Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Saturday, October 07, 2006

faith and authority

Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority -- because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

It's not uncommon for Christians to claim, in discussions with atheists, that life requires us to take some things on faith. I made that claim myself a few posts back.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says something similar, but different. He makes the same argument, but doesn't call it "faith". Instead, by using the word "authority", Lewis alludes to something that we might easily forget. Trusting in someone as an authority is not the same thing as having faith in that person. Certainly trust is an element of faith, but like intellectual assent, it is not the whole.

Just as Jesus did not tell his disciples, "Believe in me," he also did not tell them, "Trust in me." His command to them was, "Follow me," a much more radical calling that would disrupt their careers and in many cases lead to their deaths. That kind of faith requires a much greater commitment than a mere trust in his authority.

To put it another way, I could quite easily accept someone's authority to describe New York City or the Solar System or the Norman Conquest, but I'd be very reluctant to follow that person to my death.

But as Bonhoeffer put it, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Christ does not simply expect his followers to accept his authority, any more than he simply expects us to give a mental assent to the doctrines about him.

When Jesus said, "Love your enemies," he just might have had in mind something like this response to last week's shooting at an Amish school:

"As we were standing next to the body of this 13-year-old girl, the grandfather was tutoring the young boys, he was making a point, just saying to the family, 'We must not think evil of this man,'" the Rev. Robert Schenck told CNN. "It was one of the most touching things I have seen in 25 years of Christian ministry."

Now that takes faith.



At 10/08/2006 4:13 AM, Blogger David said...

Amen! A very wise and insightful post.

Mere Christianity is one of my favotite books and you have captured Lewis' essence very well.

At 10/09/2006 9:05 AM, Blogger Pastor David Hansen said...

Bruce -

A great post on faith and authority, thank you. It has been quite a while since I last read Mere Christianity, and I had forgotten that little nugget about authority.

At 10/09/2006 4:11 PM, Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

That is an extremely powerful post. The Christian Right has not be such a witness to Christ in 30 years as these people have been in one week.

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