The R.E.S.T. of the Story


I heard a pastor at a community forum on homosexuality point out that Christians interpret life in light of their authority structure. He used the acronym REST for the Lego-like components of authority:

R – reason
E
experience
S
scripture
T
tradition

The way you prioritize these sources and the weight you give to each will determine your definition of orthodoxy and heresy; your concept of sanctification and sin. Here is my assessment of how certain groups stack up.

Evangelicals:

Scripture
Reason
Tradition
Experience

Roman Catholics:

Tradition
Scripture
Reason
Experience

Post Modernists:

Experience
Experience
Reason
Scripture & Tradition (the same thing)

If you grew up EVANGELICAL you’ll remember being taught that faith in the Bible is the engine while feelings are the caboose. You can’t put stock in experience because of your sinful nature. The mantra for right living: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it.”

A GOOD CATHOLIC knows the living Church has to interpret the written Word and that two thousand years of tradition trump subjective exegesis. The sheer number and diversity of Protestant denominations—38,000 and counting—proves an unfettered Bible produces nothing but chaos.

POST MODERNISTS apply the litmus test of experience before accepting truth. They’ve learned from history that absolute truth corrupts absolutely. From the medieval church to modern communism, authoritarian regimes have committed the bloodiest atrocities. PMs trust themselves, not the “system,” to know truth when they feel it.

Sincere people will disagree on important issues so long as they have differing authority structures. Remember this next time you’re at odds with someone. Ask about foundations before arguing about facades. You’ll generate more light than heat that way.

Good advice, but between you and me, is one authority structure better than the others?

Yes.

The one I use.

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10 thoughts on “The R.E.S.T. of the Story

  1. Interesting interchange on authority structures. How would you describe CS Lewis’ structure of authority? We have been listening to Mere Christianity on an audio book. We have found it thought-awakening and provoking. It seems his moral experience was pivitol to his belief structure, along with his reason. But then tradition and scripture became important, too. We have found his many illustrations enlightening, and his reasoning incredible.

    His description of the Hall of Faith from which separate rooms can be chosen for warmth and community, is an amazingly inclusive way of thinking. Refreshing. Yet he exhorts not to be disinclined from the concept of authority. As a “child” of the 60’s, I have to overcome a negative bias toward it. I know I have my own structure, but alas it is probably veiled from me.

  2. I like your perceptive analysis of the authority structure of various Christian traditions and how it influences our point of view. However, chaos may be too strong a word for Protestantism’s many denominations. I think it is more like cable television—it offers a lot of choices. The many denominations accommodate the variation in people’s tastes, preferences and personalities. And although some denominations stray off the path more than others, most basically believe the same thing (and hold to the Nicene Creed for example).

    I really like Richard Foster’s book Streams of Living Water. He describes 6 great traditions of the Christian faith as streams that derive their source from Jesus Christ. The people from the last two millennia who represent these streams are all over the place in terms of religious institutions, denominations and various churches. Yet it seems clear that the Holy Spirit used all these people to further the Kingdom of God.
    Is it possible for individual Christians and churches to learn that God is bigger than our often narrow point of view? Or to ever get to a place where all four components are given more or less equal weight in our authority structure?

  3. Mike, this post is very helpful, thanks.

    I believe that post modern Christians are actually looking to tradition as well, but they’re looking far further BACK… I think this is a reaction to the Protestant folks who look to tradition, but mostly tradition that has occurred in the last 400 years. Sort of sawing off the branch they’re perched on. So I think in rejection of the obvious issues, post modern Christians are disassembling the entire deal, and finding what has ever been of value, so that as they synthesize, they’ll have most of what is of value. An example of this is the post modern Christians interest in Greek Orthodoxy. McLaren’s “Generous Orthodoxy” is an example of seeking a wider and deeper source for tradition.

    If the Gospel doesn’t transform, then what good is it? I think that experience is relational… if the Gospel transforms US, then from inside us outwards, as far as eternity, the change ripples on. I think this is driving the order that post modern folks have, which I believe is similar to your representation.

    Often, the place we find ourselves is the result of what we’ve rejected. Modern evangelical Christians found themselves where they were in a large part because of their rejection of what came before. And post modernists, as they seek to find their way, will become far more coherent when they’ve found what God is doing in our lives, rather than defining identity from “what we’re not”.

    I love your position in this article… seek to k ow the value of those you speak to, so you can cooperate, rather than assume that there is underlying agreement, and wondering why it’s almost impossible to see things the same way. I think knowing the foundation of others is really helpful in finding a way to cooperate.

    1. Your last paragraph is key, Vern. Knowing what’s below the surface can lead to seeing why someone believes what he or she does. And seeing life from another perspective can be a pathway to understanding.

  4. Another great post, Mike!
    A new friend is a very accomplished magician. The stuff he can make appear and then disappear leaves me completely baffled. Every trick he performs seems better than the last.
    Based on what I see him do … I am glad I don’t depend upon my experience to judge what is real.

    1. Experience can fool us–but it can also persuade us. A lot of what has found its way into the Bible is experience, from the Exodus and the Captivity to Thomas touching the woulds of Jesus and Paul on the Damascus Road.

  5. Great observations Mike, but how do the enlightenment folks stack up? (Reason, Experience, Reason, Experience?) The thing that I particularly like about your observations is the fact that we all have our authority structure that we put our faith in. Despite the protestations of those from the scientific camp, we do rely on authority as well…

    1. As you know, Pre-Enlightment folks were Scholastics dependent on Aristotle and his ilk. The Enlightenment put experience and reason ahead of (Greek) Fiat (as opposed to Italian Fiats). The Enlightenment created Modernists, who have been displaced since WWII by the more skeptical Post Modernists. But EVERYONE has an authority structure of some kind, as you correctly note.

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