To a lot of Christians this is an easy question to answer. In fact, many would answer that the Bible is The Authority, not just an Authority. Of course if you’re familiar with my previous writings, you might have noticed that I very intentionally said “an Authority,” not, “the Authority.”
So I’m not asking the question “Is the Bible ‘The’ authority in our lives?” I’ve unequivocally given my answer that it is not, and have argued for that in other posts.
Rather, I’m asking the question, “Is it “an” authority in our lives? Well, actually, I’m not addressing that particular question. Rather, I’m addressing the questions we should be asking first, which is “What is Authority and what is the Bible?” In other words, we need to first define our terms before we can actually ask this question.
So what is the Bible? Now, I think this is actually more than one question. But in particular, I’m asking about which Biblical canon is the Bible. It might surprise you to know there is no universally accepted biblical canon in the Christian Church. The Orthodox have their canon, the Catholic theirs, and the Protestants their very own canon.
I deal with the problem of the diversity of canons in another post, so I won’t go to deep into that.  Click here if you want to read about it Why I Don’t Affirm Sola Scriptura (Part Three) But basically, my own thoughts are that because there really has never been an accepted canon by all Christians everywhere, it seems to be that whatever the “biblical canon” is, it’s not static but fluid. The line between what is scripture and what is not actually scripture is grey. Now, of course I think there are some writings (non-Christian writings for example) that definitely are not, and should not, be considered scripture. But as my youth pastor use to say, I digress.
Whether or not I actually answered the first question should be debated, but for the sake of brevity lets move on to answer the question I think rarely gets asked.
So what about authority? In a certain sense I don’t have a problem with the Bible as “an” authority, depending on how we understand the concept of authority (using the standard “over and above” concept of authority). I do have a problem with the saying, “we as the church must stand under scripture.” How can something logically prior (the church) stand under something historically subsequent (the scriptures)? The church created scripture (that’s a historical fact). So how can we stand under something that we created? Does a parent stand under their child? Using the same logic it would be like saying, “God must stand under us even though God was before us and is our creator.” So to say that we stand “under the authority of scripture” makes no sense under the common paradigm of authority. But, even within the concept of authority as I understand it, it still doesn’t make sense. So, before I get ahead of myself, and before I explain my understanding of authority, I want to first point out something N.T. Wright has said regarding the authority of scripture. And, I would reckon he has the common understanding of the term authority (over and above).
N.T. Wright has said both in his book “Scripture and the Authority of God” and his book “Surprised by Scripture” that really, Scripture has no authority in and of itself. He uses the example that when Jesus gave his commission he didn’t say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to the books you blokes are gonna go and put together and call the Bible.” Instead (ironically recorded in the Bible) he says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” The Bible, according to Wright, can only be a shorthand for God’s Authority. And I agree with that much of what he has too say. Regardless of how one understands authority, I believe this much to remain true. So onto how I understand authority!
I believe Authority to be best understood when we frame the concept within a Theology Of God that says God’s very nature is Uncontrolling Love. (See Thomas Jay Oord’s book “The Uncontrolling Love of God.”) Any other theology, I think, too quickly departs from this pinnacle of Christian Theology, and makes God out to be a controlling figure that ultimately, for too many Christians, becomes our justification for having a controlling and dictatorial understanding of authority. It gives us permission to have unjust churches and political systems that perpetuate the oppression of the weak, poor, the immigrant, the ostracized, the heretics (whom we deal with by the heresy of killing them, or in modern times socially killing them), and the killing of others whom we choose to consider our enemies. We excuse ourselves by saying, “they went against the authority set up by God!”
Of course, this is all predicated on a false, particular, assuming, and unquestioned definition of what Authority is, and what the very nature of God is, and what that Authority is derived from in the first place. This is, I believe, to be the worst of definitions regarding both God’s very nature and the authority that depends on that nature. The God we see in Jesus (Jesus being the Full Revelation Of God, showing us what God is like and has always been like) is not some authoritarian dictator ruling in the clouds like Zeus “over and above” earthly subjects. God is actually Incarnational coming down not to rule over us like a (worldly) king, but to live “among” and beside us as a friend. Being a God whose very nature isn’t coercive but leads by loving persuasion. With the advent of the Incarnation we can never again affirm an “over and above” God, or concept of Authority, but, as Jesus shows us in the Incarnation, the reality of God and God’s Authority is a “side-by-side” and “among” kind of nature and authority.
So if we’re using this definition of authority (and I think we should, for it seems more in line with God’s very nature), I don’t have a problem with saying the Bible is “an” (not “the”) authority in the sense that Christ is our authority and the Bible is “a” shorthand for this authority, but it is not the only shorthand for the authority of Christ.
Obviously, this a lot to try and flesh out in 1000 words. This is not the definite word on this issue, nor is it the end of the conversation, but the beginning of one.