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F. Earle Fox
2010, F. Earle
See endnote for copy permission and for printed version.]
See PART I - a
Also - Emmaus News - July 1997
A. What is Authority?
The word 'authority' is used for moral authority and for intellectual authority. We are investigating the intellectual sort here. (Click here for moral authority.)
How do we know what we know? Having no reasonable response to that question has been, by far, the greatest failure of Christians in the last 600 years. It led to the collapse of Western (i.e., Christian) civilization.
We all know what the Bible is, a specific book, the written, covenantal foundation of the Christian faith. But what is "authority"? How does the Bible have it? Why do we trust and believe the Bible?
In a sense, the Bible has no authority because authority is a trait properly ascribed to persons, not to things like written documents. Whatever else it is, the Bible is a written document, not a person.
A letter of authority, for example, carried by an ambassador to a foreign government, indicating that he bears the authority of the government sending him, does not by itself have any authority. The authority is borne by the sending government. The letter is a testimony to that authority. The letter can be questioned, challenged, and submitted to a test of its authenticity. It could have been forged. There might be another fellow with another letter claiming the same authority -- just as there are many written documents with people claiming them to be the word of God.
The Bible, in this sense, likewise has no inherent authority. God has the authority, and the Bible alleges to be a testimony concerning Him. The Bible, like the ambassador's letter, can be, and often is, challenged, both as to its authority at all, and with respect to its meaning on particular passages -- as we moderns, and post-moderns, well know. How, we are asked, do we know that the Bible represents the intent of God?
We have the same task as the ambassador -- authenticating the Bible as bearing the true word of God to which we witness. We claim to be the true ambassadors of God, as judged by the Bible.
B. Intellectual Integrity
How, then, do we Christians, how does the Church, rightly respond to such challenges -- both from outside the Church and, increasingly, from within? Can it be done with intellectual integrity and also with sensitivity to the honest questions which many people have on such issues?
By intellectual integrity, I mean, reasonably -- according to the commonly understood rules of honest discussion, debate, and truth-seeking. Can we "prove our case"? Or at least give a preponderance of evidence, a high probability, a better case than the opposition? Can we do so logically and factually? And if not, why expect anyone to believe us? Why ourselves believe it?
C. Two Kinds of Authority
There are two kinds of authority: moral/legal and intellectual.
Moral and legal authority are about command, obligation, rights and wrongs. Intellectual authority, on the other hand, is about trust, belief, truth-seeking, and truth-speaking.
They are two quite different things. One cannot rightly "command" belief. One must win the assent of the other person, a trust that what one is saying is in fact the truth of the matter. That is why Christians do not evangelize at sword- or gun-point. We try, by testimony and discussion, to win the heart and mind of the evangelee.
The Bible (generally as interpreted through the lens of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds) thus has authority in the Christian community because it represents what the Christian community holds as the meaning and definition of being a Christian. The intellectual authority of the Bible, its claim to tell the truth, because accepted in the community, becomes in the community a moral authority, a claim on the belief and behavior of Christians.
D. The Truth Question
But Christians within the community need to be aware that those outside of the community have not yet accepted the intellectual authority of the Bible, our claim that it tells the truth, and so cannot rightly be expected to accept Bible or Church as their moral or legal authority.
An outside inquirer will look at the Bible, the Koran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Hindu Bagavad Gita, etc., in quite a different light than a Christian. He may be asking which, if any, of these books tells the truth about God.
It makes no rational sense to tell him that the Bible tells the truth because the Bible is infallible. That merely begs the truth question by arguing in a circle. It tries to give the Bible authority before it has been shown to tell the truth. And the other books may be making the same infallibility claim. So the inquirer is still left asking which book is telling the truth? Will the real Word of God please stand up?
The truth question has to be resolved before the authority question can be resolved. An alleged word of God that is in fact false can have no claim of either intellectual or moral authority.
So, how do we tell which is which?
E. Infallibility of Content - a Pseudo-concept
Christians have, for much of the last two centuries, the 18- and 1900's, tried the infallibility ploy which has proven disastrous. We thought we could make up for our increasing failure of intellectual integrity by claiming that the Bible was infallible. The secular folks during the latter 1800's seemed to be winning the intellectual battle (the Enlightenment, evolution, etc.), and we had almost no reasonable, persuasive answers for them. Many Christians became convinced that reason and revelation were opposed to each other. Reason seemed to be an enemy of faith. So we gave reason (science, etc.) away to the secular folks, and hid behind our walls of infallible revelation -- as though it was just fine to think that revelation and God were unreasonable.
That was a fatal mistake because those evangelees looking at the Bible, the Koran, and the other religious scriptures, rightly want a reasonable response to their questions. The infallibility ploy tried to base the authority of Scripture on itself, not on God, thus creating a circular reasoning, which any fair-minded person would reject.
Christians thus compromised their intellectual credibility, sidelined the Gospel, and lost any hold they had on the public imagination. We gave up the 20th century to secular and pagan forces, who in turn gave us the most brutal and debauched century in human history. People have, very understandably, thought that God was one like ourselves, hiding behind our ecclesiastical walls. God cannot be pleased that we have all but destroyed His reputation for intellectual integrity, His reputation for being a truth-speaker.
Infallibility is a pseudo-concept. Like "authority", it can rightly be applied only to persons, not to written documents. Written documents are not fallible or infallible, they are true or false. There is no "...able" with things (as against persons), they either are or are not. Persons can be able or unable.
We might attribute infallibility to God, but then only in a certain sense. We cannot say that God in unable to say something false. If God wishes to deceive me, He is perfectly able to do that. The infallibility we can reasonably (i.e., logically) attribute to God is that God cannot be mistaken in His own mind and awareness of the truth. But He is free to do good or ill with respect to us with His infallible knowledge. We call Him "faithful and true" because He sovereignly, gracefully, and lovingly chooses not to deceive us, not because He is unable, but because He really does care for us. We live by grace.
A book can have authority if, and only if, it can be shown to speak the truth. So the truth question persists: which book, which philosophy, which religion, is telling the truth about God?
See, however, section E. The Infallible Bible in Part I of this work, A Multi-faceted Book, on the legitimate place of infallibility, not in content, but in the faith-process.
F. God Wrote Two Books
Christians of the last two centuries have lost sight of the truth that God wrote two books, not just one. God wrote the book of Creation, the book of Nature, first. He secondly wrote the book of Scripture because we betrayed His trust regarding our stewardship of the first book. We distorted our relation to Him as creatures, seeking to become autonomous, independent decision-makers -- the Fall. And in doing so, we distorted the very nature of creation itself. The second book, Scripture, was written to return us to the first, to teach how, once again, to be creatures. Heaven is all about learning how to be creatures, to rejoice in our creaturehood.
How does one read the first book of Nature? by careful observation of the facts and by careful reasoning from those facts to conclusions. Does that sound familiar? Science is the way we read the book of Nature.
Science (and due process in civil law) are the two crown jewels of Western Civilization -- and they are both gifts directly from God. Neither paganism nor secularism could have produced them. That is a logical fact -- borne out by history. Both of those crown jewels historically emerged in Europe after a millennium of soaking in Biblical thought. And nowhere else. Neither true science nor political freedom will outlast the demise of Biblical faith. We are seeing the shadows of that demise already darkening over the West. That is true because the Church has failed to incorporate either one of the crown jewels into the Christian life.
One of Satan's most clever strategies was to divide and oppose, in the minds of Christians, the two books of God. Both science and due process are about truth-seeking in the creation. We thus pitted the books against each other when we excused ourselves from the responsibilities of intellectual integrity. We rejected God's first book twice, first in the Fall, and then as Christians over the last 600 years. So we made the second book, and thus salvation, seem irrelevant to the lives of most Westerners who were busy studying, not the second book, but the first. Or least they thought they were. "Science and reason are our saviors, who needs God?" thought growing numbers of Westerners.
G. The Worldview Issue
The salvation message of the Bible is valid if and only if we live in a cosmos, a universe, in which there is in fact a creator God, a Someone who created all else other than Himself, ex-nihilo, out of nothing. If that is not the case, then the whole rest of the Biblical message immediately collapses. The Bible can have no authority if there is no personal creator God. For the Bible to have intellectual authority, we must show ourselves to live in a cosmos in which such a thing as a Bible would make rational sense.
If the worldview of the Bible turns out to be the most reasonable one, then there is a clear intellectual presumption in favor of the truth of that Scripture which alone pictures that worldview. The truth of the Biblical worldview provides a strong foundation for believing other things the Bible says about God and the world. And then the burden of proof then weighs heavily on those who reject Biblical revelation.
So, in that sense, the authority of the Bible rests on the truth of the worldview which is pictured there, and that worldview is testable apart from Scripture itself. So the Bible then gains a strong measure of intellectual authority independently of itself. That is why Paul can talk meaningfully about natural theology, as in Romans 1:19 and elsewhere.
And that is why secularists cling so doggedly to the only alternative to the Biblical doctrine of creation. Without a theory of evolution, they have no worldview with which to counter the sovereignty of God over all things.
The real issue at stake is not creation vs. evolution, but sovereignty -- who is boss? Secular people, abetted by Christian incompetence and timidity, have convinced the West that their Godless worldview is the correct one. Until recently, there was no serious public challenge to that claim. (It is worth noting that that situation is rapidly changing with the rise of the Intelligent Design movement -- but that is another story.)
The point here is that Christians must learn, first, that we have a unique worldview. No religion or philosophy outside of the Bible reports on a personal God who is the Creator ex nihilo of the whole cosmos, and who is therefore sovereign over all. Still less does any other religion or philosophy report on a God who loves His creation with both reason and passion -- to the astonishing degree we find in the life of Jesus.
If Christians are serious about reclaiming their intellectual credibility (i.e., their reputations as truth-speakers), and about captivating the public imagination, they must come to understand the nature and the absolute uniqueness of their worldview. We must learn how gracefully and reasonably to tell people about God, our Creator and Sovereign -- how, e.g., the law of God prevails over all civil law -- the message of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama.
Secondly, we must be able to show how God, not the secularists, not the academicians, not the philosophers, holds the intellectual high ground. As one of my college professors said, the Biblical worldview is the only logically consistent worldview there is. All others lead eventually to contradiction. And all of them, both pagan and secular, are based on some version of evolution as the ultimate explanation of existence.
That is strange news to most Christians, we who have hidden in our pseudo-Biblical huddles, scared to take on the opposition openly and publicly. But that strange news will give the Bible an intellectual authority it can have no other way.
H. The Bible, Historical Evidence, & the Elijah Experiment
The next step, after securing our worldview, is to look around for evidence of such a Creator God having indeed revealed Himself to the human race. If that has happened, it would certainly leave historically testable evidence. And, indeed, it turns out that there are rumors of such a God among those Jewish and Christian people. They even have a book about that event, which seems to have stretched over about 2000 years of its being written.
God having revealed Himself in a long stretch of history ought to provide many examples of testable historical events. That is what the Bible is for. We must have a testable faith, a testable Bible, not an infallible one. The appearance of the Son of God among us was not based on His claiming infallibility. It was based on His appeal to the evidence of His works and to their ability to perceive the truth of His words, that the Hand of God was working through Him in their lives.
At the end of the day, thus, the authority of the Bible rests squarely, not on the Bible itself, and not even on the successes of the Biblical worldview, but on the ability of God to make Himself personally known to any inquirer. We, His people, His witnesses, can speak about Him, we can point to Him, we can recommend that the inquirer take a peek in that direction, we can teach the facts of Biblical history, we can demonstrate the logic of the worldview. But in the end, God must prove His own case. He must show up in the life of the inquirer. He must manifest Himself in a manner that can reasonably be interpreted only as the intervention of God Himself. At the end of the day, it is all about personal relationship.
A basic Biblical principle is that the true God will be able to keep His promises (see Isaiah 40-50). A false God will not. A false god will betray its followers into the very opposite of what it promises. The God of the Bible is willing to put His case to that open, honest contest where the witnesses for each contender for being God make their promises, and then the true God is invited to make Himself known.
Elijah was told by God to get the faithful Hebrews, along with Ahab and his lot, up on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18). There Elijah asked his own people, "How long will you go limping with two opinions? If Baal be God, then let's go with him. But if the Lord be God, then let's go with Him." The people said nothing, wondering. Elijah had a reputation for being a troublemaker. And Ahab with over 850 Baal worshippers were standing right there also, ready to provide trouble.
Then Elijah proposes an up or down test -- the two altars would be built, one for Baal and one for Yahweh. A sacrificial bull would be placed on each and offered to their respective deity. But the deity would be asked to light the fire. The one which did so would prove himself the true God. Everyone said, "Way to go, Elijah! That's a good test!" The public always appreciates an honest contest. It will always attract a crowd.
Elijah, several hundred years before the Greek philosophers hove into view, made an appeal to logic which Plato would have applauded -- "How long will you go limping on two opinions....?" Choose the clarity of either/or, not the mush of both/and, said Elijah. And then an appeal to the empirical, experimental evidence. God would have to prove His own case. It was rough-and-ready science, but it was science.
Christians are generally scared to death to do an Elijah experiment -- because we have been so brainwashed by the TOWERING IMAGE OF SECULARISM and the POWER OF EVOLUTION that we do not believe that God can come through to defend His own case. That is why the authority of Scripture is so demeaned today. It is not a lack in Scripture, but a lack in the people who purport to believe Scripture to trust the very God they say they believe -- to trust that God will do His own Self-authenticating.
We do not have to convince people about God. If there is convincing we should do, it is to convince people (and help them by example) to be open, honest truth-seekers -- to risk everything in an open contest. Like Elijah and Paul (I Cor. 15), if we are wrong, we should want to know.
I. The Freewill Covenant
Belief cannot be commanded. Belief is a kind of trust, and trust must be earned. God is not ignorant of such matters, and plans His strategy accordingly. He, after all, is the Creator of this whole system of things.
God is building a freewill covenant, a covenant offered only to those who want the persons and terms of the covenant. "Here are the persons you will be associating with, and here are the terms by which you will associate." Those who do not want the covenant are not invited -- precisely because they do not want to be.
So, God forces us to self-select with respect to His kingdom by the very process of revelation. God reveals Himself and His covenant, and our response decides the issue. "This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men preferred darkness because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19) If we prefer our evil deeds to the Light of Christ, we will head for the darkness and do our best to extinguish the Light -- crucifixion. But if our hearts are drawn by the Father, if what the Father is offering is what we want, then we head for the Light to get our evil deeds exposed and forgiven, and our evil desires converted.
It is foolishness to reject the judgement of God when we ourselves are doing the judging. People of truth will pray for the judgement of God -- upon themselves first before upon their enemies. The judgement is necessary to prepare the blessing. The diagnosis is necessary to the cure. The judgement is a blessing, not a curse. It is the Light shining on everything.
The authority of the Bible is the capacity of God to force an honest judgement on our part, the capacity to bring us to the truth and then require -- "Choose this day whom you will serve." We are free to choose either way, but choose we must.
So, the authority of the Bible is not the capacity to compel assent, but the capacity to reveal God, His person and His terms, and therefore to force honest choice. The Bible is a primary tool in the sifting mechanism of God -- to sift the sheep from the goats.
Our task, then, as witnesses for God, is to help construct "Elijah experiments", where God will show up in ways that can be reasonably interpreted only by believing that God has indeed introduced Himself.
PART I - a Multi-Faceted Book
and other articles in Emmaus News, as listed in the Bible Library.
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