Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scripture and Authority, Pt. 3

I want to explore one more way that we can understand biblical authority that is undoubtedly different than most people’s understanding of that phrase, but perhaps more in keeping with the biblical witness. A story has been described as a narrative that has a beginning, middle, and an end, and let’s assume for argument’s sake that a given author writes his story in this order. After he writes chapter one, chapter two must in some way build upon chapter one. As he writes each subsequent chapter, the previous chapters serve as a control. A character can’t change personalities each chapter, or act like events in previous chapters never occurred. The story can’t move from being a comedy in one chapter to a tragedy in the next and then a satire in the third. In other words, there has to be some internal consistency in subsequent chapters. What has been written has a certain amount of authority over that which will be written.

Now suppose that, as sometimes happens, an author dies before finishing the story, and his son, wanting to honor the father’s memory, decides to finish the story. What the son writes has to fit with what his father had written, yet he doesn’t know how his father intended the story to end, so he must be creative, but always under the authority of what has already been written. The ending must be something that is believable given what the reader already knows about the characters, the setting, and the main conflict. Ideally, the son will have done such a good job in following the trajectory of the story the father had written that the reader can’t tell where the father’s writing ended and the son’s picked up.

Now, the biblical story ends with Revelation, but the story that the Bible tells—the story of what God is doing in the world—that story hasn’t ended yet. It is still being written. It is the story of God putting the world back to rights, back to the way that he intended it to be when he created it and populated it with birds, fish, plants and animals, and humans. He is doing it through the teaching and sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Spirit—and he is doing it through humans as well. The Bible is full of stories of God interacting with humans, drawing them into his plan, vesting them with his authority, and sending them forth to both submit to and create the outworkings of this plan.

So we can look at the Old Testament as the opening chapters of this larger story, and the New Testament as the middle chapters, but the story continues. Each of us are invited to write part of the subsequent chapters through the living of our lives, but in order to do so, we must know how the story begins, we must understand the climax of the story in Christ, and we must submit to what has gone on before so that what we write with our lives will be consistent with what has already been written. God invites a certain amount of creativity, because themes like love, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption are inexhaustible in the ways they can be demonstrated. But we don’t have complete freedom to do whatever we like—our freedom falls under the authority of Scripture. In other words, every innovation of our lives must also be consistent with the story that God has been writing throughout history, embodied in Scripture.

In this way Scripture is more than a witness to what God has been doing in the world to bring about his redemptive plan, it is a vehicle for bringing it about. When we read it, in private and out loud in public worship; when we study it in depth and allow it to become part of the fabric of our being; when we fall under its authority and live our lives as part of the continuing story, fully consistent with what has gone on before, we actually help to bring into existence the Kingdom of God toward which God is moving all creation. And when we invite others into the story and help them hear God’s invitation to write a chapter, we create the Kingdom of God as well.

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