N. T. Wright on the Central Role of the Bible in Ministry

I’ve spent the last two nights reading N. T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today.

But I wanted to share with you one (long) passage where Wright describes the minister’s responsibility in handling and preaching the Scriptures. I found it convicting and moving:

“At the same time, God is at work by the same means to order the life of the church, and of individual Christians, to model and embody his project of new creation in their unity and holiness. To be a leader in the church is, almost by definition, to be one through whose work this mission comes about, enabled and directed by this scripture-based energy; and one through whom, again with scriptural energy to the fore, that unity and holiness is generated and sustained.

“If, therefore, those called to office and leadership roles in the church remain content merely to organize and manage the internal affairs of the church, they are leaving a vacuum exactly where there ought to be vibrant, pulsating life. Of course Christian leaders need to be trained and equipped for management, for running of the organization. The church will not thrive by performing in a bumbling, amateur fashion and hoping that piety and goodwill will make up for incompetence. But how much more should a Christian minister be a serious professional when it comes to grappling with scripture and discovering how it enables him or her, in preaching, teaching, prayer, and pastoral work, to engage with the huge issues that confront us as a society and as individuals. If we are professional about other things, we ought to be ashamed not to be properly equipped both to study the Bible ourselves or to bring its ever-fresh word to others.

“The teaching and preaching of scripture remains, then, at the heart of the church’s life, alongside and regularly interwoven with the sacramental life focused on the Eucharist….The balance between what can be said in a sermon and what must be said in non-liturgical teaching, adult education, and so on, will vary from church to church and place to place. It is fair to say that most churches, even those with well-developed educational programs, have a long way to go in their teaching of scripture. It is also important to remind preachers that, just as some of the Reformers spoke of the sacraments as God’s ‘visible words,’ so sermons are supposed to be ‘audible sacraments.’ They are not simply for the conveying of information, though that is important in a world increasingly ignorant of some of the most basic biblical and theological information. They are not simply for exhortation, still less for entertainment. They are supposed to be one of the moments in regular Christian living when heaven and earth meet. Speaker and hearers alike are called to be people in whom, by the work of the Spirit, God’s word is once again audible to the heart as well as to the ears. Preaching is one key way in which God’s personal authority, vested in scripture and operative through the work of the Spirit, is played out in the life of the church.” (Emphasis mine.)

(N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, p. 138-39)

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