Western Christians to the Latin of both the Mass and the Vulgate text available to the clergy.  Today, ironically, English-speaking Christians live with a plethora of translational options which provide them with both textual accuracy and lucidity unavailable to previous generations.  Yet biblical illiteracy proceeds, seemingly unchecked.

This, for those of us who consider Scripture to be the primary means of grace given by God to his people, is a tragic situation.  The increasing complexity and sheer "busy-ness" of modern life certainly is partly to blame.  Likewise, the almost complete evangelical abandonment of historic liturgical church services, in which readings from the Old and New Testament play a central part, in favor of entertainment-oriented "praise and worship" and "practical" sermon(ettes) certainly is partly responsible.  I might also add that the common pietistic emphasis on reading the Bible "devotionally," though certainly not improper, has led to the common practice of reading and reflecting on the text in bite-sized morsels — certainly a practice not conducive to serious understanding of the text's meaning.

What is the solution?  When asked, "How should we read the Bible?" New Testament scholar and churchman N. T. Wright responds, "Frequently and thoroughly." Exactly!  The need for God's people is to get soaked in God's written Word.  We need to read all of it, and we need to read all of it in large chunks, i.e., complete books rather than individual, decontextualized verses, chapters, or paragraphs.  Even when we read or listen to "snippets" of the text, as Wright reminds us, we need to do so with the perspective that we are reading the whole of the Old or New Testaments through the window provided by the portion we are reading.  Only thus can we avoid the elementary errors of interpretation caused by reading the text out of its various literary and salvation-historical contexts.  These are some wise words by Professor Wright that we, as God's people, need to hear.

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