Replacing biblical authority with that of experience

Let me get back to a topic from last week. I was talking about Christians and churches accepting an additional authority in spiritual matters, that being the authority of experience.

Jay Guin is doing a series of articles on church trends. The first trend he discusses comes from an article by Philip Jenkins and focuses on “gender revolutions.” Let me quote a few things from what Jay says; listen to see if you can hear the voice of experience dominating the discussion in churches:

But there was an even bigger revolution that I’d date to around World War II. Pre-WWII, most conservative churches considered the biblical passages thought to prohibit women from having authority over men (primarily 1 Tim 2) to apply universally — in the secular workplace as well as church and family.
However, by the early 1960s at least, the commentators were limiting their arguments to the church and the family, largely conceding that women may have authority over men in the secular workplace — but more by omission. They just dropped the secular workplace side of the question. Why?
Well, first, women were busily proving their competence as principals of schools and administrators in other fields. And they were bringing home much larger pay checks because of it. And so the old argument of female gullibility was disproved by experience, and few men were willing to give up a 50% raise in their wife’s pay just to make a theological point.

The near future trend is that the complementarian (hierarchical) position will continue to erode as experience shows the competence of women as supervisors and as a generation that has never known the discrimination that I grew up with become church leaders and elders.
Now, for non-Christians, anything short of full equality for women is considered grossly immoral. Millennials consider the notion that women shouldn’t be full partners in a marriage or church laughable and deeply wrong. This is going to become less of an internal debate within the church and more a question of our ability to evangelize the lost, because few unchurched people will be willing to accept imposing a subordinate role on women.

To be fair, let me note that Jay makes powerful arguments for egalitarianism based on Scripture and theology. He is not one who has accepted the authority of experience over the voice of Scripture. But many in our churches have done so. For most, a desire to change the church’s stance on women does not arise out of Bible study or new insights into the text. It comes from experience, both personal experience and observed experience.

Interestingly enough, Jay included point #2 in the same post. (I don’t think the grouping was intentional) That point deals with “Revolutions in sexual identity.” I find that interesting because I can’t help but feel that we’re going to see the exact same thing happen in the church as regards sexual identity. Experience will cause us to return to the Bible and massage the text until it finally says what we want it to say.

Note what Jay says:

While some congregations are choosing to accept gay couples or else to take an agnostic position (same difference), most churches consider homosexual sexual activity to be sinful. And, indeed, I think this is what the Bible teaches (as we’ve covered here many times). But there will be a price to be paid as homosexuals push for legislation that punishes those who refuse to adopt their agenda. I’m sure that at some point the tax exempt status of churches will be challenged if they don’t submit to the gay agenda. And some churches and related institutions (universities, publishing houses) will capitulate rather than close their doors with the loss of tax-deductible contributions.

In both cases (gender and sexual identity), Jay notes that the church will have to pay a price to hold to traditional views. I’m less optimistic than he. I think few Christians and few churches are willing to pay that price. We’ve seen it in gender discussions. We’ll see it with conversations about sexual identity.

Give experience a voice equal to or greater than that given to Scripture, if you choose. Just be honest about it. I think you’re damaging the church by changing your source of authority. And I think generations in the future will return to Scripture and marvel at the choices we made.

2 thoughts on “Replacing biblical authority with that of experience

  1. Vern

    I believe we need experience to even understand the Bible but experience is not the authority of interpretation of what I’m reading. It is more like the substantiation or proof. Perhaps experience could be likened to practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect unless you practice correctly. The value of experience depends on what sort it is. Peter says we have enough experience of sin to no longer spend our time in it (1Pet. 4:2-3). We obviously need to experience the renewing of our minds if we ever hope to understand God’s will (Rom. 11:2). But the former experience of sin is not really going to help your knowing of the Bible as it should be known.

  2. Andrew

    I appreciate what you write and find great value in it as well as what comes from Jay’s mind. I nearly always find new insights when reading both blogs. I just have a thought to add to the discussion.

    You write:
    For most, a desire to change the church’s stance on women does not arise out of Bible study or new insights into the text. It comes from experience, both personal experience and observed experience.

    In my “experience”, I find that my life experiences often change the way I look at Biblical texts. So, in a way, when I have a change of heart on some issue, it does arise from Bible study or new textual insights. I’ll give you an example. My sermons/classes concerning divorce and remarriage are 180 degrees different after my own divorce and remarriage. Before, the text didn’t speak to me in the same way that it does now, yet I believe that the text has always said what it said – I just wasn’t listening with the ear of experience.

    How many other “issues” are really addressed in the text to which we have become culturally deaf?

    Just a thought –

    Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.