Friday, June 3, 2011

Thoughts on Authority

Have I mentioned before that every time someone suggests a Ph.D. could be in my future, I want to scream at them: "NO, NO, NO, NO, NO-O-O-O!!!"?  It has to do with the kind of person I do not want to become, or to be subject to.

During my internships, I've given a lot of thought to the concept of authority--both in a pastoral context, and as an abstraction. And I've come to understand that, ultimately, all genuine authority is God's authority. When someone speaks or gives a command authoritatively, it is because they are speaking God's truth, and commanding God's will.

In this sense, authority cannot be vested in any human being, whether by virtue of appointment, position, or relationship. A person's authority does not depend on their role (pastor, police officer, judge)--their role helps them to exercise authority effectively--but the moment a pastor speaks heresy, or a police officer uses excessive force, or a judge decides a sentence based on a bribe, they cease to speak and act with authority, and should be challenged rather than obeyed.

Even when I am ordained as some kind of pastor at a church (God willing), I will not really possess any authority by virtue of my position. Any real authority I have at that point will not be mine at all--I may by God's grace be able to speak with the authority of divine truth and the divine will, and in such a way exercise God's authority. But I do not want anyone to submit to me; that would be idolatry.

And what does this have to do with my horror of the world of academia? I really hate the way that the educational system puts professors in a superior relationship to students. I think it's bad for professors, who are encouraged to become narcissistic and set themselves up as false gods; and I think it's bad for students, who become intellectually indolent.

The One who is Truth should be the head of the seminary classroom; professors ought to recognize the humbleness of their position, being but fellow servants of our one Lord, and empower students to use all the unique gifts and experiences God has given them--they should see the class not primarily as a personal project through which they can impart their superior wisdom; but as a learning community where all contribute.

Is this really so radical of an idea? In fact, YES! Sadly, I can think of only two professors who seem to have understood that they had as much to learn from students as students had to learn from them. They were good teachers. I wish there were more like them. I guess maybe I should be the change I wish to see and think about getting a Ph.D. someday, after all. Oh, heavens. Only if the good Lord asks it of me ...

(Hey--this is my 200th post! Who knew I had that much to say?)

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