The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

"Where now is our authority?"

Last week, I finished a short book called The Great Emergence. I’ve found some of the best and hardest books I’ve read are short ones. Their wording is concise and their scope is immense. They demand a lot of their readers.

The Great Emergence was a wide-ranging book, covering the past 2000 years in about 110 pages. You try it.

Phyllis Tickle’s big idea is that cultures make big shifts every 500 years, and with them faith does too. (1) Gregory the Great consolidates the papacy around AD 600. (2) The Great Schism occurs, splitting Eastern and Western Orthodox churches around AD 1100. (3) Luther started the (Great) Reformation around AD 1517.

Where does that leave us in the 21st century? At another 500-year hinge. Tickle calls it “The Great Emergence.”

Tickle says the single big question that is always under review at these points in history is “Where is our authority?” This was the question being asked in each of the previous pivotal eras. We are facing the same question today. Sola Scriptura has been under scrutiny attack and question for about 100 years now. It’s only getting harder for conservatives to defend. Tickle shows us how Sola Scriptura has begun crumbling, bringing us face-to-face with very contemporary issues (abortion, gay rights), and she continually returns us to this question, driving home her point.

Tickle makes an interesting observation about power, almost as an aside. But I think it’s quite intentional on her part. She says power was once derived from lineage, then from money, and now from information. In other words, nowadays we appeal to experts who are the most educated in a certain field: lawyers, doctors, pastors.

However, with the Internet, a sudden diffusion of information has subsequently diffused power as well. We have access to more information, thus more power, than ever before. That could change everything.

Thus, when the question is asked, “Where now is our authority?” I respond by saying it’s no longer primarily in experts with the most education and information. Instead, I believe it will be in the crowd. Like crowd-sourcing, like “the wisdom of crowds,” I believe people will begin appealing to their own immediate communities. Call it “wisdom in the counsel of many.”

I find this happening in my own life. I seek the wise counsel of those closest to me, who know me and my circumstances. I ask their advice (or am trying to more often). I look for themes among their answers. As a Christian listening to them, I trust it is not just wise human counsel but the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through them. No, no one person is the voice of God, and no I can’t be sure that the theme I’m hearing is God speaking, but I do trust that God gives discernment and clarity if I’m humble, attentive, and listening. No, the Bible isn’t outmoded or without authority. Rather, it is another voice in the community. After all, the great community of people called the church (including those who wrote the Scripture to begin with) together decided that the Bible should have that sort of voice of authority. The Bible itself is the voice of a community speaking.

“Where now is our authority?” My guess is that it will be in the voice of the community.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.