Thursday, January 18, 2007

Regarding Religious Authority

Beth Newman has written an interesting essay challenging Pat Robertson's claim to have heard the voice of God. Like her, I question whether the voice that Robertson is hearing is really the voice of God. Unlike her, however, I don't view Pat Robertson as an example of the dangers of "autonomous individualism."

Newman writes:

The testimony of the church universal is that we as individuals alone do not get to interpret the Bible or the voice of God. Certainly there are those who have believed otherwise. It is commonplace among Baptists to claim for the individual the right to interpret the Bible. Yet, if this is true, Pat Robertson's claim cannot be taken as wrong simply on its face.

The claim for the individual right to interpret the Bible is really more akin to gnosticism than Christianity. The Gnostics embraced a "spiritualized" faith that did not ultimately need the gathered community, the common Table, the preaching of the Word or the pools of baptism for the faithful living out of the gospel. Rather, they believed that they had unmediated access to God that bypassed God's revelation through Israel and the church.
Does anyone really see Pat Robertson -- the TV preacher with an audience of millions worldwide -- as a lonely, solitary figure on the religious landscape? Does Pat Robertson shirk the "gathered community, the common Table, the preaching of the Word or the pools of baptism"? Does Pat Robertson believe he has "unmediated access to God" that bypasses "God's revelation through Israel and the church"?

Exactly what is "autonomous individualism?" A straw man? A fill-in-the-blank with an adversary?

Roman Catholics have been filling in this blank for nearly five hundred years. It is anyone with the audacity to say:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
There are a lot more Baptists who think like Catholics than there used to be.

2 comments:

P.M. Prescott said...

I don't think Pat Robertson's hearing voices has anything to do with theology. Try megalomaniac delusions of godhood. Whatever he thinks has to be "Thus saith the Lord." It comes from pushing his own interpretation of scripture as the only acceptable interpretation, and the sheep that sing his praises and send him money every month just give fuel to the fire that rages within him. To disagree with him is to disagree with God, because he thinks he is god.

Snoofy said...

"The testimony of the church universal is that we as individuals alone do not get to interpret the Bible or the voice of God."

And she teaches at a Baptist school?

"Certainly there are those who have believed otherwise. It is commonplace among Baptists to claim for the individual the right to interpret the Bible. Yet, if this is true, Pat Robertson?s claim cannot be taken as wrong simply on its face."

Really bad logic here. I think I as an individual have the right to interpret the Bible, and I DO say Robertson's claim is wrong simply on the face of it. Robertson's problem is not hearing the Spirit of God, and he's wrong on the face of it. That does NOT imply that no Christian hears the Spirit that will guide us unto all truth (John 16:13).

If the church universal tells us to pray to Saints, should we do so? If Dr. Newman thinks there's an epistemological problem with individuals hearing God, there is an equal one for the church universal hearing it as well.