The first two chapters in N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Scripture address questions concerning science and Christian faith. The primary focus in the second was on Adam (It’s About God and God’s Kingdom), but the essay started with a discussion of the authority of scripture and the importance of being immersed in the story told in scripture. We need to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and become immersed in the whole sweep of scripture. When we are immersed in the sweep of scripture we learn how to deal with the inevitable challenges that each new generation faces as they embrace the Christian faith. Today one of the significant challenges comes from science and the impact this has on the way we understand Christian faith. Is the earth young or old? Does it matter how old we think the earth is? Is evolution a threat or a challenge? A threat is bad, a challenge can be good as it causes us to think more deeply about our faith.
First, the authority of scripture. In his essay on Adam Wright outlines his understanding of the authority of scripture (described more completely in his book Scripture and the Authority of God).
In the Bible all authority belongs to God and is then delegated to Jesus. … The phrase authority of scripture can only, at its best, be a shorthand for the authority of God in Jesus, mediated through scripture. … [A]s centuries of history demonstrate, the Bible is the God-given means through which we know who Jesus is. Take the Bible away, diminish it or water it down, and you are free to invent a Jesus just a little bit different from the Jesus who is hidden in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. We live under scripture because that is the way we live under the authority of God that has been vested in Jesus the Messiah, the Lord. (p. 28)
But the point of scripture isn’t a myriad of facts and details that must be believed. The point is in the story of God establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven. It is about God and God’s kingdom.
This is the big story that we must learn how to tell. It isn’t just about how to get saved, with some cosmology bolted on the side. This is an organic story about God and the world. God’s authority is exercised not to give his people lots of true information, not even true information about how they get saved (though that comes en route). God’s authority, vested in Jesus the Messiah, is about God reclaiming his proper lordship over all creation. And the way God planned to rule over his creation from the start was through obedient humanity. The Bible’s witness to Jesus declares that he, the obedient Man, has done this. But the Bible is then the God-given equipment through which the followers of Jesus are themselves equipped to be obedient stewards, the royal priesthood, bringing that saving rule of God in Christ to the world. (p. 28-29)
Powerful stuff … and dead on target. This is the message we need to preach. The Bible serves its God-given purpose through the fresh wrestling of each generation with the text and the story. The authority of the Bible is dynamic not static, as though it were possible for one generation to answer all questions for all time. “The Bible seems designed to challenge and provoke each generation to do its own fresh business, to struggle and wrestle with the text,” (p. 29) and “each generation must do its own fresh historically grounded reading, because each generation needs to grow up not simply look up the right answers and remain in an infantile condition.” (p. 30) This is a process to embrace, not a process to fear. We listen to tradition, but tradition doesn’t rule. This is why it is important to read the bible, in community and in conversation.