Wrestling with the text of Scripture presents some interesting situations. Our tradition tends toward one of “Biblical Authority.” That is, the Bible speaks and from that we understand the meaning of life, the histroy and future of redemption and how we ought to live as followers of Jesus Christ.
Inevitably we come to “personal convictions.” These are things meaningful to us. We take the Reformation doctrine “Priesthood of the Believer” to give us “carte blanche” to “interpret” as we understand.
These personal convictions result in “personal opinions.” These are positions arrived at through our personal convictions. “Personal Opinions” help us determine how to handle the not so clear areas of life and faith.
Over time we hold our “personal convictions” so strongly and our “personal opinions” solidify in our minds that unbeknownst to us, we elevate our “personal convctions” and “personal opinions” to the level of authority. At that point there is no place for competing authorities and so our position of “Biblical Authority” fits into our “personal convictions” and “personal opinions.” Now the Bible is no more authority than a good book on leadership, an inspirational novel, or one of the many self-help books available.
At this point we make the same error we sense is made by those who do not share our view of “Biblical Authority.”
One potential help would be to recover the Reformation doctrine of “Priesthood of all believers” which really means that as followers of Jesus enter into community with one another they forge and form confessional statements as to what is held and beleived. This process helps avoid the elevation of “personal convictions” and “personal opinions” from rising to the point of ultimate authority.
The uneasy time comes when we realize our “personal convictions” and “personal opinions” are just that. Now in community we hold each other to the authority of Scripture that has been held through time by those living to follow Jesus. So we are both backward and forward looking.
Leonard Sweet’s image of the swing is appropriate here. We “lean back” looking to see what historically followers of Jesus have held and we “kick forward” seeing how to apply these contants to the changing environs of culture and society.
Ulitmately our goal is to live out our lives as Dallas Willard puts it, “as Jesus would live our lives were he us.”