November 14, 2022
by Greg Henson, CEO Kairos University; President of Sioux Falls Seminary and David Williams, Kairos Executive Partner; President of Taylor Seminary
Last week, we called attention to the fact the ancient Celtic tradition often depicted the Holy Spirit as a wild goose and how this seems to accurately describe the courageous, untamed nature of the Spirit who provides life, vitality, and movement in the Body of Christ. We also noted it can sometimes be a little difficult to reconcile the idea of “submitting to the authority of the Holy Spirit” and “discerning the movements of a wild goose.” We may suggest, however, our struggle to reconcile these two realities might stem from how we think about the authority of the Spirit in relation to things like Scripture or tradition and how we understand the movement of the Spirit.
Have you ever watched geese in flight? Many of us are familiar with the V shape they make when they fly in a group. Have you watched them long enough to see what happens in that process? They are constantly in communication with each other, flying with purpose in a particular direction, taking turns breaking the wind, and doing so with pace. It is not haphazard and thoughtless.
Following the Spirit, in our opinion, looks similar. It is intentional movement in a particular direction, serving each other along the way, and being in constant communication with the Triune God as we collectively discern how to participate in the work God is doing. It is this point about “discerning of direction” that we want to begin unpacking. Over the next several weeks, we will consider how that reality informs our understanding of the authority of Scripture and how we organize ourselves as followers of Jesus. Today, we begin with authority.
In their book, Beyond Foundationalism, Stan Grenz, former professor of theology at what is now Kairos University, and John Franke, wrote,
“The Christian tradition is comprised of the historical attempts by the Christian community to explicate and translate faithfully the first order language, symbols, and practices of the Christian faith, arising from the interaction among community, text, and culture, into the various social and cultural contexts in which that community has been situated.”
This quote comes after a series of pages where they are working through the authority of Scripture and tradition in the work of the Church. Perhaps the most eye-catching statement they make in this section of their book is,
“Neither scripture nor tradition is inherently authoritative in the foundationalist sense of providing self-evident nondifferential, incorrigible grounds for constructing theological assertions. The authority of each – tradition as well as scripture – is contingent on the work of the Spirit and both are fundamental components within an interrelated web of beliefs that constitutes the Christian faith.”
To put that more plainly, Grenz and Franke are inviting us to embrace the idea that both Scripture and tradition are instruments of the Holy Spirit. Their authority rests in the authority of the Spirit. They go on to say, “It is the Spirit who stands behind both the development and formation of the community as well as the production of the biblical documents and the coming together of the Bible into a single canon as that community’s authoritative texts.”
These statements can be disconcerting for some because they may come across as relativistic or even heretical. What do you mean the Bible isn’t inherently authoritative! We understand and felt the same way the first time we read them. It sounds dangerous to seemingly promote the idea that Scripture is not authoritative. Fortunately, we didn’t stop at the first reading. Grenz and Franke (and we) are not saying Scripture is not authoritative.
The unshakeable truth of God’s Word, of Scripture, carries weight, authority, and power. It should be embraced and revered as such. Stan and John are not suggesting Scripture lacks authority but rather that its authority is driven by the work of the Spirit. This resonates with what we see Jesus say in Scripture. He says things like, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and “All authority on Heaven and Earth has been given to me.” As N.T. Wright suggests, Jesus didn’t say, “All authority is given to all of those books you are going to write about me.” Grenz and Franke are simply inviting us to recognize that the “unshakeable truth” of Scripture is not the same as the Truth of Jesus. The Way of Jesus, which is made known through the power of the Spirit and brings glory to God the Father, is the Truth. We are called followers of Jesus because we are following the Way. To encourage, guide, and give strength to the disciples in the upper room, Jesus invites them to receive the Spirit. The Bible, the communal process of creating the Canon, Paul’s missionary journeys, the work of the early church, the history of the Church are instruments the Spirit has and continues to use to shape the people of God.
The Spirit is actively working in, through, and for the Body of Christ as we discern what it means to people of the Way. In this work, we must routinely submit to the leading of the Spirit. This reality doesn’t mean we cast aside Scripture or the tradition of the Church. Rather, it invites us to be continually shaped by Scripture as we read it together; to be students of the story, the tradition of the Church as we act out this chapter of that story. In doing so, the Spirit is opening our eyes, forming the Body of Christ, and inviting us to participate in the Gospel.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do this blindly. The earliest disciples had to do the same thing. Next week, we will take a look at one such example. Along the way, we might talk a bit about improv theatre, as well. Let’s see what happens.