I recently finished Scot McKnight’s latest release, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. I have a habit of noticing ideas and examples that may be tangental to the author’s point but which I still make a point of applying in a slightly different context — as I did yesterday. And here comes another one, on authority.
Maybe another analogy will point us in the right direction. My relationship to the president and provost and dean of my university, North Park University, might be called a relationship of authority. David Parkyn, our president, Joseph Jones, our provost, and Charles Peterson, our dean, are in one sense authority figures. They have more authority than I do–and they should have. Frankly, knowing the kind of life an administrator is called to live, I am quite happy to cede that authority to them. Actually, I’m not ceding anything to them. They are given authority by the board of trustees, and my responsibility is to acknowledge their authority. However you look at it, they have a kind of authority I don’t.
This was mostly just for context. The analogy he’s making is intended to help explain the authority of the Bible and our relationship with God, but the analogy is what caught my eye, because while it would be an axiomatic description of authority in some circles, it’s revolutionary in others. Let’s get to that part next.
However, it’s all about framing relationship. If I frame their relationship to me in terms of authority — as in “They are my authority figures” — then I have to frame my relationship to them in terms of submission — as in “I do whatever they say.” If a professor’s responsibility is simply one of submission — which it isn’t at our school, since these authority figures engage each of us at the level of personal and professional conversations that sometimes lead to disagreement – the whole relationship is framed by words like “hierarcy,” “authority,” and “obedience.”
You see where we’re going now… pastoral relationships and a hierarchical structure for the church, about which I’ve written quite a lot. In my observation, most groups that talk about this at all tend to be heavy on words like “authority” and “covering,” and don’t tend to promote a lot of individual expression. Where Scot uses “administrator” and “professor,” think “pastor” and “parishioner.”
Is this a proper way of framing the relationship of an administrator and a professor? I hope not. In fact, if an administrator chooses to frame his or her relationship to professors in terms of authority — as in “I am in charge. Listen to me. Do this or that!” — then the dynamic heart of the relationship has gone south. Administrators who appeal to this are usually in trouble. If a man or woman frames his or her relationship to a spouse or to children in terms of the word “authority,” you can bet your sweet bippy that the relationship is not what it should be.
What if we frame our relationship differently? What if, instead of framing a professor’s relationship to the administration in terms of authority, we frame it in terms of love, trust, and conversation? To be sure, within that frame there is authority and sometimes debate and disagreement. I’ve had my share of that. But the point we are making is that the framing of the relationship is very important. What words do we use that best frame such a relationship? I am certain of this, authority and submission are not the best terms.
(p.91-92) These are refreshing words for those whose former pastors framed their relationship in terms of authority. Perhaps they called it “spiritual authority” so it sounded better, as they did at my CLB and those of others. But as I reflected when I first read this passage, people who make a habit of asserting or demanding authority or respect seldom deserve it.