Opinion: Acknowledging the authority of the Bible
The bulk of the post was actually about Bishop Curry’s support for same-sex marriage and his controversial place in the Anglican Communion. Nevertheless, Pastor Campbell respectfully acknowledged that there was much good in the sermon, but also elements that concerned him. So:
Did Michael Curry say some things that were true and helpful? Yes. Did he speak too long? For a wedding, probably yes, but every preacher know that temptation. Was it positive to see an African American preaching at a royal wedding? Absolutely. Maybe in the future we’ll see a Chinese or Persian Pastors preaching the Gospel at such an auspicious occasion. Did the bishop say anything unhelpful or untrue? The answer is, yes.
For Pastor Campbell (drawing on the comments of an un-named Anglican minister), the ‘unhelpful and untrue’ lay in Bishop Curry’s willingness to define love and its power in terms of human acts of love rather than in relation to God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. I’m not entirely sure that that’s entirely fair to Bishop Curry. Be that as it may, I can’t help but turn Pastor Campbell’s questions about Bishop Curry on to his own post.
Did Murray Campbell write some things that were true and helpful? Yes. Did he write some things that were unhelpful or untrue? The answer is, yes. It was helpful that he pointed out that Jesus was skeptical of the world loving him and his gospel. That is an important note to sound in the euphoria the sermon has provoked and the likely ephemeral nature of that euphoria. It was especially unhelpful, however, that Pastor Campbell encouraged people struck by Bishop Curry’s sermon to “seek out a Bible believing and Jesus loving church.”
Christians are not called to ‘believe’ the Bible; they are called to acknowledge its authority, and to listen to it through the filter of the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. It is a serious category mistake to talk about ‘believing’ the Bible. Employing this theological error allows some churches to distinguish themselves from other churches which by implication are said not to ‘believe’ the bible. In fact, the actual distinction at hand is between churches that might equally acknowledge the authority of the Bible but interpret it differently. When a church presents itself as ‘Bible-believing’, it is often a fairly blunt proxy for legitimating its interpretations of the Bible without acknowledging that they are interpretations.
Perhaps it was just an accidental ordering of the words, but the sequence of Bible first then Jesus is also cause for alarm. Christians should never, in my view, place their recognition of the Bible’s authority (let alone their ‘belief’ in it) ahead of their ‘faith’ or ‘trust’ in or ‘love’ for Jesus. Despite the influence of this particular distortion of the theological grammar of the Christian faith, it too is a serious theological error.
My own encouragement to those struck by Bishop Curry’s sermon would be to seek out churches that trust and embody the Gospel in lives of discipleship and who deepen that trust by listening for God’s living Word through listening to and interpreting the Bible.
Geoff Thompson teaches Systematic Theology at Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne. He will be the keynote speaker at this year’s School of Discipleship.