Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Christina Odone's Tyndale Lecture, reported on Radio 4 this morning and in the Guardian, is interesting. Her main thesis is that Christians are 'persecuted' by the chattering classes. On the whole it's rather too much of a conspiracy theory. In fact, I think Christians rather deserve (and may even deliberately provoke) some of the opposition from the secular world. There are times when we need to be reminded that God works throughout the world, whether we like that or not.

Where she does say something interesting is about authority. Christians, she says, "believe in authority". This is the most subversive thing that they do. Thus what we do, say and are is determined by this authority, and not simply by our own desires. That is why Christians argue about sex, because we are people who believe that there is an authority about sex other than our own fancies and libido.

She is, of course, right. All Christian argument about sex, whatever conclusions you draw, should be with reference to the authority of Scripture, the church and ultimately God. We cannot get around authority here, nor should we want to. Of course this cuts more than one way - those who are appealing to Scripture on the issue of homosexuality are less quick to do so on other issues (the poor, divorce and so on). What is clear is that for Christians there is a basic submission to authority, in principle if not always in practice.

What Odone does not speak of is the dangers of a position like this, which is expressed either as a rather infantile dependence on doing what you're told, or as a conviction that I speak for God and that you must do what I say. Christians are under an authority that challenges all other authorities (including interpretations of that authority). There is a critical edge to this submission, that Odone doesn't speak of. The best picture of this is Jesus, the Word of God, arguing with those who hold the authoritative interpretations of Scripture. Ultimately Jesus authority is seen in his obedience to the Father, even to death at the hands of a religious elite and an occupying power.

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