The Bible as Drama in “The Last Word”

N.T. Wright's The Last WordFor anyone interested, here’s the first post in this series, which has links to all of the rest of my Wright reflections.

There are many jumping-off points of interest in this short little book. The thoughts on reason being submitted to the authority of scripture that I mentioned in my last post have been especially fruitful for me in branching off into larger themes.

One of the perennial problems in taking the authority of the Scriptures seriously is what to do with, for example, passages in the Old Testament telling us to stone adulterers. Wright proposes a way of reading the Bible (or ‘hermeneutic,’ for people who like big words) as a five-act drama. The five acts are:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Israel
  4. Jesus
  5. The Church

Wright adds that the final scene of the New Testament’s vision of the future looks like the beginning of a new play altogether, which is why it does not appear as part of the 5 acts above. We are obviously living in the fifth act, which began with Easter and Pentecost. Wright has this to say about how we relate to the other “acts,” and by extension, the Scriptures from those “acts”:

Those who live in this fifth act have an ambiguous relationship with the four previous acts, not because they are being disloyal to them but precisely because they are being loyal to them as part of the story. If someone in the fifth act of All’s Well that Ends Well were to start repeating speeches from earlier acts, instead of those which belonged to the fifth act itself, the whole play would begin to unravel. We must act in the appropriate manner for this moment in the story; this will be in direct continuity with previous acts…but such continuity also implies discontinuity, a moment where genuinely new things can and do happen. (124)

Although splitting history into these kinds of period reeks of dispensationalism, I don’t find that it amounts to the same thing. I was a little worried there for a second though…

Wright then says some interesting things to those of us who are seeking to reimagine faith and church for the new cultural story that we find ourselves in. What kind of “performance” is appropriate right now? We must improvise, says Wright:

The notion of ‘improvising’ is important, but sometimes misunderstood. As all musicians know, improvisation does not at all mean a free-for-all where ‘anything goes’, but precisely a disciplined and careful listening to all the other voices around us, and a constant attention to the themes, rhythms and harmonies of the complete performance so far, the performance we are now called to continue. At the same time, of course, it invites us, while being fully obedient to the music so far, and fully attentive to the voices around us, to explore fresh expressions, provided they will eventually lead to that ultimate resolution which appears in the New Testament as the goal, the full and complete new creation which was gloriously anticipated in Jesus’ resurrection. The music so far, the voices around us, and the ultimate multi-part harmony of God’s new world: these, taken together, form the parameters for appropriate improvisation in the reading of scripture and the announcement and living out of the gospel it contains. All Christians, all churches, are free to improvise their own variations designed to take the music forwards. No Christian, no church, is free to play out of tune. (124-125)

5 responses to “The Bible as Drama in “The Last Word””

  1. I’m enjoying these summaries. My husband is reading the book, and he “stole” it from me so I can’t finish it until he gives it back.

    My response to Wright’s approach to Scripture is like a person suffocating who finally gets to breathe fresh air.

  2. Beyond Words:

    Glad you’re enjoying them. This might be the last one, as I’m not sure what other nuggets to post. This almost makes me want to read his larger books. Almost.

  3. Matt great series of thoughts and summaries. I just finished the book today and am working on my own post. What did you think of Wrights use of “speech-acts” to talk about scriptures authority?

  4. Tony: As you can tell by the date, it was a while back that I read this, and I’d need to do a re-read to really be able to discuss his use of speech-acts.

    However, I do feel that this a fruitful area for discussions of biblical authority, so I might have to unearth my copy again at some point.

WordPress Default is proudly powered by WordPress

Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).