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Daniel J. Treier

Rethinking Biblical Authority

Prescriptions from N. T. Wright

Perhaps only Tom Wright could author a book about Scripture's authority that would garner back-cover endorsements from Brian McLaren, J. I. Packer, Ben Witherington, John Franke, and Timothy George. For these figures often disagree about the theological direction in which our ever-complicated evangelical churches ought to head. Wright himself does not really offer the last word, except insofar as the title (a bit of cheeky double entendre, chosen by the publisher rather than by the author himself) suggests a way of relating biblical authority to our current place in the drama of redemption.

How does one summarize a summary by a masterful communicator? Such is the dilemma of this review. The Bishop of Durham packs concise history, clear thinking, clever images, and contemporary churchmanship into "a tract for the times," as Wright describes the book in his preface to the American edition: "I trust that those who have grumbled at the length of some of my other books will not now grumble at all the things I have left unsaid in what is necessarily a very compressed, at times almost telegraphic, treatment." Such a treatment attempts to outflank contemporary battles in which the Bible is "generally treated the way professional tennis players treat the ball. The more you want to win a point, the harder you hit the poor thing."

After an extended prologue, chapter one develops the concept of biblical "authority" at some length. Wright's "central claim" is that "the phrase 'authority of scripture' can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for 'the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.' " The Bible consistently associates authority personally with the God decisively revealed in Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the Bible's authority comes in story form. Moreover, biblical authority must be strongly associated with the concept of God's kingdom. Building on Telford Work's recent Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation, Wright finds it ...

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