Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright

I am a big fan of N.T. Wright and he has had a big impact on my faith and approach to faith. So when I saw Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today on sale for $3 on Kindle I scooped it up.

Here is a rather lengthy synopsis:

Scripture & Authority“But what does scripture say?”

That question has echoed through a thousand debates in the life of the worldwide church. All churches have officially endorsed strong statements about the centrality of scripture and its authority in their mission, life, doctrine, and discipline. But there is no agreement on what this might mean or how it might work in practice. Individuals and churches struggle with how to respond to issues such as war, homosexuality, and abortion, and especially how to interpret biblical passages that discuss these topics. These disagreements often serve to undermine our confidence in the authority of the Bible.

Bishop and Bible scholar N. T. Wright delivers a new model for how to understand the place of scripture and God’s authority in the midst of religious confusion. Wright gives new life to the old, tattered doctrine of the authority of scripture, delivering a fresh, helpful, and concise statement on how to read the Bible today, restoring scripture as a place to find God’s voice.

In this revised and expanded edition of the previously titled book The Last Word, Wright provides two case studies that delve into what it means to keep Sabbath and how Christians can defend marital monogamy. These studies offer not only bold biblical insights but also showcase Wright’s new model for how to interpret scripture and restore its role as the church’s main resource for teaching and guidance. Removing the baggage that the last 100 years of controversy and confusion have placed on this doctrine, Wright renews our confidence in the Bible and shows how it can once again serve as the living Word of God for our lives.

I found it to be an interesting and thought-provoking look at the subject of the authority of scripture. Wright gives a history of Christian thinking on scripture and its authority down through the ages; comparing and contrasting approaches and arguing for his own.

I read this in fits and spurts and I feel like I need to go back and re-read it to get greater clarity. But, not surprisingly given my appreciation for Wright, I think Wright is correct to see the proper approach in narrative and context within the church as the people of God. Anyone wrestling with the place of scripture in the life of the church and in the wider world would do well to read this book. 

Those looking for more of Wright’s views on scripture can check out the newly released Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues which I hope to be able to read soon.

Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright

I am a big fan of N.T. Wright and he has had a big impact on my faith and approach to faith. So when I saw Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today on sale for $3 on Kindle I scooped it up.

Here is a rather lengthy synopsis:

Scripture & Authority“But what does scripture say?”

That question has echoed through a thousand debates in the life of the worldwide church. All churches have officially endorsed strong statements about the centrality of scripture and its authority in their mission, life, doctrine, and discipline. But there is no agreement on what this might mean or how it might work in practice. Individuals and churches struggle with how to respond to issues such as war, homosexuality, and abortion, and especially how to interpret biblical passages that discuss these topics. These disagreements often serve to undermine our confidence in the authority of the Bible.

Bishop and Bible scholar N. T. Wright delivers a new model for how to understand the place of scripture and God’s authority in the midst of religious confusion. Wright gives new life to the old, tattered doctrine of the authority of scripture, delivering a fresh, helpful, and concise statement on how to read the Bible today, restoring scripture as a place to find God’s voice.

In this revised and expanded edition of the previously titled book The Last Word, Wright provides two case studies that delve into what it means to keep Sabbath and how Christians can defend marital monogamy. These studies offer not only bold biblical insights but also showcase Wright’s new model for how to interpret scripture and restore its role as the church’s main resource for teaching and guidance. Removing the baggage that the last 100 years of controversy and confusion have placed on this doctrine, Wright renews our confidence in the Bible and shows how it can once again serve as the living Word of God for our lives.

I found it to be an interesting and thought-provoking look at the subject of the authority of scripture. Wright gives a history of Christian thinking on scripture and its authority down through the ages; comparing and contrasting approaches and arguing for his own.

I read this in fits and spurts and I feel like I need to go back and re-read it to get greater clarity. But, not surprisingly given my appreciation for Wright, I think Wright is correct to see the proper approach in narrative and context within the church as the people of God. Anyone wrestling with the place of scripture in the life of the church and in the wider world would do well to read this book. 

Those looking for more of Wright’s views on scripture can check out the newly released Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues which I hope to be able to read soon.

Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective by Andrew Perriman

I will confess that the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s Love Wins has caused me to reconsider a number of my theological assumptions.  This reflection and development, however, is not tied just to Bell.  I had already begun to explore NT Wright and the New Perspective on Paul for example, but it certainly sparked a more focused meditation and thought process as I sought to make explicit what had been a vague collection of thoughts and instincts. (This will only reinforce for some that Bell is a false teacher leading people on the path to perdition, etc.)

Andrew Perriman 1
Andrew Perriman 2011 (via Flicker)

Somewhere along the line I discovered the work of Andrew Perriman and his narrative-historical approach to biblical study and a post-Christendom path for the People of God.  I find his work and approach fascinating, challenging and often quite convincing.  I have spent hours reading his blog; deep diving into scripture, eschatology and theology.  As I said, fascinating and challenging.

This in turn led me to Perriman’s books. And I started with his e-book Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective.  As I noted at Goodreads, it is hard to review this book as it is really a collection of blog posts. If you are interested in the subject and have some solid background in the issues involved you will probably find it fascinating (or perhaps infuriating if you don’t share the author’s perspective). I enjoyed immersing myself in Perriman’s thoughts on heaven and hell but did sometimes wish he offered more of a primer on the issues or had time to slow down and unpack some of the details, etc.

Spoiler alert! Perriman believes common conceptions of both heaven and hell are not biblical, and are products not of scripture, but rather are cultural and institutional developments (and products of a theology which has locked in systematic doctrine at the expense of an accurate and historical reading of scripture).

Perriman has a unique take on eschatology (a version of preterism, with narrative theology and new perspective aspects, I believe – although he would probably reject that description) which I find compelling in many ways but which is certainly not straightforwardly orthodox or traditional.  Traditionally eschatology would mean the study of end times or last things. Andrew’s perspective, however, envisions it as “decisive, theologically significant historical events in a foreseeable future.” So the New Testament is not focused on the “end of the world” per se but on the Jewish war with Rome and the fall of the pagan world and the triumph of the martyr church.

With this in mind, from his perspective scripture is primarily to be understood as historical and narrative rather than theological and metaphysical. He also stresses a community rather than an individual focus. As such he rejects traditional conceptions of hell (a literal place of eternal fire and torment, etc.) and heaven (a physical place believers go immediately after death to be with God and await the second coming) as cultural artifacts not scriptural formations.

Whether you agree with all of his conclusions, or all of his exegesis, I find his approach refreshing and useful for getting beyond stale and route arguments.  I like this quote in particular:

Theology should not flatten scripture into dogmatic abstractions and generalities. Theology should seek to follow, and sympathetically narrate, the tortuous journey of faithfulness as it picks its way across the complex, broken, mountainous landscape of history.

It is also worth pointing out that his theology and eschatology are based on a close reading and understanding of the biblical texts not on a desire to remove difficult or hard doctrines. It is post-modern in a sense (or perhaps post-Christendom) but not with the connotation of removing or denying truth, etc.  As I said, fascinating to me but not for everyone. And of course, if you wanted to you could read all of this on his blog.

So on to the book.  Keep in mind also that I read this book almost a year ago but have never quite got around to publishing this review until now (I have been fiddling around with it off and on). So some of this might be a little fuzzy.  I have, however, continued to read Perriman’s blog, and his other books, so perhaps have a better understanding of his overall perspective. Much of the argument is complex and detailed but allow me to outline the basics (most of which are noted here).

Judgement in scripture comes in the form of destruction; both of nations and people.  “The wages of sin is death” is the formula here.  God judges nations and people and they are destroyed. From the flood to the destruction of the temple to exile this is the pattern in the Old Testament.  There is not a universalized, metaphysical/spiritual conception of post-mortem judgement.

In the New Testament the perspective is the same but the focus looks forward to the coming judgement on Israel and the Jewish War with Rome.  And it is through this lens that passages about judgement should be viewed.  Perriman understands the images used in the NT to be motifs from the OT intended to prophetically warn Israel about their impending judgement at the hand of pagan Rome.  These images are about historical judgement and events not universal judgement for every individual.

The next horizon in the narrative is the judgement on Rome and the pagan world. God has judged his own people and then will judge their persecutors the idolatrous pagan nations.  After His resurrection Jesus is elevated to the right hand of God, and made ruler of the nations, and he will come to judge and to destroy.  The church must mirror Christ’s faithfulness to survive this time of judgement and enter the age to come. Christ will be shown to be victorious and those who remained faithful will be vindicated.

The third and final horizon is the culmination of this victory when death itself is destroyed and we see a new heaven and a new earth.  Again, in Perriman’s view, the passages in Revelation are not about personal torment but about the destruction of all that is contrary to God’s good creation.  The second death is just that, the destruction of all even death itself.

Perriman uses this focus or frame to analyze and discuss the relevant passages in scripture pertaining to hell, judgement, life after death, etc.  Some of this is in the specific context of the debate over Bell’s book and some of it is more general.  But Perriman effectively uses the debate to explore the issues. He moves from his general perspective, to the Bell debate, to addressing specific passages.  He agrees with Bell on some issues/approaches but brings a much more tightly argued and focused perspective.

But like Bell he is attempting to help Christians put aside their cultural and doctrinal assumptions and approach scripture with fresh eyes; letting scripture guide us rather than guiding scripture towards conclusions we want to draw.

Perriman than turns his eye toward heaven and deconstructs our conceptions of this term in much the same way:

By comparison with “hell”, which in its traditional sense is not a biblical idea, “heaven” ought to be a fairly straightforward theological concept to explain. Surely heaven is simply what belief in Jesus is ultimately all about? It’s where we go when we die.

[…]

Unfortunately, our popular beliefs about heaven are almost as misconceived as the belief that there is a place called “hell”, deep in the bowels of the cosmos, where the wicked – by “wicked” is often meant “those not chosen” – will be tormented for eternity. Heaven certainly exists, but it is opposed in scripture not to a metaphysical hell (as alternative final destinies), but to earth, in recognition of the fractured structure of creation. The fundamental problem addressed all the way through the biblical metanarrative is not: How are people to get to heaven? but: How is God to live in the midst of his creation?

In Perriman’s eyes the focus is not, with some limited exceptions, about going up to heaven but about heaven coming down to earth. It is about new creation; a people set apart to reflect the reality of the one true God, maker of heaven and earth, into the world.

Perriman than wraps everything up with another unorthodox proposal. He believes that scripture teaches a limited historical resurrection for the martyr church who will then reign with Christ throughout time until the new heaven and new earth.

This would mean that all except Jesus and the martyrs will be raised after the earth and sky have fled away. Including believers. We die. We are dead. We are raised at a final judgment. And if our names are not written in the Book of Life, we are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death, a second destruction (Rev. 20:11-15). The end.

As I noted at the start, this is not an easy book to review or summarize. It is largely a collection of blog posts but posts that include detailed exegesis and commentary.  Perriman’s perspective may be unorthodox but it is throughly grounded in scripture and based on a great deal of thought and study.  You may not agree with his conclusions but if you have an open mind and a generous spirit you will be challenged and given food for thought in your approach to the bible.

A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance by Scot McKnight

Theology Month continues here with a short ebook by Scot McKnight A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance.

A Long FaithfullnessCan we choose and un-choose God? Or does he choose and un-choose us? In The Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance, theologian Scot McKnight examines what the Bible says about human salvation. Inspired in part by a resurgent Calvinist movement and its particular emphasis on God’s meticulous sovereignty, McKnight invites us to a clear and captivating discussion about securing the way to eternal life–the role God plays, the role we play, and the key Bible passages that illuminate the mystery of salvation.

I have followed Scot’s blog for a while now, and had read a couple of his books, so picked this up mainly because of its subject matter.  It is an up interesting essay that explores the possibility of apostasy and how it undercuts meticulous sovereignty and thus a popular form of Calvinism today. McKnight shares his own “journey” and interaction with Calvinism and Hebrews before analyzing the passages and drawing his conclusions.

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Jordan Ballor on Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace, science, art & cultural engagement

Portrait of Abraham Kuyper by Jan Veth (1900).
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday’s edition of Coffee & Markets featured Jordan Ballor discussing Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art a collection of the writings of the theologian Abraham Kuyper.  Pejman Yousefzadeh and I spoke with Jordan about Kuyper’s unique life, his ideas and the challenges of cultural and political engagement for people of faith today.

Listen Here.

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

I love reading challenging non-fiction books, but I almost always struggle when it comes to posting reviews.  I want to wrestle with the ideas, debate premises and offer conclusions. But all too often I lack either the time or the focus, or both, to do them justice. So I procrastinate and frequently end up doing nothing. Not really a good practice for a book blogger, right?

I mention this because I have been avoiding posting on The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited for this reason for quite some time. I am not sure I can do it justice or engage the real meaty issues it touches on. But the good folks at Net Galley and Zondervan didn’t send me a review copy so I could fret about my self-esteem … So. Some thoguhts below.

First, what is this all about anyway? Publisher synopsis:

Contemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

This is a powerful examination of what it means to speak of the Gospel and how our understanding of it impacts our “Gospeling” or evangelism. McKnight argues forcefully that to present a plan of salvation, or soterian, gospel is to miss the larger picture of scripture and God’s plan for the universe.

As noted, there is a lot packed in there and a lot you can, and should, debate.  But for now, a few thoughts … Continue reading

Niche blogging this ain't

Statistical meaning of The Long Tail
Image via Wikipedia

Excuse the colloquial and inartful title, but it seems to capture my perspective on this subject.

And what exactly is the subject here? Well, my inability to stick to any particular genre or subject or age group, etc.  It seems to me that basic strategy when it comes to building an audience online is know your audience and give them what they want. Pick what you know, or want to know, and cover it well.  Unfortunately for me, I seem unable to do either. Heck, I can’t even settle on a theme or design for this blog for very long.

(I take that back. My audience is Google and I give them what they want by leaving these review for them to find in their searches. My strategy is bet the house on the long tail …)

But the more specific point I wish to make is that if any one is reading this blog on a regular basis – as opposed to surfing in from search engines (when you have a book report due or when you are looking for reviews in preparation for writing your own, trying to decide whether to read said book, or look for reactions to a book you just read) – then I want to warn you about the book reviews headed your way in the days and weeks to come.

You might already have noted that there has been a higher ratio of non-fiction of late and with a spiritual or theological flavor. This will continue. I am not really sure why but I have gotten onto a theological kick of late and so have been reading books in that realm. I have both more time on my hands and less information to process these days so non-fiction is something I am able to read more of. Right now it’s theology and spirituality but there is sure to be history, culture and politics thrown in as well.

And since I review fiction faster than I do non, I end up with a large backlog of non-fiction books to post on. I tend to post these then as I am able and am in the mood. So in reducing this backlog, I will be foisting more reviews that touch on theology and Christianity.

But as soon as those who enjoy such reviews get comfortable, I am sure I will switch back to reading young adult fantasy or literary fiction or some other genre or focus. But to be fair, the title of the blog is Collected Miscellany. Eclecticism and unpredictability is the name of the game around here.

Hence the title of this post …

The Shack by William P. Young

Cover of "The Shack"
Cover of The Shack

One of my oft repeated phrases is: “Better late than never.”  The sad fact is that I have all too many chances to utter it.  I bring this up because it seems a perfect application to this review.  Those bloggers who are organized and on top of things tend to offer reviews when a topic, book, or author is in the news and/or the hot topic of conversation.

While The Shack is still the topic of conversation around the country and around the world, the story is by now well know and thoroughly debated. (See this New York Times article for a flavor)

I first read the book back when it was much more a burgeoning phenomenon but never got around to putting my thoughts and reactions down in pixels.  But when my church’s Sunday School class offered this as one of its book discussions I decided to go back and resist it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book here is a brief description:

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.

After a second reading, I found that while its literary merit left a lot to be desired, and its theology was shaky in parts, as a whole it was a thought provoking and worthwhile read.

Below I will look at the book’s literary, theological, and philosophical implications. I’m not sure this matters at this point, but there will be “spoilers” involved. Continue reading