Rethinking “the Authority of Scripture”

I don’t reject the authority of scripture, as Dr. Mohler suggests. Rather, I reject a trivial understanding of what counts as scripture.


I reject the notion that our best map of reality and most helpful signposts for living are to be found in ancient, mythic tales that were passed on orally for generations before being written down. I reject the idea that God’s most vital and dependable guidance would have come in the distant past rather than the present.

Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web. It is also a time of smart bombs, collapsing economies, and exploding oil platforms. This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.

Imagine a teenage girl with serious emotional and social problems. Then you learn that her father, who still lives with her, hadn’t spoken to her since she was a toddler. Well! You’d blame the father for how screwed up the girl is, right? Of course, we all would. What kind of God would offer his best and most important guidance back when people believed the world was flat and word processing meant recording insights on animal skins?

The primary cause of the Church’s decline in size and influence in Europe, Canada, Australia, and now in America is its failure to grasp that science reveals God’s nature, God’s ways, and God’s guidance far more accurately than the biblical writers could have understood or transmitted.

The elephant in the sanctuary is this: Nothing is driving young people away from God and Christianity more quickly and surely than the Bible interpreted literally. (This is why some of the New Atheists are promoting Bible study so vigorously.)

The main way Reality is communicating to humanity today is through evidence. To use religious language: God is still speaking, and facts are God’s native tongue—not Hebrew or Greek or King James English. The Church will continue its slide into irrelevance or extinction so long as it equates “scripture” with old legends rather than accumulated evidence. Historical, scientific, and cross-cultural evidence is the main way God is addressing humanity today. To celebrate evidence is to honor “the authority of scripture.”

Thinking of divine revelation in magical ways will probably last a few more decades in America, and longer in the developing world. But recognizing that God/Reality communicates through scientific discoveries will change everything. I predict that Christianity in the West will have a born-again experience by mid-century, thanks to a richer and more expansive understanding of what qualifies as scripture.

(Previous Part: Personalizing a Natural God)

(Next Part: A Biblical vs. Evolutionary View of Sin and Salvation)

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About the Author

Michael Dowd the author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World" (Viking/Plume), which has been endorsed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics and atheists, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. He and his wife, Connie Barlow, an acclaimed science writer, have traveled North America non-stop since 2002, and have addressed more than a thousand religious and secular audiences. They show how the science-based epic of physical, biological, and cultural evolution (our common creation story) can be interpreted in ways that inspire people to cooperate across religious and political differences in service of a just and thriving future for all. They also show how an understanding of human nature given by evolutionary psychology and neurobiology can help each of us live with greater integrity and passion for life.