Monday, 1 February 2010

Speaking with authority

Yesterday I began preaching through the 5 'solas' of the Reformation, beginning with Sola Scriptura, and it'll be no great surprise to learn that I took 2 Timothy 3:1-4:5 as the passage to expound. It was really exciting to grasp afresh the authority of God's word - this message of 'breathed out by God' therefore I will do everything I can to study carefully and comprehend it because the truth changes things. What I believe will change the way I act. (Therefore, for example, if I believe I'm just an advanced animal I'll act as though I'm just an advanced animal.)

It seems very obvious to me that we have a major crisis of authority in modern, Western culture - we don't want anyone to tell me what I ought to do in any absolute moral sense. But what struck me in the middle of preaching(!) was that not only does our culture hate the idea of such authority, but it also reverses things completely. In the absence of any abiding authority we seek to give ourselves direction and purpose instead by deciding on what goals we would like to reach and then work out what is 'right' and 'wrong' according to what will help or hinder the achievement of those goals! The example that springs to mind is the government's modern obsession with targets. You decide on your target, then tailor absolutely everything to help achieve it. How different this is to listening to unchanging truth and allowing it to change my life!

That's all very well, but how do you know you've got the target right without any transcendant authority? Yesterday evening I heard of a hospital that is aiming for foundation status. How are they going to achieve that? Well, according to my informant it's all about patients' opinions of the hospital, and therefore the hospital will never do anything that might give patients a negative opinion of the hosptial. But where does medical expertise get a look in? It sounds like another case of an expert authority being required to play second fiddle to subjective opinions in order to achieve the goal they've set their hearts on.

How desperate it is that we who possess knowledge of THE ultimate authority speak it plainly and without apology into such a culture! We cannot go on as we are, because our current goal-focused, authorityless ways are terribly unstable, and cannot give us what we seek. It leaves us perpetually in the situation of 2 Timothy 3:7 - those who are "always learning and never able to come to knowledge of the truth." We have the rock to replace the shifting sand on which our society is building. How shall they hear? Christians need to hear the challenge of Taylor Mali's poem that Rosemary has linked to here. Mali may not be thinking in these biblical categories, but the force of what he says is an urgent note to be sounded for gospel proclamation. The ultimate truth of God's word changes things in the most beautiful way because it is given to us that we may be 'complete' (2 Tim. 3:17), and to be complete as a human being is to reflect the image of the beautiful God. Goal-setting without the truth is just guessing and hoping for the best.

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