Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rethinking authority, reality, and ethics.

Jonathan Burnside gave the opening address last night at the conference on the Academy and the Church. Here are a few of my rough notes on the talk, "The ethical authority of the Biblical social vision". Overall, I was challenged to rethink my ideas about the nature of authority and its relation to reality and ethics.

Due to the rise of Islam and secularism some Western Christians have developed a defensive "in the trenches" position with regard to their role in society. Instead, Christians should desire the common good, not just the self-interest and protection of their own rights.

1. What do we mean by the Biblical social vision?

It should be shaped by whole Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16). The Old Testament and New Testament have different ethical authority. Be aware of continuities and discontinuities. Neglecting this can lead to the God hates shrimp problem.

This is a vision that takes the Bible - and how it is written - seriously. In the West we think in abstract terms and so tend to translate the Bible into abstract systems of thought.
Consider the form of Bible - ancient literature - which embodies the Living Word.

2. Why does the Biblical social vision have ethical authority over us? 

Authority is a dimension of reality. (cf. Oliver O'Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order). Authority in the Bible means a freedom to act within boundaries.
Existence of God is a reality which calls for an ethical response.
Humility, worship, and obedience. (cf. Deut 6:4,5  The LORD is one)
The reality of the nature of God.
The reality of human identity and human flourishing.
The reality of Jesus resurrection. (Compare this to the weighty ethical authority of the Exodus).
The Resurrection reflects God's commitment to restore the creation.
The reality of the mission of the people of God.  

3. How does Biblical social vision exercise ethical authority?

We need to be willing to change our culturally conditioned view about what authority is.  The Biblical vision has authority because it is spreading reality. Authority does not mean exercising control. God's authority is exercised in a relational way. (cf. God's act of creation). God the Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit in power gives life.
Enables creation to be the best possible.
God's authority is exercised through human beings. [Our job is to be].
Look at parables to get a picture of what it is like when God is in charge.
The Word became flesh (not an abstract concept).

Christians are called to live the story of God to the world. Jesus exercised authority from a place of humility. In Isaiah 42 there is no yelling or shouting in the streets.
Moreso us, since we are not Jesus! We have a tendency to abuse authority.

Dealing with postmodernism. We are to be there for postmodernists when they discover the limits of their postmodern view [because they eventually suffer from ignoring the way the world is, e.g. parents and children suffer when all values and opinions are considered equally valid].

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