Pay Attention to Authority?

authorityI attended a “webinar” today. It was on a “Postmodern Hermeneutic”. Pretty much makes you postmodern just saying you “attended” a webinar I suppose.

It was an interesting presentation by Derek Morphew. Clearly a smart guy. My guess would be that in the Archie Comics world if he Dilton Doiley, I’d be Jughead Jones. You younger CV readers can wikipedia that.

Some Q&A followed but time ran out long before the discussion did. We never really got around (at least I don’t think we did!) to talking about a pomo herm. I’d have to go over the whole lecture to try to explain but basically it’s just reading and understanding the Bible through the lens of the times we are in. Sort of.

We did a lot of listening as Dr./Mr./ Morphew laid down a solid description of the whole modernity/post modernity deal and the major players in the discussion. I’ll confess that in the middle of the webinar my extra large coke from Mickey D’s (any size for $1 can you believe that deal?) had it’s way with me and I had to run across the hall to the bathroom – so I may have missed something major. It seemed to me like an excellent survey though of how we got from there to hear and it only took an hour.

At the end, Gary and Jon, our moderators, posted a survey question – and that’s what I really want to say something about.

The main question was something about continuing this dialogue and wondering what the main interest was for those attending. The overwhelming majority who could figure out how to vote in time was that we wanted to know how to maintain or assert (something like that) the authority of Scripture in these changing times.

I read that and I thought, “How thoroughly modern!”

My best understanding of the times we are in (and those times, they are a changin’) is that the Bible has NO authority. None. Nor will it in the future. Those days are over. Gone. Done. Finished.

And I, for one, am glad.

It’s a very modern – as in modernity modern – idea that “authority” can be found in a book. For a few generations now we’ve treated the Bible like a great cosmological encyclopedia. “If the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it!” Was the bumper sticker motto when I hit Bible College. We one-upped the stickers by declaring in our sermons and lessons – “If the Bible says it, that settles it, and I believe it!” See what we did there? We were proud of ourselves!

Here’s the deal. There is NO authority outside of relationship. Never has been and never will be. Postmodernity – and truthfully I don’t think postmodernity would like the way we’ve co-opted that term-merely is calling us on something that’s always been.

The gospel has always been about the incarnation of truth. A subjective, experiential, in the moment expression of God. Truth is always truth (that’s not very postmodern, I’ll admit) and sticking “it’s in the Bible” doesn’t help it one little bit. And if it’s NOT true, for God’s sake, don’t try to lend weight to it by saying, “it’s in the Bible.” Races of people have been taken and kept as slaves because people said, “it’s in the Bible.” Women have been kept from expressing their gifts for leadership and ministry because people said, “it’s in the Bible.” Enough with “it’s in the Bible.” Let’s start asking, “is it true?” Let’s be honest about how little we really do know and how little we really understand about what is and isn’t God’s “word” on things.

Last week I got an email from a friend in the States talking about how bad Obama is for trying to get healthcare for everyone in the States. My friend said, “I’ve heard how bad it is up there in Canada. Long waits, people denied necessary treatment, Canadians rushing to the U.S. for medical care they can’t get in Canada…” My friend referenced a T.V. commercial where a Canadian woman tells her story of running to the Mayo clinic in Arizona where they saved her life when the Canadian medical system left her waiting and dying and going blind. Have you seen the commercial?

Turns out she’s lying. Loads of details in her “testimony” are untrue. She wasn’t dying. She had cysts and the Mayo clinic even made her wait for treatment. She was diagnosed in Canada but rather than get treatment here, in due course, she bolted for the U.S. – fair enough, if I had the cash and was suffering and I could end it today with a trip to Phoenix, I would too. But then she tells her story to an audience that wants to hear how bad it is up here and she plays fast and loose with the truth. It’s what people want to hear and my friend didn’t ask, is it true, it’s on T.V., it must be true.

I find a lot of Jesus followers have done that with the Bible. I read it, it must be true. But what if no one in the first audience for that letter would have taken it the way we do today? I read it, it must be true. But what if the cultural context completely alters the application of that teaching? I read it, it must be true. But what if that expression is in the idiom of the day and no one took it at face value?

Authority comes from relationship. If you don’t know me, why should you care what I say? But if we’re close – father and son, brothers, husband and wife, how can you not care what I say? And yet, there are still many of us who still give authority to systems, people and books who don’t care about us, have never shown us love, have only taken from us and yet we line up to listen, buy their cds, pick up the new book and do what they say is true.

The last word goes to JCM:
“I fight authority, Authority always wins
Well, I fight authority, Authority always wins
Well, I’ve been doing it since I was a young kid
I come out grinnin’
Well, I fight authority, Authority always wins…”


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in bible college, Christianity, Church, emerging church, God, religion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Pay Attention to Authority?

  1. wellwateredgarden says:

    Hey, brianempei … great idea and I couldn’t agree with you more!

  2. Len says:

    I like it. 2 questions though. How do we define/discern/know truth? 2nd, can we still ascribe some authority to scripture, perhaps because the authors are witnesses to relationship? And in a sense, we are in relationship with the authors because of Christ.

    • brianmpei says:

      Hi Len. I think defining truth is a little like defining “post-modern” or “emerging church”. We have proverbs in the Bible that are true but not ALWAYS true and that’s frustrated a lot of followers or created a whole new level of denial. Of course, they were never meant to be absolutely true, just statements of how things usually are. I suppose I would say that defining is quite different than knowing but I do think we can know truth – in an incarnational sort of way. And second, I agree with exactly what you’ve said about witness and relationship. I think that’s how it was always presented by the disciples who wrote the New Testament. They didn’t separate the Message from their own lives. In 1 Jn the test of truth comes down to how the teachers have loved you. Lots for us to learn there and do something about.

  3. JD says:

    Len lends a hand to my lament. Do we have to have discernment about discernment and how is this achieved? Trust but verify? Don’t trust and seek in solitude? No more mentors or input even from you? I know the misuse of “it’s in the Bible” (and I’ll add “it’s not in the Bible!”) Where does the relationship get a chance then, if we hit the brakes so hard?

    • brianmpei says:

      Hey JD, I think it all comes down to relationship. Truth is experienced both incarnationaly and rationally or it’s not really true – just some interesting ideas. Otherwise, God could’ve saved a lot of hassle and just dropped the book down on some gold tablets so all we had to do was use some funky glasses and translate it from….oh.

  4. Michelle says:

    You are so smart… S-M-R-T! Seriously though I appreciate this discussion. I haven’t thought about it much.

    • brianmpei says:

      M-R-So. Thanks for that! I think it’s a discussion that has got to happen for the Church in these days. It’s inherent in our children, “you’re not the boss of me!” or “you’re not my mom!” We get that real authority is based on relationship and then we buy into a system that tries to convince us otherwise. I suppose I’m making a distinction here between truth that informs us vs. truth that demands. My doctor can be an authority on what made me sick or how I can get better but he/she can’t make me better or even make me do things that will make me better. (and I can think of about 10 exceptions to that so there you go!)

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