What Does it Mean to Be Under a Thing's Authority?
The Authority of the Bible, Part II: Exploring the idea of "authority" and what it means to submit to it.
Six Authoritative Truths in My Life
“The beginning again, when we’ve lost focus, that’s the whole point.” -Sharon Salzberg
“It all belongs.” -Richard Rohr
“Be brave, because you are a child of God. And be kind, because so is everyone else.” Glennon Doyle
“Understanding leads to compassion, and compassion leads to love.” Thich Nhat Hanh
“Hatred bears deadly and bitter fruit.” -Howard Thurman
“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” -Jesus
The above six quotes/ideas represent six of the most important insights that have shaped my life. They guide me in the ways of compassion, grace, love, and forgiveness. They function as compasses pointing me in good directions when life gets complicated.
You might say, these truths are rules that govern how I conduct myself.
Or perhaps I might say it like this: These ideas/truths/teachings have “authority” in my life.
Which is to say, I have:
acknowledged the power of these ideas,
accepted their wisdom, and therefore
placed myself under the authority of their truthiness.
Which means what, exactly?
What Does “Under the Authority of” Mean?
It means that when conducting my life, and when confronted with different options on how to proceed in any given moment, while I might have a range of possibilities in front of me, the only viable options are those that align with the direction and fit within the parameters of the guiding principles and values stated above.
Because I’ve willingly acquiesced to the authority of these ideas (via my deep awarenesses of how true and powerful and wise they are), behaviors that run counter to these ideas are no longer permissible for me.
I might (for example, as I wrote about here) really, really want to harbor hate in my heart toward someone. But because I have placed myself under the authority of the truth that “hatred bears deadly fruit,” I am not permitted to.
I might really want to feel bad about past iterations of myself and what I used to believe and how I used to treat people (as I write about in chapter nine of The Shift). But because I have placed myself under the authority of of the truth that “it all belongs,” I’m not permitted to.
I might really want to silo myself in a bubble of progressivism and continue to judge and demonize those on the right. But because I have placed myself under the authority of, “be kind, because everyone else is also a child of God,” as well as, “understanding leads to compassion, which leads to love,” plus a dash of, “love your neighbor as yourself,” I simply am not allowed such self-indulgent, self-righteous, arrogant postures.
This is what it means to me to submit under the authority of something.
Authority Has the Last Word
To speak of the authority of something is to identify how a particular phenomenon (be it a person, law, idea, etc) occupies a position of premiere influence in a person’s life.
More plainly said: it gets the last word.
The examples above illustrate how the authority of ideas works in my life. I place myself under the governance of these truths in such a way that it has, not just a meaningful impact on my life, but actually contributes to guiding, shaping, and at times correcting me.
Authoritative sources can tell us what to do (guide), how to do it (shape), and when we’re screwing it up (correct).
I played sports all growing up and learned quickly what it meant to come under the authority of the coach. He says run one more lap, we ran another lap. He says show up at 7:30am for practice, we showed up. He says stop eating crap food and start drinking more water, we... tried.
Last week I wrote about the notion of sola scripture, that for some people the Bible occupies a position of sole authority in their life. The Bible is their coach, if you will, guiding and shaping and correcting their life. And this sort of authority, for many Christians (and most evangelicals), is supreme. So where the Bible might disagree with other people or sources--such as evolutionary biologists, or, historians, or, psychologists--for those who adapt a strict “Authority of Bible” stance, the Bible will always win. It always gets the biggest and the last word. (Or, as creation.com puts it, “Believing Scripture to be inerrant, we judge the claims of secular historians and archaeologists against this record.”)
Opting in to the Authority of the Bible
As I acknowledged last week, if you believe that God truly, actually, literally authored the Bible--in the sense that the words on the papyrus perfectly reflect, as it were, the ideas/thoughts of God--then I guess it kinda makes sense that you would then be like, “oh, well we shouldn’t argue with God, and this is what God clearly said, so...”
Viewed this way, submitting to the “authority” of the Bible makes sense. I mean, does it get any more authoritative than the Creator of Everything? If anyone is going to have wise, good, and true ideas, it’s him/her/they. Scoffing at people who then don’t submit to such authority almost seems reasonable.
But once you move past such beliefs about the Bible (as I have done), suddenly the idea of it having an authoritative place in your life becomes, well, optional.
If the words in these 66 books are not exact and precise utterances of God, then it seems to me we are invited to a sort of posture that may or may not submit to some parts of it but not others.
And that’s what I’ll write about next week, some of the ways in which I’ve opted in to the authority of the Bible. Plus, I’ll explain why I think that this “opting in” is, in some ways, related to my many layers of privilege.
See you next week!
”The Authority of the Bible” Series
Part 1: What is the “Authority of the Bible?”
Part 2: What it Means to Be Under the “Authority” of Something
Part 3: Four Ways We Engage with and Experience Authority
Part 4: The Authoritative Source Must be Good
Part 5: Does the Bible Interpret Itself?
What Do You Think?
You’re invited to either share your thoughts here (I read every one!), and/or join me LIVE today at 2pm PST as we discuss “The Authority of the Bible”
Prefer to Watch/Listen?
Brian McLaren Joins The Kate & Colby Show
What are you doing tonight??
What’s that? Not much??
Cool! Then at 7pm PST why don’t you hop on over to The Kate & Colby Show: LIVE, because we are joined by special guest Brian McLaren!
Plus: three lucky viewers will get a chance to win a free copy of his newest book, “Faith After Doubt.”
Thank you for the Livestream, it was helpful to clarify a few points I was unclear on. I did have an outstanding question though and I'm hoping you could address it for me here...
First I'd like to say this would be so much easier to talk through on a call or other format, but I will try my best through text. I hope you hear this from a place of love and sincerity. 😃
I appreciate your 6 quotes from the beginning, I've collected several guiding values that are personal to me as well.
As an athlete, I'd also like to affirm how fitting I found your description of the "authority of the coach." I listen to fitness coaches to pursue my fitness goals, and business coaches on my business goals; but if my business coach gave me a fitness tip, I'd run it by my fitness coach first since he's my authority in that area of my life.
This article seemed to make the claim that your 6 quotes are the ultimate foundation for your authority, but when I asked "How do you navigate a conflict of authorities e.g. becoming like Jesus (if this is your goal) vs something that would be opposite the life or teachings of Jesus?" You seemed to suggest a life after Jesus is actually your ultimate pursuit 🤔 (please correct me if I'm mistaken).
You asked me for a specific scenario...
I do affirm the library of documents we call the Bible did not drop out of heaven written in alien, and the humans who wrote it did not have the intent to answer all of life's basic (and complex) questions as others may claim. Rather I see the purpose of the Bible as a unified story of God revealing himself to humanity through the family of Israelites and ultimately in the person of Jesus.
What I'm unclear on, is how you seem to position away from the Bible, but towards Jesus, when Jesus himself claims the Hebrew scriptures as the sole reason for his ministry. While we can "hyperlink" many of his sermons, actions, and predictions in some form back to the Hebrew Bible, one clear example of this continuity comes from Jesus in Matthew 5:17
“Do not think that I [Jesus] have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them."
Jesus first says he does not expect us to discard the rest of the story that doesn't include him, then reaffirms its value a second time. He goes on to say the Hebrew scriptures are actually his own foundation, and he plans to bring them to fulfillment. Therefore it seems Jesus can only fully be understood, by also understanding his backstory; the historical Jewish narrative he finds himself in the middle of.
MY QUESTION IS:
Assuming a life after Jesus is actually your ultimate pursuit, and the primary sources we have to learn about Jesus are the Biblical gospel accounts, wouldn't then the Bible also be your highest authority?
PS Followup (mostly rhetorical since this is your next topic):
If the full Bible is not your most prioritized authority, do you draw the line around the instances that don't relate to Jesus, or somewhere else?
What if we learn a part of the Bible we didn't previously agree with, was actually a misunderstanding and did align with Jesus, should it then be included? What if the entire Bible is actually a unified story that leads to Jesus, and it would take a lifetime of reading and meditation for us to partially grasp it, should we just accept this at faith value 😉?
In marketing, we say "always follow the rules 80% of the time." To me, it seems God was the same way. Faith is a relationship we say; a beautiful mystery, not a science, yet many people treat it with hard lines. Always bless the firstborn YHWH says, except when he didn't for 3 generations back to back in Genesis, I'm sure you have several examples yourself. Jesus helps us understand this is about the heart of the law, not the letter of the law.
We all have a progressively evolving view, but at the end of the day, I think we each assign the title of God to our highest values. I think the root of it for the Christian, is "are these values subjectively prioritized by each person, or are we seeking to align our own standards, as best as we can understand, to the values of Jesus and YHWH as revealed in the Bible?