Some recent blog conversation elsewhere in the CC network focused on the question of the authority of scripture, with some concern about whether there is any left. I’ve been thinking about that, and it seems to me that in recent years, perhaps each of the last two thousand years, there has been a large group of Christians who have been tethered by twin assumptions. The first assumption is that the authority of scripture is both clear and trumps all other authority. The second assumption is that that same authority of scripture is most clear in underwriting “my” worldview, cultural norms and moral judgments.
When “my” particular worldview, cultural norms and moral judgments are called into question, then the authority of scripture that underwrites them must have been eroded by those who question “me,” and therefore at best they must be heretics, but they’re probably apostate.
I have a very high regard for the authority of scripture, but I don’t worship the bible. It’s not my God. I love studying it. Every word seems to reveal and illuminate God’s truth in ever new ways. Like the old proverb about not being able to step in the same river twice, it is a moving, living thing so that the same verse says something different each time I read it, and I become changed so that something of a new person meets something of a new word with each reading. In my classes I have taught that our (not very exclusive) Anglican way is to wallow around in scripture letting it wash over and through us, always remembering that the voice of God speaking through these words may be saying something entirely new.
In a sense that’s a problem. It sounds too much like relativism. For some people, who are not fond of a world where nothing is certain and nothing can be relied on as a safe and solid place on which to stand, scripture, at least, should be unchanging, clearly revealing the plain and obvious absolute truth.
The current pope certainly seems to feel that way as long as the absolute truth of scripture is consistent with Catholic doctrine. Closer to home, our local paper featured a Sunday pastor’s column written by another who apparently also feels that way. He stated that Christians believe this and materialists believe that. Those are the two options, and by his argument, if you are not a Christian who believes what he believes, then you must be a materialist, or fellow traveler, and therefore both godless and damned. Perhaps he would reject that reading of his article, but that sure the way I took it. That saddens me. I think it strips scripture of too much of the riches God with which God has endowed it.