N. T. Wright on the primacy of reading scripture for Christian character formation

The practice of reading scripture, studying scripture, acting scripture, singing scripture—generally soaking oneself in scripture as an individual and a community—has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character.

It is important to stress at this point…that this has only secondarily to do with the fact that scripture gives particular instructions on particular topics. That is important, of course; but it is far more important that the sheer activity of reading scripture, in the conscious desire to be shaped and formed within the purposes of God, is itself an act of faith, hope, and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome. To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did (6.10), no matter where our exile may have taken us.

It is, in particular, a way of locating ourselves as actors within an ongoing drama. No matter how many smaller stories there may be within scripture, and how many million edifying stories there may be outside it, the overall drama of scripture, as it stands, forms a single plot whose many twists and turns nonetheless converge remarkably on a main theme, which is the reconciliation of heaven and earth as God the creator deals with all that frustrates his purpose for his world and, through his Son and his Spirit, creates a new people through whom his purpose—filling the world with his glory—is at last to be realized. To be formed by this capital-S Story is to be formed as a Christian. To take the thousand, and ten thousand, decisions to open the Bible today and read more of this story, even if we can’t yet join it all up in our own heads, is to take the next small step toward being the sort of person who, by second nature, will think, pray, act, and even feel in the way appropriate for someone charged with taking that narrative forward.

We are not yet, after all, at the end of the drama. Bible-readers (unless they adopt one of the well-known strategies for resisting this process) will find themselves drawn in as “characters” on stage. Yes, that may well mean “playing a part,” and all the old charges of hypocrisy that cluster around the practice of virtue will come rumbling in here as well. But the more you know the play, the less you will be “playing a part” and the more you will be simply yourself. Sooner or later, you’ll be acting naturally. Second nature. That’s how virue works.

N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, 261-262.

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