Paradigm Issues Facing the Church – Scriptural Authority

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At first I wanted this to be a post about honesty with the biblical text but the more I thought about it the more I thought that the real underlying issue was a need to talk about scriptural authority. In life the pendulum swings back and forth from generation to generation. If you have an out of control alcoholic father you may well turn out to be a perfectionistic person with a high need for control in your life. The same can be said about shifting views on how people see the authority of scripture.

In the past scripture has been seen as the ulitimate authority. We said we “Speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it is silent.” We have prided ourselves on being without creeds and all the rest. Past generations have had a high respect for the Bible as the sole source of authority and saw ministers as authority figures/figures of respect in the community.That is slowly deteriorating as scandal gives room for rationalizing an attitude toward ministers as a whole. As with all pendulums, once it swings hard one direction it will inevitably swing back again.

The Bible being seen as a source of authority in our lives is deteriorating in the coming generations. Due to busy schedules, lack of study, cultural and moral influences, scripture is taking a back seat in the amount of influence it exerts on people’s lives to so many other factors. Starting with the Baby Boomer generation through today, authority is seen as a negative rather than a positive. People fail to see the positives and health in boundaries. People are trusting ministers less and the world more. People are beginning to emphasize the cultural aspects of scripture in an effort to trivialize the whole thing. In a push for cultural and moral relativity we are left with no anchors but ultimately the pendulum will eventually move toward the middle as people look for some place solid to land.

Where are we headed? What bridges can we build ahead of time to help maintain a healthy respect for God and his word? It seems to me like we are going to have to be very patient with the generation that is on the way as they wrestle with issues that seem very fundamental and simple to us. It also seems to me like there are some healthy things they will learn very quickly that we have never quite gotten a grasp on. Some battles are worth fighting for and keeping a healthy respect for the importance of scripture is one of them. We just need to learn from how past generations used and abused that concept and try hard not to make the same mistakes twice.

0 Responses

  1. Good post, Matthew.

    Different generations have different values. And especially for the emerging postmodern ethic, we have to take special care to show how the Bible fulfills their values. But at the same time, there is a sense in which new Christians will ultimately have to grow to appreciate the concepts of truth & authority rooted in Scripture.

  2. Matt,

    I think we will make the same mistakes more than twice.

    I personally don’t think it is a swinging pendulum. For me it is an attempt to return to what was originally understood.

    The concept that the Bible was the authority comes from Luther not the early church. Luther had a problem with the church so he called scripture authority. This understanding certainly wasn’t present in the early church.

    God is the only authority. The Bible reveals the God who does have authority and it shows His nature and action throughout history but the Bible is a book. There are many religious books and some even have similar teachings, the Bible is only different because of who it reveals, the true Creator God and His Son Jesus Christ.

    I realize this may seem minor but I think it impacts how we look at the Bible and has contributed to our current problem. The result of Luther’s action has been for people to bind any number of pet concepts on others IMO.

    In Thom Rainer’s book The Unchurched Next Door says that the majority of non-believers have a high respect for the Bible and consider it to carry truth. Maybe the problem isn’t really how we view the Bible but our willingness to live what it reveals about our God and His nature?

  3. Matt,
    Have you read or heard of N. T. Wright’s book, The Last Word? It is on scriptural authority. Don’t know much about it but I do like Wright. Here is a link to a review of N. T. Wright’s book.

    I’m not familiar with John Frame although the article mentions that he is a seminary professor in Orlando. It would appear from the review that Wright agrees with Darin’s viewpoint that the real authority is God and that the Bible points away from itself to God.

  4. N.T. Wright, or Tom as he goes by now to appeal to the post-moderns, is usually pretty good. I will have a look when I get a chance. I think this is a topic that is going to be a hotbutton issue in the near future as authority structures are being jetisoned and self is reigning as supreme authority.

  5. Matt,

    I think I hear your concern but I’m not sure two wrongs make a right.

    I agree this will be an issue but we may disagree on why.

    I’m not sure that someone saying scripture is supreme so this verse means you can’t do this or that is any less about self is all at least that is how it looks to me.

  6. Darin,

    I meant to respond to your first post sooner. You make some really good points there. Views on inspiration may have an impact on what you talked about. The reason I am looking at it as a swinging pendulum is because we tend to be reactionary. For example, the cultural clash between the 1950s and the 1960s is probably because the stability of the 50s gave enough stability for people to raise the questions of the 60s (probably more to it than that, but that is my uneducated opinion). If people get sick of micromanaging church leaders who hold the bible over their heads and unlovingly smash them with it at every turn, they will probably move the other direction toward no authority at all. That is not a good move either.

    Maybe this isn’t so much an authority issue as a leadership issue – how people have handled authority and servant leadership in love vs. unloving authoritarianism.

    I am not sure what you mean by your second post, can you elaborate just a little?

    Good thoughts, Darin.

  7. Luther (and other Protestants) crafted what became sola scriptura as a reaction against the Catholic Church’s view of religious authority as scripture plus tradition. This is something the early church fathers didn’t have to deal with since Catholicism didn’t exist. However, Since God has chosen to speak to us in a printed word that He has preserved over the centuries it would seem that the Word operates as authoritative in our lives. It does spell out what God expects of His covenantal people. It is profitable (2Tim.3:16-17), is is living and active (Heb.4:12), and surely provides us with all we need for life and godliness (2Pet.1:3). We today must use the Word as a standard by which to judge all teachings. It is important to have a high view of Scripture and a good hermeneutic.

  8. Darin, the response appears to be lost in the web somewhere. Blogger was acting weird earlier today.

    Bob, that is a good point. The Word needs to have our utmost respect. If we toss that out we are in deep trouble. It is not God’s Word that bothers me, it is past hermeneutics and harsh/heartless legalism that is a bit scary sometimes. Thanks for your thoughts. I always appreciate them!

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