Posted by: Billy Marsh | June 6, 2008

Biblical Scholarship and the Authority of Scripture

In a post last month, I talked about the public reading of Scripture and submitted some observations from N. T. Wright where he commented that our devotion to Scripture’s open-air proclamation during worship can serve as a test of how we view its authority. I believe his words are very timely and that we should strive to have more of the Bible read during our worship services (Click here to view Wright’s book The Last Word). I think the very fact that our people become restless when large chunks of Scripture are read aloud during a service reveals just how far we’ve gone from sitting in awe and wonder before the Word of the Lord, captivated by its every word.

Another area which Wright posits as a scenario where a healthy understanding of the authority of Scripture can be cultivated is the relationship between the church and the academy. This is a relationship where Scripture’s authority can at times be tested the most as well as even perhaps questioned. Yet, Wright affirms the role of biblical scholarship and its necessity. He assures believers that:

Biblical scholarship is a great gift of God to the church, aiding it in its task of going ever deeper into the meaning of scripture and so being refreshed and energized for the tasks to which we are called in and for the world (135).

There are, of course, many arguments both theological and rational to be made for the support of the on-going contribution of the theological academy. However, in this case, Wright sees that biblical scholarship has a very important hand in the exercising of the authority of Scripture. Churches ought to equip themselves with a ready desire to know the Bible in a richer and more precise manner, which could be a task that the everyday layman or even busy-body pastor is unable to perform sufficiently. I mean, let’s be honest, most preachers do not even have the time to translate their sermon text before Sunday, even if they have the tools to do so. Moreover, what committed 40 hour a week deacon or elder has the time to exhaustively and thoroughly keep up with the world of NT Theology or say, the ever-growing library for theological interpretation or rather philosophical hermeneutics? Wright adds:

The Bible is a big enough book, and the church ought to be a big enough community, to develop a relationship of trust between its biblical scholars and those involved in the many other tasks to which we are called. True, that trust has been sorely tried in the last few generations. . . . It is time to end this standoff, and to establish a hermeneutic of trust (itself a sign of the gospel!) in place of the hermeneutic of suspiscion which the church has so diastrously borrowed from the postmodern world (136-7).

One other sober warning from Wright concerning the need for the church to be in support of the work of its professional scholars and theologians is the misguided idea that the Bible has already been completely exhausted in terms of its meaning and application. For churches to perceive that all possible theological constructs and systematic categories that could exist are the ones that in fact do exist is sorely ignorant. For any Christian, much less a corporate body of believers, to think that they have theologically “arrived” is dangerous territory and shows that Scripture has already begun to lose a vital place in governing the life of the Christian community. Wright exhorts churches to be . . .

. . . open to new understandings of the Bible itself. That is the only way to avoid being blown this way or that by winds of fashion, or trapped in one’s own partial readings and distorted traditions while imagining that they are a full and accurate account of “what the Bible says” (135).

I know that I remember many warnings when I first signed up for Christian college in high school that I was going away to be ruined. Even I was leery in my early days at North Greenville of what I was being taught, mostly because I was having my world turned upside down. But, I think one of the greatest mistakes is that somewhere in the past, Christians began to see the knowledge of God and the Bible as in some way disconnected from spirituality which resulted in a lot of shrouded mysticism thriving in many churches. Today, we can see somewhat of a resurgence of that mentality in the Emergent church where scholars and theologians are portrayed as arrogant and nothing but talking-heads, and experience is elevated to the place of priority. Yet, we are all gravely mistaken when we think that we can truly live under the authority of a Bible that we hardly even know. How can I truly know how to live in this world and in holiness before a Holy God without searching the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, all of which are hidden in Christ who has been perfectly revealed in the Scriptures? May we always pray with Jesus, “O Lord, Sanctify us by your word; your word is truth (John 17:17).”

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Responses

  1. Hi, please join imCHRISTIAN.co.cc. It’s a Christian Forum open for everyone, of all faiths and races, even non-Christians alike. Thanks.

  2. I just had the opportunity to read all of this post and I think you are on the right track here. I remember soon after being saved nearly thirty years ago a professor from a nearby college who taught a ”religion” class came and filled in for the pastor one Sunday. It was obvious he was from a different world than us and I recall feeling at that time that he was out of touch with reality. I think now the reality probably is that we were both at fault. There is a gap between the ”talking heads” and the ”40 hour a weekers” (yeah, right!) that needs to be filled. The everyday churches and pastors need the biblical scholars to deepen their understanding of the scriptures but the scholars will need to reach ”down” as well as the church reaching ”up” to make this happen. As it stands now, I believe the t.v. preachers are doing the most to fill this role (God save us).

  3. I liked your reaching “up” and “down” illustration. It’s true that the relationship between the scholarly community and the church has been harmed on both fronts. Wright acknowledges that in the quote above, and is calling for the standoff to be removed. I think that is happening and a church like ours (Redeemer) is a good example of the new breed of churches on the rise. Though it is a little more “heady” because of its location and membership, the church began with laymen who desired to build a church that bridged this gap. So it’s no surprise that Redeemer has been so appealing to the seminary crowd, students and profs.

    I think another new movement in lthe ast few years that has helped has been a recovery of a more biblical view of church government that has freed the traditional pastor up to having personal time to spend more study in the Scriptures for his sermons as well as his own studies. Having other elders, deacons, and staff that can assist the pastor in bearing the full weight of the church allows him to truly be the spiritual leader and teacher of the church.

    “Thirty years ago” – not shy about dating yourself eh? I guess you’ve conceded to it since you’re about to be a grandpa. hahaha. Had to throw that one in there as a faithful son.

  4. Oh yeah, you funny son. Haha.


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