Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
This piece strikes me as getting to the essence of many Quaker arguments re the role of the Christian Scriptures:
"So, secondly within the first half of this lecture, I want to suggest that scripture’s own view of authority focuses on the authority of God himself. (I recall a well-known lecturer once insisting that ‘there can be no authority other than scripture’, and thumping the tub so completely that I wanted to ask ‘but what about God?’) If we think for a moment what we are actually saying when we use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’, we must surely acknowledge that this is a shorthand way of saying that, though authority belongs to God, God has somehow invested this authority in scripture. And that is a complex claim. It is not straightforward. When people use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ they very often do not realize this. Worse, they often treat the word ‘authority’ as the absolute, the fixed point, and make the word ‘scripture’ the thing which is moving around trying to find a home against it. In other words, they think they know what authority is and then they say that scripture is that thing.
"I want to suggest that we should try it the other way around. Supposing we said that we know what scripture is (we have it here, after all), and that we should try and discover what authority might be in the light of that....
I agree that the ultimate authority is that invisible, unknowable God that all people have some access to, but the issue of authority in giving direction to our search, discernment in our experiences of that God, and some degree of community among those who seek to be faithful to that God, is still a very real issue. The idea that every human being should be on their own for the few years we have to seek out God and form some relationship with God is pretty empty to me. We need the story that has come from the corporate search; we need those who have dedicated their lives to understanding and interpreting it; we need the opportunity to throw our ideas around, get others to offer their wisdom. The scriptures have so central to the billions who have devoted themselves to this quest, I really don't think I would have found the little I have found without them.
"unknowable" is the wolf in the bathwater here...
The scriptures are full of stories of people who knew God, more or less well. The essence of the founding of Quakerism was that people could, had, and continued to know God quite directly, because of God's wish to be known.
As with meeting another human being, people make assumptions that interfere with knowing God as well as they think; understanding has to grow over time.
And we are emphatically not "on our own" at any time in the search. That doesn't mean people shouldn't offer or accept human guidance in the process; it just doesn't need to take on the baggage of human-over-human power relations:
More Wright: "... [Given what God's authority looks like & how it operates] we find that there is a challenge issued to the world’s view of authority and to the church’s view of authority. Authority is not the power to control people, and crush them, and keep them in little boxes. The church often tries to do that—to tidy people up. Nor is the Bible as the vehicle of God’s authority meant to be information for the legalist. We have to apply some central reformation insights to the concept of authority itself. It seems to me that the Reformation, once more, did not go quite far enough in this respect, and was always in danger of picking up the mediaeval view of authority and simply continuing it with, as was often said, a paper pope instead of a human one. Rather, God’s authority vested in scripture is designed, as all God’s authority is designed, to liberate human beings, to judge and condemn evil and sin in the world in order to set people free to be fully human...."
When people attribute an authoritarian-parent kind of authority to 'Scriptures' they miss too many ironies. Among other things, why the most righteous and pious of Jesus' contemporaries wanted to stop him from leading people astray.
I agree with dedicating a significant part of our lives "to understanding and interpreting it." And getting input from people with significant expertise in that endeavor. But that's no more to be taken on someone-else's say-so than mathematics; without one's own effort one doesn't understand them either.