Friday, July 14, 2006
Questions of Authority
Discussions about the authority of the scriptures have crossed my path more than once in the last few weeks. It's an interesting topic that I think is crucial to the health of the Church and currently under the microscope (and up often up for grabs) in the academy. However, my interest is in precisely how the questions relating to the topic are framed. Often the question is posed in terms of "Do you believe the scriptures are authoritative?" While this is an important question, and may be especially timely for broad evangelicalism (in the loosest way the term may be conceived) I would suggest that it may not be the most important question. One of the reasons I love reading Tom Wright is for the questions that he poses. Though I may not always agree with his conclusions, he is definitely asking the right questions. As I've been working my way though NTPG, one of the most significant issues he addresses in the Introduction pertains to this issue. But rather than ask "Are the scriptures authoritative?", he frames the question: "How are the scriptures authoritative?" This is something I believe conservative evangelicals have a hard time dealing with. While most believe they are authoritative, not many have cogently articulated how they are. I would suggest that this is one of the most troubling issues for laymen as well as they wrestle with the OT and the Gospels especially and perhaps a difficult issue for unbelievers to grapple with as well. The problem lies primarily in dealing with Narrative. I'll summarize Wright's excellent soldier analogy: When a soldier reports for duty, he expects to find his orders from his commander posted on the bulletin board. He anticipates finding a list of commands and instructions. How would the soldier respond if instead, he read the "orders" only to find that they began with the words, "Once upon a time..."? Surely he knows they are from his CO, but how does he obey a story? The analogy is very good in many ways. I think this is exactly the dilemma the laymen finds himself in when attempting to "obey" the vast narrative portions of the Bible. Surely he believes it is authoritative...it's the word of God! But how do you obey something that begins with, "In the beginning God..." The imperatives are few at times, and certainly far between. You feel the weight of the word, but are somewhat unsure what to do with it. Likewise, the unbeliever hears the Christian appeal to the authority of the Bible, but how can a document thousands of years old have any relevance or authority over a post-modern society? Sadly, I don't think many of those who trumpet the Bible's authority most loudly have not gone very far in articulating the nature of its authority. So here's the question I'm posing (or perhaps relaying) - How are the scriptures (particularly the vast narrative portions authoritative?